Eduard Nazarov, an acclaimed artist, book illustrator, and animation director, passed away yesterday in Moscow. Nazarov, closely associated with Fyodor Khitruk, was involved in several of his projects, including Winnie the Pooh (1969-1972). In the 1990s, he became one of the co-founders of the SHAR studio, and later supervised a highly successful Mountain of Gems animated series based on folk tales of peoples of Russia. Nazarov is best-known as the creator of such classics as Once Upon a Dog / Once There Was a Dog (1982), a tragicomic story adopted from Ukrainian folklore about an old dog expelled by his owners, and Travels of an Ant (1983), a small ant’s quest to find his home. His beloved works feature a distinct visual style and combine lyricism with a mellow sense of humor.
Travels of an Ant (Путешествие муравья)
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)
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
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.
Fyodor Khitruk, one of the most prominent Russian animators, passed away on December 3. Khitruk became involved in animation in 1938 shortly after the major Soviet animation studio Soyuzmultfilm was established in Moscow. The Second World War postponed his artistic career for almost a decade. He returned to Soyuzmultfilm in the late1940s and worked as an animator, director, and mentored some of the best Russian artists. His first cartoon, The Story of a Crime (1962) became one of the turning points in Soviet animation towards the new aesthetic of the 1960s-1970s. His cartoons for children such as Winnie the Pooh, Toptyzhka, Boniface’s Holiday are among the most beloved by several generations of Russian viewers. His works aimed at grown ups such as Island, The Man in a Frame, Film, Film, Film and others are full of wisdom and irony. In his later years he turned to teaching and writing. Khitruk became a symbol of Soviet and Russian animation.
Film, Film, Film (1968)
Vladimir Tarasov employed sci-fi motifs in several of his 1980s animation shorts, including the anti-capitalist satire Shooting Range about violence, and dystopic futuristic Contract dedicated to power of money that corrupts people in the capitalist society. Shooting Range is a beautifully rendered cartoon that features interesting perception of the US filled with avant-garde jazz (considered to be reprehensible music in the Soviet Union),classic American cars, highways with at least 12 lanes, and glass and steel skyscrapers. Stereotypical American hero wears jeans and baseball hat and is attached to his car in a way a nomad warrior attached to his horse. Violence and unemployment plague this geometrical generic Western city. The anti-hero inherits typical capitalist features including passion for cigars (while the unemployed hero smokes – presumably more proletarian – Camel).
Capitalist from 1959 Soviet magazine
Antihero of Shooting Range
In a scene of temporal (underlined by transformation of a cuckoo clock bird into firebird) happiness Vladimir Tarasov pays a homage to Disney characters – a vital part of American cultural image.
While this craftily executed cartoon has some ideologically correct features, there is artistic fascination with American aesthetics, design, music, and big city vibe. This cartoon presents the West both disturbing and appealing.
Shooting Range (Тир, 1979)