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Director: Dmitry Babichenko
Release Date: 1950
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Stag and the Wolf © SoyuzmultfilmA wolf gets trapped under a tree. A stag helps him out, but as soon as he is free, the wolf tries to catch and eat his helper.

The stag claims this to be unjust, and the two animals ask a bear to be a referee. The bear restores the initial situation to be able to judge the argument, but then runs off with the deer, leaving the wolf under the tree again.

‘The Stag and the Wolf’ is a typical Russian animation film from the early fifties, this time based on an ancient tale (it’s even found among folk tales in Cameroon, albeit with different animals). Like contemporary Soviet films, it has the distinct flavor of Russified Disney. The film pushes the limits of Soviet naturalism, especially in the backgrounds. The bear, however, is very Disney-like, and a little at odds with the particularly realistically designed stag.

Watch ‘The Stag and the Wolf’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Alexander Ivanov
Release Date: 1950
Rating: ★
Review:

Grandpa and Grandson © SoyuzmultfilmIt’s winter, and a rabbit, a fox and a squirrel wake up a hibernating little bear to go skating with them.

‘Grandpa and grandson’ is one of the countless harmless children’s films the Soviet Union produced in the 1950s. Unfortunately, it’s not among the best. It’s a slow and sugary film starring many all too cute animals and using a lot of dialogue.

Unlike contemporary Soviet animation films it doesn’t seem to be based on a folk tale. Instead, it feels like an overlong Silly Symphony (it lasts almost twenty minutes), ending with a seemingly endless ballet on skates. Because of the slow animation of the characters (typical of Russian films from the era), even this ballet doesn’t really comes off like its Disney models.

Watch ‘Grandpa and grandson’ yourself and tell me what you think:

Director: Olga Khodatayeva
Release Date: 1950
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

The Magic Windmill © Soyuzmultfilm‘The Magic Windmill’ is one of the classic fairy-tale films produced by the Soviet Union in the 1950s.

In this short an old man, a cat and a cock are having trouble to feed all the animals who seek shelter at their place. Therefore they ask the mountain god for help, who gives them a magical little windmill, which produces endless amounts of breads out of of a few grains of corn. Unfortunately, rumor spreads, and soon the little windmill is stolen by a greedy king. But the cock flies to his palace and brings back the magical object, despite several attempts on his life.

‘The Magic Windmill’ is a gentle, if what overlong little film based on a Russian fairy-tale. It uses a naturalistic style, clearly influenced by Disney, with watercolor backgrounds, and a multiplane camera effect in its opening scene . The animal designs are an interesting mix of the Disney style and Russian illustration art. The animation, however, leaves a lot to desire. The animation of movement is awkward, with most characters moving in a slow, all too constant speed. The film uses dialogue in rhyme, but the lip synchronization with the characters is poor.

Despite these flaws, ‘The Magic Windmill’ is a film of great poetry, and one of the best of the Russian fairy tale films of the fifties. Indeed, director Khodatayeva was a veteran of soviet animation, having made films since the 1920s.

Watch ‘The Magic Windmill’ yourself and tell me what you think:

 

Director: Victor Gromov
Release Date: 1949
Rating: ★★
Review:

Mr. Wolf © SoyuzmultfilmMr. Wolf is a Russian propaganda film. The film is an oddball in director Gromov’s small animation output. His other seven films are fantastic fairy tales and children’s films

The film tells about Mr. Wolf, a rich American, who is fed up with weapons and war. He retreats with his unwilling family to a peaceful island. But then oil is discovered on the island. Immediately, Mr. Wolf and his family are overpowered by greed, and the American only too gladly drops his pacifism.

‘Mr Wolf’ is based on a comedy by Evgeny Petrov. Although drowned in caricature, this blatant propaganda film is hardly funny: its animation is elaborate, but painstakingly slow, and too excessive. Moreover, it is not too clear what the message is. Are all Westerners blinded by greed? Is pacifism senseless in a world of war? Are oil and peace at odds with eachother? I’ve no idea.

Watch ‘Mr. Wolf’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Mr. Wolf’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Leonid Amalrik & Olga Khodataeva
Release Date: 1942
Rating: ★★★★
Review:

Kino-Circus © Soyuzmultfilm‘Kino-Circus’ (also called Cinema Circus) is the most inspired of the anti-fascist war propaganda cartoons made in the Soviet Union.

The short is called ‘a cartoon satire in three acts’ and features a Charlie Chaplin-like character, who introduces us to three staged satires, all featuring Adolf Hitler:

In the first, ‘Adolf the dog trainer and his pooches’, Hitler throws a bone at his three dogs, Benito Mussolini, Miklós Horthy and Ion Antonescu, the leaders of his allies Italy, Hungary and Romania, respectively.

In the second, ‘Hitler visits Napoleon’, Hitler asks Napoleon’s tomb for advice, but the deceased drags him into the tomb. It’s the most prophetic of the three, for indeed both Napoleon and Hitler were defeated in Russia.

In the third, ‘Adolf the juggler on powder kegs’, Hitler juggles with several burning torches on a pile of powder-barrels, representing the countries he has occupied. When he accidentally drops one of the torches, the barrels explode. The animation is particularly silly in this sequence and a delight to watch.

After the grim political posters from 1941, ‘Kino-Circus’ is more lighthearted. The film ridicules Hitler more than it makes him threatening. Quite surprising since in1942 Nazi Germany was still a serious threat to the Soviet Union: Leningrad suffered under a long siege, and the Soviet Union had only just begun its counter-attack.

Interestingly, both directors of ‘Kino-Circus’ later became famous for their sweet fairy tale films.

Watch ‘Kino-Circus’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Kino-Circus’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Panteleimon Sasonov
Release Date: 1941
Rating: ★★½
Review:

The Vultures © Soyuzmultfilm‘The Vultures’, like ‘4 newsreels‘ and ‘Fascist Boots on our Homeland‘ is a so-called political poster. Like the other two films from 1941 it is soviet propaganda at its most aggressive.

‘The Vultures’ is the least interesting of the set. Its opening shot is its best part: opening with two eyes in the dark, just like ‘The Skeleton Dance‘ (1929). These eyes appear to belong to a fascist vulture. he and the other fascist vultures (battle planes) are chased away and destroyed by the Soviet airfleet in a rather silly and playful-looking air battle, accompanied by heroic march music.

About the director of ‘The Vultures’, Panteleimon Sasonov (1895-1950), little can be found. Giannalberto Bendazzi tells us in his excellent book ‘Cartoons – one hundred years of cinema animation’ that he made an animation film called ‘The Tale of the Pope and Baldo his Servant’ in 1939.

Watch ‘The Vultures’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘The Vultures’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Directors: Aleksandr Ivanov & I. Vano
Release Date: 1941
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Fascist Boots on our Homeland © SoyuzmultfilmLike ‘4 Newsreels‘, ‘Fascist Boots on our Homeland’ is a so-called ‘political poster’, a short propaganda film that knows no competition in its vicious imagery.

In ‘Fascist Boots on our Homeland’ a horrific fascist pig marches on, trembling several European countries until he gets beaten by the Red Army. The film also contains a very patriotic song and rather associative imagery, including that of Russian soldiers riding horseback, a heroic image from the Russian civil war (1917-1923).

It’s interesting to compare the Soviet images of Nazis with that of American propaganda films from the same era. Whereas in American propaganda, like ‘Der Fuehrer’s Face‘ fascist leaders were caricatured and ridiculed, in the Soviet Union they were depicted as monsters and swines. The whole difference may be that the Soviet Union was invaded, while the United States were not.

Indeed, the US were less kind to the Japanese, who did stain American soil: they were all portrayed as silly, but treacherous Untermenschen, whom one could easily kill without remorse (e.g. in ‘Bugs Bunny nips the Nips’  from 1944 and the Popeye film ‘You’re a sap,  Mr. Jap‘ from 1942).

Watch ‘Fascist Boots on our Homeland’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Fascist Boots on our Homeland’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Directors: Valentina Brumberg, Zinaida Brumberg, Aleksandr Ivanov, Olga Khodataeva and Ivan Ivanov-Vano
Release Date: 1941
Rating: ★★★
Review:

4 Newsreels © SoyuzmultfilmThe Soviet propaganda film ‘4 Newsreels’ consists of four so-called ‘political posters’, which are as blatant as propaganda can get.

The first, ‘What Hitler wants’, shows us an extremely ugly and vicious caricature of Hitler marching towards the Soviet Union until he is pierced by the Soviet bayonet.

In the second, ‘Beat the fascist pirates’, sea serpent-like German submarines are defeated by the Soviet fleet.

The third, ‘Strike the Enemy on the front and at home’, is typical for the paranoid society Stalinist Russia was, warning against treacherous fascist spies, foreign agents and saboteurs: “Be vigilant! Remember, our enemy is cunning!”.

The fourth, ‘A mighty handshake’, tells us about the union between England and the Soviet Union against Nazi Germany, showing two mighty giant soldiers shaking hands and crushing a tiny rat-like Hitler in doing so.

Obviously, Germany’s invasion of the Soviet Union left no room for subtleties.

‘4 Newsreels’ was directed by five veterans of animated Soviet propaganda. All had made animated films since the 1920s. Of the five, Ivan Ivanov-Vano (1900-1987) would become the most successful, directing animated films up to the 1970s. Luckily, he and Olga Khodataeva would be able to show a gentler side in numerous animated fairy tale films for children.

Watch ‘4 Newsreels’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘4 Newsreels’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin
Release Date: 1967
Rating: ★★★
Review:

Prophets and Lessons © Soyuzmultfilm‘Prophets and Lessons’ is a Soviet propaganda film. It tells us how every time the Western world predicted the Soviet Union to fail, but that these predictions never came true.

Its chapters are all conceived in the same order: first we see animated capitalist predict something, then we see a giant Soviet blacksmith strike his mighty hammer and finally we see live action footage of the Soviet Union’s successes.

The separate chapters are the Soviet revolution, the civil war, the five year plans, the Second World War, the reconstruction after the war and the Soviet space program. The action is silent, and the imagery rather outdated (more like that of the 1920s than of the 1960s).

‘Prophets and Lessons’  is one of the most obviously propagandistic animation films ever made in the Soviet Union. Its overtly propagandistic message, its repetitive character, and its outdated symbolism make it rather tiresome to watch.

Surprisingly, two years later, the director of this humorless film, Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin, would launch a successful series of comic cartoons, called ‘Ну, Погоди!’ (‘Just Wait!’), featuring a very cartoony wolf.

Watch ‘Prophets and Lessons’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Prophets and Lessons’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

Director: Vitold Bordzilovsky
Release Date: 1966
Rating: ★★★½
Review:

Proud Little Ship © Soyuzmultfilm‘Proud Little Ship’ is a Soviet propaganda film, which is clearly directed to children.

Three little boys make a small red ship as a copy of the famous cruiser ‘The Aurora’. This little ship sails the seas and is greeted with enthusiasm among all the people of the world.

There are some mean militarists who try to destroy the little ship, but they do not succeed. These militarists are drawn extremely silly, while the rest of the people are drawn rather realistically and appear as noble and gentle. Nevertheless, these drawing styles blend surprisingly well. Moreover the design and choreography of movement is often gorgeous.

All the action is silent, while the story is told by a narrator, who provides the clearest propagandistic message of the film: “the proud little ship sailed as a messenger of a happy life, which, as spring after winter, would certainly come to all people”.

Although ‘Proud Little Ship’ is overtly propagandistic, it’s also an enjoyable and beautiful film. One almost forgets that the message is not concerning world peace, but the ‘glorious’ communist revolution…

Watch ‘Proud Little Ship’ yourself and tell me what you think:

‘Proud Little Ship’ is available on the DVD box set ‘Animated Soviet Propaganda’

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