E.T.A. Hoffmann was always one of the most beloved German writers in Russia. We already wrote about the animated version of Nutcracker (1973). Tatyana Ilyina produced her full featured version of Nutcracker in 2004. Hoffmaniad (Гофманиада), the most recent stop motion animated film with elements of computer animation, has been in the works since 2001. It will combine elements of several novels, including Little Zaches, The Golden Pot, and The Sandman. It features art and design of a prominent Russian-born artists, Mikhail Shemyakin. As of now, a 20 minute version is available (based on The Golden Pot). Quality of puppets and design is amazing. Fantasy and reality blend together, and reality of the protagonist, Hoffmann, who serves as an official, is more tragic and surreal than magical adventures he writes about. Unfortunately, no exact release date is given.
Directed by Stanislav Sokolov
Russian, no English subtitles
About halfway between Western and Orthodox Christmas (January 7) it is worth to remember some of the Christmas-themed cartoons. The very first Christmas animated short was made by the stop-motion pioneer Wladyslaw Starewicz back in 1913. The Insects’ Christmas (Рождество обитателей леса) tells a dreamy story about a toy Father Christmas (Jack Frost, Дед Мороз) who leaves his Christmas tree and visits a frozen forest to bring the holiday spirit to creatures who live there. A frog, a ladybug, a dragonfly, and other insects join the party, get presents, skate, and have fun.
The Insects’ Christmas 1913
Silent, with English subtitles
Directed by Wladyslaw Starewicz
Produced by Aleksandr Khanzhonkov
Update: another translation
The Forest Creatures’ Christmas
One of the most beloved New Year cartoon is Last Year’s Snow Was Falling (Падал прошлогодний снег) by Alexander Tatarsky. It’s a stop motion claymation loosely based on Russian folktales and featuring such folklore characters as the Fool, the Pike, the Hut on Chicken Legs, and many others. The main character tries to find a proper fir for a New Year celebration in a magic wood. The cartoon is full of absurd humor and became a source of multiple quotes. Tatarstky filmed several popular films in this technique, including Plasticine Crow. He went on to establish Pilot, the first independent Russian animation studios. In his late years he directed Gem Mountain, a brilliant series of cartoons based on folklore of peoples of Russia.
Russian with English subtitles
A translation of the famous Losharik.
Losharik is a portmanteau from Russian words “loshad” meaning “horse” and “sharik” meaning “little ball”. A stop motion cartoon about a strange but kind animal that was born out of juggling balls.
Produced by Igor Ufimtsev
Based on a story by Genrikh Sapgir
Soviet animation had traditionally strong ties with works of literature and folklore. Russian Media Subtitles group recently presented translation of Yulian Kalisher’s stop motion cartoon Words of Wisdom (aka Golden Words, Золотые слова) based on stories by Mikhail Zoshchenko. Zoshchenko, immensely popular in the 1920-1930s, was later harshly criticized by Stalin’s officials and died in poverty. At first glance, it’s just a story based on childhood anecdote about two children, Liola and Min’ka, who are present at the dinner with their parents and other grown ups, including their father’s boss. Apparently, there is a socialization issue of smart but young kids who try to fit into adult world. The “golden words” of this story are simple: one must always take into consideration changes in the environment. Kids must learn when one must remain silent, and when one should say something. This has additional meaning for a Soviet intelligent. The story was written in the late 1930s. During Soviet times many people had to choose wisely when and what they could say. To a degree, these golden words are mottos of many Soviet artists. Film features creatively made puppets and skillful visual connection of various stories.
Russian with English subtitles
Words of Wisdom (Золотые слова) 1989.
Produced by Julian Kalisher
The Bug Trainer is a documentary film about Starevich produced in Lithuania. Interviews with film critics from Russia, Poland, Norway, and Lithuania are joined by an animated quest of the puppet Bug who falls in love with another puppet, the Lion Queen (uniting Starevich’s early films featuring bugs and his later masterpiece, The Tale of the Fox). The film is a mixed bag, and its animation - unlike the one of Starevich – is the weak link. There is even an effort to depict Starevich himself to create surreal cinematic environment that does not look too convincing. On the other hand, the film features some rare shots of Starevich, fragments of his works, and brief bio. Sadly, his work during the 1940s-1950s is barely described. The film is serves as an introduction to works of the inventor of stop motion animation and tries to engage viewers describing the world of animated puppets. Recommended with reservations.
A Cloud in Love (Влюбленное облако) was made in 1959 by Roman Kachanov, one of the pioneers of the Soviet stop motion animation. During the Stalin era in Soviet animation realistic style with extensive use of rotoscoping technique was dominant. In the late 1950s and in 1960s, during the Khrushchev’s Thaw Soviet animators revived stop motion technique. Kachanov produced several dozens of animation films both hand-drawn and stop motion (puppet animation). Among his films are well-known trilogy about Cheburashka, The Mitten, and sci-fi The Mystery of the Third Planet.
A Cloud in Love is a unique film based on script by a Turkish poet Nâzım Hikmet Ran (who lived in exile in Soviet Russia). It’s an allegorical story about an evil desert spirit who tries to destroy an oasis that is tendered by beautiful Aishe. Luckily, a Cloud falls in love with her and protects the oasis, although it costs him a life. It features mixed technique (puppets, marionettes, and hand-drawn animation). In relatively low violent Soviet cartoon protagonists usually survive and overcome challenges. However, in this cartoon the main character (Cloud) perishes. It is not very surprising if one take a look at the desert spirit. A moustached oriental villain that tries to destroy the oasis is not only political satire on Turkish rulers by Nazim Hikmet Ran. The Soviet Union at this time was going through condemnation of (some of) the Stalin’s crimes. Children cinema and literature were less affected by the Thaw. Still, images of a ruthless and treacherous oriental ruler and his victims unavoidably create some allusions. Oriental overtones of Stalin despotism are empathized by historians (such as Robert Tucker) and his political enemies (such as Trotsky who called him Genghis Khan). Of course, this film is far from being a political cartoon. However, presence of a menacing force that brings death and destruction reflects mood of the day.
A Cloud in Love (Soyuzmultfilm 1959)
Russian, with English subtitles by Russian Media Subtitles