A sweet little Russian cartoon (it has minimal dialogue, so, don’t worry), with the title One, Two, Three… Up with the Tree! It also has a sweet way of delivering its moral… one shouldn’t be selfish.
When most people think of Russian culture, the heavyweights of literature and classical music, such as Fyodor Dostoyevsky and Pyotr Tchaikovsky, usually spring to mind. However, Russia can also boast some major achievements in the field of children’s cartoons. Read and click on for a short… and by no means exhaustive… guide. The heyday of Soviet children’s cartoons was the late 1960s, when Soyuzmultfilm produced a host of warm and genuinely witty cartoons. Watching them before or after a Western-produced cartoon of the same period, Tom and Jerry for example, it’s striking and unarguable how much more manic and violent the “capitalist” cartoons are…
Matroskin the Cat
Troe iz Prostokvashino, or as some translations have it Three from Buttermilk Village, was the first cartoon I ever got into in Russia. Made in 1978, and based on a book by Soviet writer Eduard Uspensky, it tells the tale of a young lad who goes by the nickname of Uncle Fyodor. The ginger-haired kid leaves home with a vagrant cat, Matroskin, after his mother tells his father, “It’s either me or that cat… choose!” His father replies, “I choose you… I’ve known you for a long time and I’ve only just set eyes on that cat”. Along with a friendly, if dim, dog called Sharik they end up living in the aforementioned Buttermilk Village. Much of the cartoon’s sharp dialogue appeals as much to adults as to children and many phrases have become everyday expressions, such as:
Gena and Cheburashka on a greeting card for the 8 March (International Women’s Day) holiday
Cheburashka is another cartoon based on an Eduard Uspensky book. First released in 1969, it tells the story of the eponymous hero… a strange and exotic creature that ends up in Moscow after falling asleep in a crate of oranges due for shipment to Russia. Once there, he makes the acquaintance of a crocodile called Gena who has been searching for friends by sticking notes around town saying, “Young crocodile looking for friends”. They have many adventures, a lot of which involve battles of wits with one Old Lady Shapoklyak, whose motto is, “You’ll never get famous by doing good”. Cheburashka is perhaps the most famous of all Soviet cartoons and enjoys cult status in Japan. He’s also been the symbol of the Russian Olympic team on three occasions.
Vinni Pukh and Piglet
Soviet cartoon makers were also keen on adapting foreign children’s tales, with A A Milne’s Winnie the Pooh and Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book being turned into Vinni Pukh and Maugli (Mowgli). The Soviet Vinni Pukh (also from 1969) bears little resemblance to the Disney version much better known in the West, being a darkish little bear with an oddly strident tone. Of course, he also loves honey and has a number of animal friends. The Soviet version lacks a Christopher Robin, though. Then again, its source was the books by Eduard Zakhoder, who insisted his Russian version of the Pooh stories were a retelling, rather than a mere translation. Check out the English language version in the above link. Maugli (1967-71) also differs wildly from the Disney animated musical and is, by far, a much darker affair, a lot closer to the original Kipling books. President-elect Vladimir Putin recently showed a fondness for Kipling when he described protesters against his rule as “Bandar-log”. “Come to me, Bandar-log”, he joked, taking on for a second the persona of the evil snake Kaa. Unlike in the West, no one in Russia needed an explanation of the origin of the phrase.
Masha and the Bear
Karlson (1968 and 1970) was a cartoon adaptation of the books by the Swedish author Astrid Lindgren, and it told the story of a jam-loving chubby guy who lived on the roof and made friends with a thoughtful kid who really wanted a puppy. Again, the cartoon appealed as much to adults as children. Modern-day Russia hasn’t seen quite the success of the 1960s and 1970s Soviet Union as far as cartoons go. Nevertheless, the recent Masha and the Bear series has proven popular with kids all across Russia and supplied perhaps the first genuinely-strong cartoon character here for years. The cartoons tell the story of an incredibly mischievous little girl and her friend, the Bear.
19 March 2012