Make Your Way Through Little Hedgehog: The History of Russian Animation from 1947-1979

Western animation, while beautiful and memorable as it is, has a certain conscious of other countries and their animated mediums, and a cultural myopic tendency to others. Japan is known for anime and Britain for the work of Nick Park and Terry Gilliam, but one country that is particularly overlooked is Russia. Laura Pontieri believes that Russian animation came around at the turn of the 20th century right on the tail of the birth of American animation. Although historical records are debatable, the first Russian cartoons came c. 1910-1912 when stop motion was the main medium. One of the earliest cartoons on record was “The Cameraman’s Revenge” (1911) by puppeteer Vladislav Starevich (also known as Ladislav Starewich) who used models of insects to create original stories and tell fables (5). Starevich’s films were “…quite successful among audiences” but due to the Russian Revolution his work was panned and was viewed as “a children’s entertainer without educational value” (5-6). Due to Starevich being ostracized, the country turned away from puppetry animation and developed into hand-drawn animation using characterization as a tool for propaganda purposes. However, these hand-drawn cartoons were not cel animation, rather, drawings and flat marionets, known as “cut-outs”. As Pontieri states: “Russian animators waited longer than Western animators for the arrival of the advanced cel technique, that is, drawing on transparent sheets of celluloid. This delay was perhaps due to the cost of cels or to the European tradition of puppet theater…” (18). As the Russian animators gained access to the various means of animation, they began to borrow techniques from the Disney animators, particularly when it came to caricature. The Moscow International Film Festival which was first held in 1935, showcased some of the Disney animated cartoons, which influenced the Soviets to change tactics from strictly propagandist material to material that provided entertainment, especially geared toward children, leading to the creation of Soyuzmultfilm in 1936 (41).

William I. Hitchcock notes that in March 1947, the Marshall Plan, a European aid package drafted by the United States and the United Nations was refused by the Soviet Union due to the stimulation of the German economy, a notion that the country opposed wanting the Germans to pay reparations for the War (Hitchcock 2010). In response, the Soviet Union issued propaganda cartoons that had certain sociopolitical aspects which were continuous themes that A.V. Fedorov lays out:

The world of ordinary characters is invaded by representations of Western values, including economic (Ambulance) and musical (A Foreign Voice) in an attempt to deceive, entrap, rob, and spoil artistic taste. However, sooner or later the ordinary characters realize the deceit of these actions and begin to confront them… Western bourgeois characters may pretend to be pacifists for a time (Mr. Walk) or benefactors (Ambulance). However, their negative, bestial nature eventually comes out…. Ordinary characters are modest in appearance; the Western bourgeoisie live in luxury (Fedorov 2016).

While A.V. Fedorov illustrates the sociopolitical implications of the Soviet films, which were critical of the West using fairy tales, he does not go into detail in the formal techniques of the Russian animated films, nor does he address the problem of those techniques being in danger of becoming impractical methods of filmmaking. By analyzing three pivotal cartoons in their respected historical contexts: “Ruka (The Hand)” (Jiri Trnka 1965), “The Glass Harmonica” (Khrzhanovsky 1968), and “Tale of Tales” (Norstien 1979), I shall argue for a revitalization of traditional animation techniques in Russia, emphasizing personal aesthetics and stylistic choices of directors, suggesting that they, and other Russian animators, used Western animation techniques to create their work in a system that was oppressing creativity, resulting in work that was creative with limitations; and, because of these limitations, produced cartoons of cultural significance.

Context: Soyuzmultfilm and the Two Main Styles of Russia – “Disney” and “UPA Style”

Birgit Beumers, author of “A History of Russian Cinema” notes in an essay entitled: “Comforting Creatures in Children’s Cartoons” that Russian animation, as well as animation in general, is not studied as frequently due to the main target audience – children (Balina and Rudova 153). Originally, Russian cartoons were used to showcase mortality as opposed to an ideology, Beumers notes that: “Soviet animation was less affected by ideological constraints and thus, was able to instill in children universal moral values of right and wrong and often to make subversive comments on contemporary society” (Balina and Rudova 154). If per Fedorov, animation was used for propaganda purposes and per Beumers, the medium was used for a more moral one, then which is the correct reading? Both are correct. “In 1936 Mezhrabpomfilm [a Russian film studio] was reorganized into two studios – Soyuzdetfilm (Studio of children’s films) and the animation studio, Soyuzmultfilm – the latter of which received the special permit to produce cartoons for children” (Balina and Rudova 156). During World War II, Soyuzmultfilm was evacuated to a remote location, making the productions of cartoons nearly impossible to continue; however, upon returning to Moscow, the company focused resources on producing fairy tales which, as Beumers notes: “[were] suitable for feature length material, which were needed to compete with Disney’s Snow White (1937). The fairy tale suited propaganda purposes for two reasons: on one hand by drawing on national heritage, and on the other hand because of the inherent element of moral instruction as considered appropriate over centuries and could therefore hardly contradict socialist principles” (Balina and Rudova 160). Pontieri furthers this argument by suggesting that the Russians adopted the Disney model because: “Disney aesthetic and method of production responded to the needs of official art and prevented the search for new styles” (Pontieri 148). In congruence, Fedorov notes that the sociocultural, political, and ideological atmosphere of Russia in the later part of the 1940s and, to some extent, the 1950s was centered on four fundamentals:

Restoration of the war-torn Russian economy by straining all available human resources; rapid development of military production, nuclear development, and the equipping of many factories with captured equipment; establishment of totalitarian regimes that were completely dependent on the Kremlin in almost all the countries of Eastern Europe; [and, a] return to the practice of mass repressions (the struggle against cosmopolitanism, the anti-Semitic campaign, etc.) (Fedorov 2016).

It was these four fundamentals that prevailed in some of the early propaganda work and it was also these fundamentals that animators rebelled against. In the 1960s, a newer style of animation was adopted into Russian animation, known as the “UPA style” (or “Zagreb”), alongside the older Disney model, which relied heavily on caricature and satire. An example of the UPA style would be “The Millionaire” (1963 Bordzlovski and Prytkov) which adopts elements of the style that Dan Bashara defines as: “hard-edged, simplified forms; bold, unmodulated colors; an evacuation of detail; a minimalist environmental surround often reduced to geometric patterns or even a flat color plane; the avoidance of rounded, centerline character

[Figure 2: Examples of “UPA Style”, From Left to Right: “Gerald McBoing-Boing” (Cannon 1951), “Mr. Magoo (1960-1961), “The Pink Panther Show” (1963-1979), “The Millionaire” (1963 Bordzlovski and Prytkov)

design; and a relaxed (at best) implementation of Renaissance perspective” (Bashara 2015).  In similar fashion to the Disney model, the UPA style was adopted because of UPA’s success with “Mr. Magoo” (1960-61) and “Gerald McBoing-Boing” (Cannon 1951) as well as other cartoons like Hanna Barbera’s “The Jetsons” and Depatie-Freleng Enterprises “The Pink Panther Show” (1963-79). The style was heavily used to further

[Figure 3: Left to Right: The Story of a Crime (1962), “Man in the Frame” (1966), and “Film, Film, Film” (1968) (Khitruk)]

the needs of Russian propaganda with Fyodor Khitruk becoming a spearhead of the style with shorts such as “The Man in the Frame” (1966) and “The Story of a Crime” (1962).



Rebelling Against the State: Jiří Trnka and Ruka (“The Hand”) (1965)

[Figure 4: Jiří Trnka]

            Cerise Howard notes that Czechoslovakian puppeteer Jiří (Jiri) Trnka began his professional life as an illustrator of children’s books and a painter, ultimately settling on the Eastern European tradition of puppetry. Bringing back the stylistic medium of puppet films that Starevich began, Trnka’s puppet films were often wordless and his puppets had a fixed expression which was part of his aesthetic. Břetislav Pojar, one of Trnka’s collaborators, explains: “It was simply Trnka’s way of creating puppets. They had character, and yet to a certain extent a neutral expression, so that they could vary emotional states through body position or silhouettes” (Howard 2013). Per Kit Laybourne, author of “The Animation Book”, Trnka employed a puppet style known as the “Czech puppet” due to the association with Trnka and other Czech animators. The Czech puppet was made of an armature, or flexible yet sturdy skeleton that was padded and clothed (Laybourne 155-56). Most likely, Trnka used a wooden armature, due to his puppets being made from wood. Before Trnka began his puppet films, he had three hand-drawn shorts screened at the first Cannes Film Festival, one of them, Dárek (The Gift) had a profound stylistic impact on UPA. Stephen Bosustow, UPA’s co-founder, went on to say that Trnka was “the first rebel against Disney’s omnipotence” (Howard 2013). This rebellion against the Disney model of animation caused issues when the Czechoslovakian government fell to Communism in 1948. Because of Trnka’s influence and prestige, the state subsidized Trnka’s output, making him a literal puppet of the regime (Howard 2013). Czech writer Antonín J. Liehm notes that: “it was much harder for the watchdogs to penetrate the land of fairy tales, folk stories and poetic visions, in pursuit of puppet film, all the more so since at that time folklore was recommended and defended by the state” (Howard 2013). Thus, was Trnka’s answer to his predicament- make puppet films that told fairy tales to appease the government; and, to make a film that criticized the state but to guise it as a fairy tale, in the hopes of gaining artistic expression and creative freedom.

[Figure 6: “Ruka” – allusion to “Le Passion de Jeanne d’Arc” (Deyer 1928)]
[Figure 5: “Ruka” – the potter swinging the mallet over his head, the camera tracks movement.]

“Ruka” deviates from the traditional fairy tale model of Eastern European animation by focusing on political beliefs and creative freedom, calling back to Fedorov’s claim of the four fundamentals of Russian animation, with the fourth being challenged. Telling the story of a happy potter content with his simple profession, he is interrupted by a large hand who forces him to create state works, eventually leading to violence and tragedy. The film utilizes Trnka’s aesthetic of a constantly moving camera and creative lighting, which is exemplified in two scenes. When the potter attempts to slam the hand’s fingers with a mallet after being forced to watch propaganda from a TV that the hand pulls from a box, the camera tracks the potter’s movements; as the potter swings the mallet over his head, the camera follows the motion- moving side to side and in circles. The second, is when Trnka alludes to “La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc” (Deyer 1928) emphasizing Trnka’s own personal grief and emotions at the time (he also alludes to “Mobilier fidele (The Automatic Moving Company)” (Bossetti 1912), in terms of object movement). Peter Hames of Sight and Sound notes:

“One of Trnka’s most important animators, Bretislav Pojar, noted that when Trnka painted his puppets, he gave them a deliberately undefined look – it was through movement and lighting that their characters and emotions would be revealed: “By merely turning their heads, or by a change in lighting, they gained smiling or unhappy or dreamy expressions” (Hames 2012).

Trnka’s aesthetic in this frame – the paint running down the potter’s face, resembling tears, the expression of desperation, the way the light hits, the extreme close-up, all signify Trnka’s masterful aesthetical use of lighting as well as a subtextual plea for help and a call for creative freedom.  Jiri Trnka would die in 1969, making “Ruka” his last puppet film, and perhaps his most significant due to the censorship received upon release. As Hames details:

Appearing just after the first films of the Czech New Wave, but well before any of their explicitly political works, The Hand remains one of the most overt attacks on Stalinism to have been made in the 1960s. When Trnka died in 1969, the year after the Russian invasion of Czechoslovakia, he was awarded a state funeral. But when a retrospective of his work was held a year later at the Karlovy Vary Film Festival, The Hand was omitted. As late as the 1980s, an exhibit featuring The Hand even mysteriously disappeared from a 1980s Prague exhibition on the history of cinema (Hames 2012).

Trnka’s inability to criticize due to government censorship resulted in Trnka rebelling against the state, and while he was known throughout the Czech as a maker of fairy tales, his seminal work, “Ruka”, remains a creative force in a field full of unoriginal copies of Disney and UPA that dominated the Eastern European landscape. While “Ruka” set into the motion the idea of freedom of thought and creativity, it was “The Glass Harmonica” by Andrei Khrzhanovsky that resulted in a full-scale revolution.

There Once Lived Censorship, and “The Glass Harmonica”

Criticizing the government for disallowing creative freedoms since his college years,

[Figure 7: Andrey Khrzhanovsky (1939-)]

Andrey Khrzhanovsky, a Russian animator known for his use of cut-out animation and films focusing on political critique, made a dangerous statement with his seminal work, “The Glass Harmonica (or Steklyannaya garmonika)” (1968) to challenge the official Disney model of Russia with an intellectual medium. As Pontieri notes: “Khrzhanovsky’s departure from the Disney style did not only constitute a refusal of traditional aesthetic choices, but also signified a rejection of the “official” style that Disney represented during the Stalin years” (148).  In graduate school, Khrzhanovsky created a permissible work, known as “There Once Lived Kozayvin” (Zhil-byl Koziavin) (1966) which was a satirical piece on the censorship of creativity and a commentary on Russian bureaucracy (Pontieri 139). However, “The Glass Harmonica” paints a bleaker picture of the issue that Trnka and Starevich addressed earlier – artistic and creative freedom.

[Figure 8: “The Glass Harmonica” – opening captions]

The film begins with a caption over an effigy of a wrist with a coin in the palm: “Although the events in this film are of a fantastic character, its authors would like to remind you of boundless greed, police terror, the isolation and brutalization of humans in modern bourgeois society” (Khrzhanovsky 1968). What follows is a complex narrative revolving around The Yellow Devil (sometimes called The Governor, depending on the translation) and his grip of a small town that has no creativity, color, and is in absolute despair. When a craftsman travels into the town square, he plays from his magical glass harmonica, an instrument that inspires creativity and good moral action; however, he is almost instantly repressed and arrested by the Yellow Devil and his officials. The craftsman’s parting gifts, broken pieces of the harmonica and a red flower, both of which are withered and dead, are picked up a young boy, who, inspired by the harmonica’s sound, travels off. Meanwhile, the Yellow Devil, initiates a state of chaos with a hypnotic trance of money, resulting in the people quarreling over coin and turning into animals; however, the grip is broken when the boy returns with glass harmonica intact and the townspeople, hearing the music, become enlightened and drive The Yellow Devil out.

Khrzhanovsky’s supposed message, that money is the root of all evil and capitalism is despicable, is a misreading. As Pontieri believes: “… it is no longer the bureaucrat under attack, but a system that represses artistic freedom; thus, this film addresses an audience that is sensitive to the problems of the

[Figure 9: Comparison between “The Glass Harmonica” (1968) (right) and “The Son of Man” (1964” (left)]

artistic world and understands the film’s references” (148).  While Trnka alludes to Deyer’s “La Passion de Jeanne d’Arc” in terms of framing and aesthetic, Khrzhanovsky alludes to paintings; The Yellow Devil, for instance, holds an uncanny resemblance to Magritte’s “The Son of Man” (1964); thus, in an intellectual, less explicit way, Khrzhanovsky is dealing with rebellion against the state, with The Yellow Devil being the epidemy of the bourgeois that the beginning caption warned us about. We know nothing of the face behind The Yellow Devil, despite us clearly able to see him, his actions are often sporadic, mechanical, profit driven, and in the service of a machine (the state that he runs); however, The Yellow Devil also represents a dictator due to the mechanical movements he possesses, particularly in relation to the mouth (Pontieri 149). Pontieri notes that in order to elude censors, Khrzhanovsky was encouraged to emphasize the effect of money over a society as opposed to the question of the artist living in an authoritarian regime – however; to accomplish both goals, he played with subtext:

The intertextuality he [Khrzhanovsky] creates not only expresses an interplay of texts bearing specific significations, but also fulfills a dramaturgic role. The texts that interweave in the film have specific connotations that help… express a precise dramaturgic thought while playing with aesthetics categories (Pontieri 149).

Figure 10: Grotesque imagery. Above: “Plate 12 rom ‘Los Caprichos’: Out hunting for teeth” (Goya 1799). Below: “The Glass Harmonica” (Khrzhanovsky 1968)]

Pontieri continues by suggesting that Khrzhanovsky associates different aesthetics with certain characters: protagonists being represented by mimesis and antagonists are represented by the grotesque image. Because of the contrast, Khrzhanovsky structures the film through contrasting juxtaposition (Pontieri 149). The grotesque and beautiful moments are created through various inspirations from certain artists with inspiration for the grotesque coming from Francisco de Goya, Bosch, Bruegel, and Arcimboldo (150). In contrast, Italian Renaissance paintings from Raffaello, Botticelli, and Perugino, as well as Masaccio’s “The Tribute Money” (1424), which Khrzhanovsky creates a similar effect in terms of perspective, represent those who are enlightened by the harmonica’s music and the idea of enlightenment itself; hence, the fitting symbolism (151).

[Figure 11: Use of Renaissance perspective in “The Glass Harmonica”. Left: “The Glass Harmonica” (Khrzhanovsky 1968). Right:  Masaccio’s “The Tribute Money” (1424)]


Cut-out animation, one of the oldest forms of animation besides puppetry, is used exclusively in “The Glass Harmonica”. While scholars debate on the exact origins of where cu-out animation originated from, Donald Crafton notes that some of the early work in the medium can be traced back to Walter R. Booth, a British musician akin to Georges Méliès. “Booth’s specialty was a type of transformation in which a drawing of a person was changed into a living figure by the use of dissolves or stop-action substitutes” (25). This trick was used in “The Sorcerer’s Scissors” (1907 Booth) which is considered one of the earliest uses of an early form of cut-out animation

[Figure 12: “The Glass Harmonica” (1968) – flight sequence]

(26). Cut-out animation, which is the process of moving figures that have been drawn on pieces of paper and then cut in various ways to be fastened back together (Laybourne 60), provided Khrzhanovsky with the mechanical nature of The Yellow Devil as well as the weightlessness of other characters in the flight sequence because of the control that the medium presents (149, 155).

“The Glass Harmonica”, which was under distribution by Soyuzmultfilm, encountered several obstacles upon release. The script had to be rewritten for the studio to accept the film (163), and the Artistic Council of Soyuzmultfilm (the entity that decides what content to distribute) concluded that because of the themes and complex nature of the film it would be difficult to distribute to a mass audience. One of the reasons, besides political bias, was the fact that the studio was unable to produce complex imagery because the studio was based on a division of labors that it was not able to handle. When the Soviet Union invaded Czechoslovakia in August 1968, the meetings ended. “The only existing copy of the first version of the film,” Pontieri states, “which had been seen and kept only in the Soyuzmultfilm studio, was ordered destroyed” (Pontieri 163-66). Thus, to have the film made, it was altered and the opening captions were added (166). Eventually, “The Glass Harmonica” was picked up by Soyuzmultfilm after several agreements and revisions, but it was only shown in Moscow a few days after completion and was shelved for many years until 1986, and even today, the film is rarely seen (166-67).

The Greatest Animated Film of All Time: Yuri Norstien and “Tale of Tales” (1979)

[Figure 13: Yuri Norstien (1941-)]

Considered to be one of the greatest animators in history, Yuri Norstien helped create some of Russia’s most beloved fairy tales and turn them into animation classics: “The Fox and Rabbit” (1973), “Heron and Crane” (1974), and “Hedgehog in the Fog” (1975) just to name a few. However, his most crowning achievement, besides “Hedgehog in the Fog”, is the piece that could be considered the tail end of the Russian propagandist era of animation, “Tale of Tales”. Mary Solwik notes that the film is famous for its aesthetic, attention to detail, dream-like quality, complex nature, and is a continuation Norstien’s use of cut-out animation which was used in “Hedgehog in the Fog”; however, “Tale of Tales”, which uses a similar style in terms of character design and aesthetic as “Hedgehog”, adds through use of the multi-plane camera (Solwik 2014).

Solwik recounts the narrative and allusions of the film, suggesting a deeper significance offering the idea that the film is a history of Russia. Following a family during, before, and after World War II, the film’s main antagonist, a wolf cub, and a secondary character, a retrospective narrator (whom we are never fully acquainted to), narrate the story simultaneously, weaving together a non-linear narrative that follows the lives of this family in fragmented segments, with Solwik citing James Phelan that offers an idea that this film might be based on Norstien’s personal life: “‘Writers create versions of themselves as they write, and readers understand both that narrative is a communication from a real person and that they can come to know a version of that person through the narrative’” (Solwik 2014). The film offers four distinct scenes, one of which, involves the family members enjoying a sunny day. Solvik presents the effect of Norstien’s aesthetic:

[Figure 14: “Tale of Tales” (1979) – use of multi-plane camera]

Through layering of paper and other materials over the images, sophisticated lighting and use of the multi-plane camera, the drawings and cut-outs appear vague and indistinct as if we are in the process of reading a book while falling asleep (Solvik 292).

[Figure 15: “Walt Disney’s Multiplane Camera” (1957)]

Multi-plane camera usage can be seen in “Tale of Tales” in multiple occasions, but especially from a scene in which the wolf runs down a hill with a baby and a dance sequence. The multi-plane camera was a technological advancement created by the Walt Disney Company to produce feature length films originating sometime in the early 1920s that was first used in the development of “Snow White” (Disney 1957). In 1957, Walt Disney recorded an episode of “Disneyland” which provided an explanation of the camera: “…with our original picture broken down in this manner, it is possible to control the relative speed with which each

[Figure 16: “Tale of Tales” (1979) – multi-plane camera use]

individual part of it moves to and away from the camera” (Disney 1957).  The multi-plane camera was widely used in Bambi, with its beautiful panning shots being created by moving the individual planes slightly, similar to how animation itself is created (Disney 1957). Norstien uses this effect himself to create the illusion of depth and realism, adding to his difficult to create aesthetic.

[Figure 17: “Tale of Tales” (1979) – the wolf is Virgo leading us on through Purgatory]

In the same manner that Trnka and Khrzhanovsky allude to other works, Norstien is more akin to literary allusions, particularly Dante Alighieri’s “Inferno”. Solvik notes the importance of the wolf character, who acts as Virgo (Solvik 295). Solvik insists that the wolf is the guide throughout this narrative, while the retrospective narrator is the central core and aesthetic (295). In Solvik’s view then, the audience is the core, specifically the Russian audience, which is what this film, a complex one that deserves its own research, is about.

Putin Strikes the Bear, the Bear Strikes Back: 2010 – Present

Unlike Trnka and Khrzhanovsky, Norstien was not censored for his work because most of his films were distributed by Soyuzmultfilm; however, he currently faces a form of creative repression – the medium he uses slowly becoming irrelevant. In 2010, Natalia Afanaseva noted that Norstein expressed his country’s stance on animation, stating: “the country killed animation and left” referring to the bill Vladimir Putin signed into law, cutting the Ministry of Culture’s budget in half (Afansaeva 2010). The reason due to the slashing of the Ministry of Culture’s budget was due to the bankruptcy of Soyuzmultfilm after the fall of the Soviet Union, due to the company’s dependency of government funding (Afanaseva 2010). Per the Moscow Times, Yuri Norstien met with Vladmir Putin in 2011, creating an entity specifically designed to promote public funding of the animation industry. While Soyuzmultfilm is still in operation, it has been replaced by another company that focuses on computer animation, Animaccord, which was founded in 2008, with their main product being “Masha the Bear”, an enjoyable television series focusing on a Russian fairy tale about a bear who keeps a little girl out of trouble (Vereykina 2015).

[Figure 18: “Masha and the Bear” (2009-) – present-day Russian animation]

While “Masha” is no “Hedgehog” or “Tales”, it is saving the industry and is enjoyable, but only due to the familiarity and marketability the show presents. However, “Masha” is no “Tale of Tales” or “Ruka” or “Harmonica”; it is simply a Western copy. The scholarship is limited, but closer examination reveals that “Masha” takes influences from Western animation, particularly the “Looney Tunes” cartoons of the 1960’s in terms of gags; the animation is three-dimensional, but the gags are familiar and sometimes come off as bland rehashes. This is a problem: Russia is no longer producing challenging content- they are simply reverting to the model that served them well in the 1960s, only this time, there may not be a recovery of traditional mediums due to the three-dimensional shift.

RT News reporter, Tom Barton noted that in 2010, most households in Russia watched the traditional Soviet animated cartoons as opposed to the three-dimensional material. The reason, is in part to what Beumers stated, these cartoons taught a sense of morality. Natalya Maskovch, a mother of several children, supports this argument by saying: “Apart from many other things, these cartoons laid the very basics of my concepts about life – what’s good and bad, what’s valuable and what’s to be ignored” (Barton 2010). In the same report, Norstien was interviewed, speaking to the humanity the cartoons of him and his colleagues possess: “Speaking of humanness, Pope John II used to say: ‘If you want to bring up your children in a humane way, show them Soviet cartoons, there you are!’” (Barton 2010). Traditional animated mediums need to revitalized in Russia, if not only for originality, but for the sake of Russian identity and specificity. Cartoons such as “Tale of Tales” and “The Glass Harmonica” are Russia’s fairy and cautionary tales. Without works being created in such a manner, we shall be left with “Masha”, a Westernized version of a Russian folk tale, instead of a pure Russian one. With traditional techniques gone, Russia will lose a large part of its cultural history. Although more recently the situation has improved, thanks in large part to the success of “Masha and the Bear” and the state funding of animation doubling as of 2015, the content is limited and improving (Vereykina 2015). The only hope is that with “Masha”, the animation industry in Russia can have a resurgence, ushering a new animation renaissance. Until this occurs however, traditional animation must be re-instated.

“Ruka” and “The Glass Harmonica” and “Tale of Tales” challenged the Western and state notions of what a cartoon should be. These artists did not necessarily care what was the norm, they strove to be creative in the system that used the Western models oppressively. The animators used Western animation techniques such as cut-out animation, the multi-plane camera, and filmic camera movements to create their work, and the cartoons such as these provide a cultural significance to Russians and Eastern Europeans. Animation is not just for children, it can be against the government, intellectually challenging, and moving. The story of Russian animation is not so much about the cartoons themselves, but the processes and contexts in which they were created and the persons who created them.  With the death of traditional animation, a sense of humanism and creativity is lost. Perhaps with a revitalization, the potter can be avenged, the musician can play his music, and the wolf can finally rest after the war.



Work Cited

Afanaseya, Natalia. “The End of Russian Animation.” Russian Life Feb. 2011: 50-57. Print.

Barton, Tom. Same Old ‘Toon: Cash slash spells end of era for Soviet animation? RT News. 10 Nov. 2010. Web. <;.

Bashara, Dan. “Cartoon Vision: UPA, Precisionism and American Modernism.” Animation: An Interdisciplinary Journal (2015): 83. Web.

Beumers, Birgit. “Comforting Creatures in Children’s Cartoons.” Russian Children’s Literature and Culture, edited by Marina Balina and Larissa Rudova, Routledge, 2008, 153-160.

Crafton, Donald. Before Mickey: the animated film 1898-1928. Chicago: U of Chicago Press, 1993. 25-26. Print.

Fedorov, A. V. “The Application of Hermeneutical Analysis to Research on the Cold War in Soviet Animation Media Texts from the Second Half of the 1940s.” Russian Social Science Review 57.3 (2016): 194-204. Web.

Hames, Peter. “The hand that rocked the Kremlin: Jirí Trnka.” Sight and Sound 6 June 2012: n. pag. Print.

Hitchcock, William. “The Marshall Plan and the Creation of the West.” The Cambridge History of the Cold War, edited by Melvyn P. Leffler and Odd Arne Westad, vol. 1, Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, 2010, pp. 154–174. The Cambridge History of the Cold War.

Howard, Cerise. “The Passion of the Peasant Poet: Jiří Trnka, A Midsummer Night’s Dream and The Hand.” Senses of Cinema. N.p., 09 Aug. 2015. Web. 05 Apr. 2017.

I maestri dell’animazione russa = Masters of Russian Animation. Dir. Yuri Norstein. “Tale of Tales”. N.p., 1979/2004. Print.

I maestri dell’animazione russa = Masters of Russian Animation. Dir. Andrey Khrzhanovsky. “The Glass Harmonica”. N.p., 1968/2004. Print.

Laybourne, Kit. The Animation Book. New York: Random House International, 1999. Print.

Pontieri, Laura. Soviet animation and the thaw of the 1960s: not only for children. New Barnet, U.K.: John Libbey Pub. Ltd., 2012. Print.

Ruka (“The Hand”). Dir. Jiri Trnka. N.p., 1965. Web.

Slowik, Mary. “Telling ‘What Is’: Frame Narrative in Zbig Rybczynski’s Tango, Wendy Tilby and Amanda Forbis’s When the Day Breaks, and Yuri Norstein’s Tale of Tales.” Animation 9.3 (2014): 292-97. Web.

Tricks of Our Trade. Perf. Walt Disney. N.p., 13 Feb. 1957/4 Feb. 2011. Web. <;.

Vereykina, Elizaveta. “Russian Animation Rises From Ashes of 1990s.” The Moscow Times. N.p., 25 May 2015. Web.


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