This year, Russia celebrates 100 years of animation in film. In tribute, RBTH features clips of films made by the greatest pioneers of the industry in the last century.
Khitruk's "Winnie-the-Pooh" marked the end of an era. However due to its enormous popularity, the work soon continued in the form of animated series, a precedent for a host of animated series that took off during the 1970s. The most emblematic of their time, and the most memorable, are "Nu pogodi!" and "Gena the Crocodile."
"Gena the Crocodile" (1) is a Russian stop-motion animated film directed by Roman Kachanov for Soyuzmultfilm studio in 1969. After the success of the film, it also continued in the form of the series.
The plot is poignant enough: Gena works each day as a crocodile in an urban zoo. Every evening, he returns home to his lonely apartment. Gena gets very tired of playing chess against himself and decides to find some friends to play with. Animals and people respond to advertisements that he posts all around the city. First, a girl named Galya comes with a homeless puppy, who is then followed by the now-famous Cheburashka. They decide to build a house for all of them to live in, but a vicious old spinster, Shapoklyak, tries to prevent them from realizing their dream.
Cheburashka, something between a mouse and a small bear but not any known creature, is now a staple of Russian cartoons, and there are several licensed products on the market, such as children's joke books and stuffed toys. He is also one of the few Russian animation characters to be the subject of numerous Russian jokes and riddles. Cheburashka was also chosen as the official mascot with the main mascots for the Russian Olympic Team in 2004 Summer Olympics in Greece, 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, 2008 Summer Olympics in Beijing, and in 2010 Winter Olympics in Vancouver.
"Nu, pogodi!" (2) ("Just Wait!") is a beloved Soviet/Russian animated series produced by Soyuzmultfilm, and directed by Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin in collaboration with his son. The first series was created in 1969 and soon became the most popular cartoon in the Soviet Union. The most recent episode was produced in 2006. The series follows the comical adventures of a mischievous yet artistic wolf, Volk, trying to catch (and presumably eat) a hare, Zayats. The series has additional characters that usually either help the hare or interfere with the wolf's plans. Russians and foreigners who are devotees of the series can be hugely nostalgic about it.
There is one Russian director of animated films who is internationally revered and has been an inspiration to all animators. His name is Yuri Norstein. "The Battle of Kerzhenets," (3) one of his first films, was made in 1971 under the guidance of I. Ivan Ivanov-Vano, who was mentioned in the first part of our series. The two used Russian frescoes and paintings from the 14th to 16th centuries and music by Rimsky-Korsakov. The story is based on a legend of the invisible city of Kitezh (made into a Rimsky-Korsakov opera in 1907), which disappears under the waters of a lake to escape an attack by the Mongols. The film itself follows the legend only loosely, however, and its highpoint is a battle between the Russian soldiers and the Mongol hordes, symbolizing a clash of cultures (the Virgin Mary appears early in the film, in effect watching over the Russian side of the battle).
"Hedgehog in the Fog," (4) a 1975 animated film directed by Norstein, is the story of an endearing hedgehog on his way to visit his friend the bear cub and share some raspberry jam. A sinister looking eagle-owl follows him. Hedgehog passes through the woods and encounters a beautiful white horse. He wonders aloud whether the horse would drown if it fell asleep in the fog. The hedgehog decides to explore the fog, but once he is downhill, he finds that the fog is so thick that the hedgehog can't even see his own pink paw.
"Tale of Tales" (5) is considered to be the best Norstein film. It has won numerous awards, has been acclaimed by critics and other animators, and has received the title of greatest animated film of all time in various polls. Like Tarkovsky's “Mirror,” the film attempts to reveal itself in the way that human memories bubble up. Memories are not recalled in neat chronological order; instead, they are triggered and recalled in a series of associations. The film is thus made up of a series of related sequences with interweaving scenes. “Tale of Tales” was voted best animated film of all time during the 1984 Olympic Arts Festival in Los Angeles, and again in 2002.
Norstein’s films are brooding, and better understood, even beloved, by adults. Most children do not appreciate the philosophical overtones and wistful nature of his touching stories.
It’s hard to imagine a Russian child that does not know by heart the song from the long-running children’s show "Spokoynoy nochi, malyshi!" (6) ("Good Night, Little Ones"). Launched in 1964, it is still on the air.
Another Tatarsky masterpiece is "Plasticine Crow." (7) The Soviet censors wanted to ban the film because they considered it "ideological nonsense." However during perestroika, when society began to open up, the film finally appeared on Soviet television. Aleksandr Tatarsky even managed to found his own studio (Pilot) in 1988, where he produced absurd films. "Once Upon a Dog" / "Once Upon a Time There Lived a Dog" (8) is an acclaimed Soviet cartoon, adapted from a Ukrainian folk tale. The cartoon created by E. Nazarov won the first place at the 1983 International Film Festival. According to recent polls, this movie is often the most beloved among animated films. It tells the story of an old watchdog; he becomes useless and the family decides to drive him away. The Dog leaves for the forest, where he meets the Wolf, his old enemy. The Wolf stages a kidnapping to let his mate Dog "rescue" a child. The Dog is welcomed back to the family and decides to repay the Wolf's kindness. He helps the Wolf to break into the house and feeds him from the dishes from table.
Director Ivan Maximov is best known for animated sketches dripping with irony such as "Bolero."(9) After the collapse of the Soviet Union, the climate for Russian animators changed dramatically. The investment and institutional support was all but gone, while the number of studios competing for the small amount of money increased. Most of the studios during the 1990s earned money for animated advertisements and commissioned works for large international studios. Nevertheless, there were a few very successful international co-productions: Aleksandr Petrov's "The Dream of a Ridiculous Man"; Oscar-winning "The Old Man and the Sea"; and Stanislav Sokolov's “The Winter's Tale” (1999, from William Shakespeare's play) which earned the director an Emmy.
"The Dream of a Ridiculous Man" (10) is a short story by Fyodor Dostoyevsky written in 1877. It chronicles the experiences of a man who decides there is nothing to live for in the world, and is therefore determined to commit suicide. A chance encounter with a young girl changes his mind. The powerful film was directed by Aleksander Petrov.
"The Old Man and the Sea" (11) (1999) is another paint-on-glass-animated short directed by Aleksandr Petrov, based on the novel by Ernest Hemingway. The film won many awards, including the Academy Award for Animated Short Film in 2000. Work on the film took place in Montreal over a period of two and a half years and was funded by an assortment of Canadian, Russian and Japanese companies. French and English-language soundtracks to the film were released concurrently. It was the first animated film to be released in IMAX.
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