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
While not as widely known in Russia as some other Western children’s authors, like Alan Milne or Astrid Lindgren, Dr. Seuss inspired several cartoons. Cat in the Cap (sic) (Кот в колпаке) is loosely based on The Cat in the Hat, sans Thing 1 and Thing 2 (but still featuring a grouchy Fish). It takes place in a typical urban dwelling where children have to spend a long rainy day alone. The theme of escaping into a land of fantasy from boredom of home or school is rather typical for the Soviet cartoons of the era of Stagnation, so Cat in Hat (Cap), with its protagonist, a safe entertainer who does not forget to clean the room before children’s tired mother returns from work, falls perfectly within the scope of Soviet cartoons of that time.
Cat in the Cap (Kot v kolpake)
Sverdlovsk Film Studio 1984
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
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
Nikolai Gogol (1809-1852) is one of the most influential Russian writers. Several of his short stories were adapted for animation. Particularly appealing for the Soviet animators were Gogol’s early stories influenced by the Romantic-era interest in nationhood and folklore and inspired by the Ukrainian legends and customs (Gogol was born in Poltava province, in what now is Ukraine). There are about 10 Soviet/Russian animated shorts based on Gogol. The Nose is one of the Petersburg stories (that include famous The Overcoat). The story consists of three parts; in first a barber finds a nose in his bread and tries to get rid of it. The second part is about the Major Kovalev who finds “only a flat patch on his face where the nose should have been”. Kovalev goes to a newspaper office and police trying to locate his nose. He meets the Nose, who is now a high-rank official in the Kazan cathedral. At the end a policeman returns Kovalev his nose, but if fails to stick back. In the third part, Kovalev wakes up and excitedly finds his nose in its proper place. The Nose is one of the most grotesque and unique masterpieces of the Russian literature.
This version of Gogol’s The Nose was filmed in France by Alexandre Alexeieff who was born in Russia but spent most of his life in France. Alexeieff invented pinscreen technique and pioneered in using for animation. In Le Nez he managed to create a rich grayscale palette with deep shadows reminding engravings. The smooth wordless animation shows a dream-like story.
World of police and civil service play a prominent role in many Gogol’s works, including The Overcoat, Dead Souls, and The Government Inspector. To underline the Kafkaesque world of imperial bureaucracy, Alexeieff emphasized the disturbing presence of the ever seeing figure of an official in a bicorne hat.
Authoritarian Nicholas I, the adept of a rigidly centralized bureaucracy.
Le Nez, 1963
There are at least two other animated versions of The Nose.
A Nose, 1966 by Mordi Gerstein
Adapting Gogol to the visual media is extremely challenging due to the role of language in his works. Beautiful mixed technique animation short by Mikhail Lisovoi preserved narration in the film.
The Major’s Nose (Нос майора), 1997 by Mikhail Lisovoi
Russian, no subtitles available
Sergey Kozlov, an acclaimed children’s author from Moscow, Russia, passed away at the age of 70. He was well-known for the script he created for the Yuriy Norshteyn’s masterpiece Hedgehog in the Fog. Sergey Kozlov created scripts for more than a dozen of Soviet and Russian cartoons. He began his career as a poet and later published several popular children’s books. RIP
Hedgehog in the Fog 1975
Strange Vat 1983