Late Soviet Animation 1960s-80s

A translation of the famous Losharik.

Losharik is a portmanteau word made with 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
Soyuzmultfilm 1971

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. 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 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
Ekran Studio

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 the 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 a 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 a 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 mustached oriental villain that tries to destroy the oasis is not only a 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, the presence of a menacing force that brings death and destruction reflects a mood of the day. A Cloud in Love (Soyuzmultfilm 1959) Russian, with English subtitles by Russian Media Subtitles [youtube=]

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)


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This April marks centennial anniversary of Russian animation.  While recently rediscovered works of Alexander Shiryaev are dated between 1906 and 1909, it was Vladislav (Ladislav) Starevich who presented his first cartoon The Beautiful Leukanida (stop-motion cartoon with animated bugs as “actors”) a century ago, in spring (presumably in April) of 1912. To celebrate this occasion during the recent Open Festival in Suzdal a list of a hundred most acclaimed Russian/Soviet cartoons was created. Once There Was a Dog by prominent animator and educator Eduard Nazarov became the most popular film, followed by equally famous Hedgehog in the Fog by Yuri Norshtein and Winnie the Pooh by Fyodor Khitruk.

Once There Was a Dog (Жил-был пёс, 1982) is a beloved animation story based on Ukrainian folklore about misfortunes of an old dog. If features right combination of humor, ethnic/rural flavor, and themes of loneliness, friendship, and empathy.

Russian, with English subtitles

Beautifully executed cartoon by Oksana Cherkassova, based on the Chukchi legend about a journey of a gosling between the worlds and his meeting with Kutkh, a spirit of Raven.

Бескрылый гусенок (Wingless Gosling), Sverdlovsk studio, 1987.

Russian, with English subtitles