The centennial of Russian Animation (Episode II: from 1940 to 1970)

This year Russian Animation marks its centennial. What happened in this great industry in the period between 1940 and 1970? Watch the second part of our series to reveal it.

This year Russian Animation marks its centennial. We would like to present some fragments of animated films made by the most prominent Russian masters from 1912 until 1940.

The general administration of cinema and photo industry on June 10, 1936 issued an order to create "Soyuzdetmultfilm" (the organization that produced animated films for children for the whole Soviet period), that resembled the American Disney Studio.

During the Second World War “Soyuzdetmultfilm” was evacuated to Samarkand and many directors went to the front. The War was the most palpitant topic and this is hardly surprising. At that time lots of satirical images of Hitler and fascists were invented, as we can see in the first fragment. The sketch(1) “What Hitler wants?” made by Brumberg sisters, Olga Khodataeva, Ivan Ivanov-Vano was a chapter from so called Satirical Newsreel of Soyuzmultfilm.

In the first postwar decade Russian Animation (as all Soviet industries) suffered from the shortage of funding. But the lack of investment was only one side of the coin. With the establishment of Socialist realism, all the innovative and highly convincing style was neglected in favor of "Éclair": the filming of live action, followed by a frame-by-frame projection that had to serve the animators as their only source for the realization of movement (the method also known as rotoscoping). Mikhail Tsekhanovskiy was probably the one who managed to develop Russian Animation despite all these challenges (as seen in his famous (2)“Kashtanka”).

When Nikita Khrushchev in 1956 proclaimed the end of the Joseph Stalin cult, he started a process of political and cultural renewal in the country. In the late 1950s the genre of feature-length tale dominated. Among the films of this period we’d like to mention (3) “The Snow Queen” of Lev Atamanov. The story of a little boy stolen by the furious Snow Queen that had turned his heart into ice ends up with a marvelous escape and the final melting of the boy’s defrosted heart. What a metaphore of the Khrushchev’s thaw!

(4) “The cloud in love” – an avant-garde film made in 1959 by Roman Kachanov received many international awards. It was the first soviet animated film that was honored with the prestigious award of The International Federation of Film Critics (FIPRESCI).

Even though animators still needed a while to free themselves from the long tradition of "Éclair", from the 1960s onwards, animation films gain completely new qualities. The starting point for this was Fyodor Khitruk's film (5) The Story of a Crime (1962).

Khitruk's revolutionary approach paved the way for a vast number of young animation directors that in the following years developed their own distinctive styles and approaches. One of the most political was Andrei Khrzhanovsky, whose surrealist film (6) The Glass Harmonica (1968) was severely cut by censors, but shelved nevertheless.

(7) “The Mitten” is a 1967 Soviet film by Roman Kachanov. The film received international recognition. This film marked the revival of stop motion (also known as stop frame) animation technique (that was proclaimed by the early masters like Vladislav Starevich and Alexander Ptushko).

The film (8) «The Cat» may look very primitive. But actually it was the first Soviet animation made on a BESM in the lab of Moscow State University by V. Minakhin and N.Konstantinov. BESM is the name of a series of Soviet mainframe computers built in 1950-1960s. The name is an acronym for "Bolshaya Elektronno-Schetnaya Mashina", literally "Large Electronically Computing Machine". The cat’s movement was generated by the system of differential equations.

Turning back from the experimental animation to the classics, we’d like to present the last two films that definitely enriched the Golden Fund of Russian Animation. Both are produced by Fyodor Khitruk. (9) “Film, Film, Film” is a satirical animated short film made in 1968. It is a parody of the filmmaking process in the USSR. The nearly-silent pantomime tells a story of making a historical movie.

The last but not the least is Khitruk's (10) «Winnie-the-Pooh». Khitruk was a powerful rejuvenating force for Russian animation, breaking away from his contemporary’s standard of imitating Disney to create a new and distinct style as an auteur.

The unique, simplistic style creates a childlike tone that perfectly serves the aims of the director, who wanted to evoke feelings such as love, compassion and support for the young audience. The first, made in 1969, is a quest for honey, the second is a hilarious story of Pooh rather rudely outstaying his non-welcome when visiting Rabbit. The third, twice the length of the other two, is about finding a present for Eeyore. They all have a wicked sense of humour, and Pooh is a loveable central character, staying at Rabbit’s with the promise of a bit more honey and ultimately getting stuck in the hole.

In general, the end of 1960s was marked еру appearance of new genres like animated series (such as "Winnie-the-Pooh") and animated musical. Both gained enormous popularity in 1970s.

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