Soyuzmultfilm, a prominent Russian animation studio with a rich history, has a new site featuring information about the popular Soviet-era animation films from the 1960s-1970s, including such iconic productions as Chebursahka (aka Topple, a friendly furry creature that befriends a crocodile called Gena who works in a local zoo – as a crocodile), Winnie the Pooh, Karlsson-on-the-Roof, action-packed I’ll Get You!, an eclectic anthology Happy Merry-Go-Round, adventures of a polar bear cub Umka, rock musical The Bremen Town Musicians, and art-house The Glass Harmonica. The site contains unique production shots, script scans, sketches, storyboards, and photos. The content is in Russian. Heroes of Soyuzmultflilm.
Apart from “Cat in the Hat”, several books by Dr. Seuss inspired Russian animators. The most notable adaptation is Welcome (Добро пожаловать) based on “Thidwick the Big-Hearted Moose.” A constellation of talents worked on this short piece. Yuri Koval, author and artist who was involved in the creation of such popular cartoons as Laughter and Grief by the White Sea, wrote a screenplay. Yevgeny Leonov, a beloved comedian actor and voice of Russian Winnie-the-Pooh, provided his voice. Alexander Petrov, an innovative animator and the 1999 Academy Award for Animated Short Film winner, created a unique style of this paint-on-glass animation.
Paint-on-glass involves manipulation of paints (oil or gouache) or other media like charcoal and creates a uniquely recognizable style featuring a smooth, fluid movement. Among the animators who employed this style is Caroline Leaf. Alexander Petrov often uses his fingers for painting. In the last decades, he created critically acclaimed animated films in this style based on stories by Platonov, Dostoyevsky, and Hemingway. As a bonus enjoy his paint-on-glass winter advertisement for Coca-Cola
Welcome (Dobro pozhalovat’)
Sverdlovsk studio 1986
Alexander Petrov’s Coke ad
Hedgehog in the Fog (Ежик в тумане) released 40 years ago is a critically acclaimed cartoon by Yuriy Norshteyn based on short stories by Sergey Kozlov. A journey of Hedgehog through the misty forest to meet his friend Bear is among the most well-known Russian cartoons. Check out an interactive guide with comments of Norshteyn about unique solutions employed to create paper puppets, fog, and shadows in this stop-motion masterpiece.
Interactive guide (Russian)
Cheburashka is a fuzzy creature from several iconic Soviet stop-motion cartoons created by Roman Kachanov, one of the founders of the Soviet stop-motion animation and Leonid Shvartsman, a prominent Soyuzmultfilm art-director. In recent decades, Cheburashka together with his friend, Gena the crocodile gained popularity in Japan. The new Cheburashka movie, a Russian-Japanese project, featuring award-winning animation director Mikhail Aldashin, carefully recreates environment of the classic Soviet cartoons.
Original Cheburashka 1969
Chinti (2011) by Natalia Mirzoyan
The film is made with various tea leaves creating a gentle, subtle environment. A small ant (chinti means “ant” in Hindi) appears to be a big visionary.
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 artist, Mikhail Shemyakin. As of now, a 20-minute version is available (based on The Golden Pot). The quality of puppets and design is amazing. Fantasy and reality blend together, and the world of the protagonist, Hoffmann, who serves as a low-rank 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
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 jokes and quotes. Tatarstky filmed several popular films in this technique, including highly popular Plasticine Crow. He went on to establish Pilot, the first independent Russian animation studios. In his late years he directed Mountain of Gems, an excellent series of animation films based on folklore of peoples of Russia and executed in a variety of styles.
Last Year’s Snow Was Falling (Падал прошлогодний снег)
A translation of the famous Losharik.
Based on a story by Genrikh Sapgir
Animator Yuriy Norshteyn
Voice artist Rina Zelyonaya
Soviet animation had traditionally strong ties with works of literature and folklore. Russian Media Subtitles group recently presented a translation of Yulian Kalisher’s stop motion cartoon Words of Wisdom (aka Golden Words, Золотые слова) based on stories by Mikhail Zoshchenko. (Update: YT purged the video with translation, so no English subtitles are available). 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 the 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 became mottos of many Soviet artists. Film features creatively made puppets and skillful visual connection of various stories.
Words of Wisdom (Золотые слова) 1989.
Produced by Julian Kalisher