July 2, 2016 posted by Milton Knight

Soyuzmultfilm 1960s: Fairy Tales For Adults

Soyuzmultfilm, the largest and most famous animation studio in Russia, is known to Americans solely based on its slow moving fairy tales seen in kids’ TV packages throughout the 1960s. Less familiar are its cartoons produced for adult audiences, usually of varying degrees of anti-capitalist and civic propaganda, overt and covert. Such films were often set at a brisker pace and employed more challenging art direction than the ones made for children. Here are some outstanding examples:


The staging and literalized animation in this Soviet razz at capitalist greed are on the ambitious scale of the Fleischer Superman cartoons. The characters are based on designs by Boris Efimov (1899/1900-2008), the premier Soviet political cartoonist, internationally famed for his ridicules of the nazis. By Victor Gromov, a director between 1945 and 1954.


In 1962, Khrushchev made his antipathy toward abstract art publicly clear. But since the death of Stalin, the cultural atmosphere had become more tolerant. While it was not recognized by the state, “unofficial” art was permitted to live as its own movement. This propaganda piece equates abstract art with Western falseness, but it is clear that the film makers adored that art. Some of the best abstract painting in animated film I’ve seen. There is even a spoof of Jackson Pollock at work. By comparison, the “positive” realist art for “the people” comes across as falsity, especially at the wind-up. The moral is ironic, and the artists involved most likely knew it. Grigory Kozlov had been with Soyuzmultfilm since from its 1936 opening as animator, and began directing in 1960.


The common working man suffers under the lofty platitudes and base injustices of Western capitalist society. Whatever your reaction, one thing cannot be denied: Once the film progresses to the ‘modern day’ part of the story, the visuals, conceived using a small pile of American magazines as points of reference, startlingly anticipate the French comics and MTV imagery of over 20 years later. Roman Davydov had been directing since 1948.


In a very mid-century milieu, this “Fairy Tale for Adults”, about a spat between newlywed cats, is meant to inspire co-operation in married life. Leonid Amalrik had directed the landmark racial injustice short Black and White in 1932, and had been directing at Soyuzmultfilm from its start.


His communist sympathies made Danish cartoonist Herluf Bidstrup (1912-1988) unlikely to receive widespread popularity in the West, but his work is still well loved in Russia. This short is based on his drawings. There is much human observation in the animation, masterfully directed by Lev Atamanov, director of the most ubiquitous Soviet feature, The Snow Queen, in 1957. Beatles songs are lifted from the soundtrack of Yellow Submarine to represent the values of the “new generation”.


  • I wonder if it is possible to find out more on Fleischer Studios’ setback (stereo-scopic) 1930′s technology on Cartoon Research?
    I sure would be grateful as I remember sitting up everytime it flashed on the screen.

  • I’ve seen some of the Soyuzmultfilm of the 1950’s that aired on the now defunct America One cable network. One I recall was about a monkey and his friends escaping a zoo and taking over a steam powered passenger train and one loosely based on Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juilet involving two feuding warbird clans.

    The most recognizable Soyuzmultfilm animated cartoons that was broadcast here in the US was The Nutcracker with the scores from Tchaikovsky’s ballet version of The Nutcracker and Swan Lake and the redubbed version of The Magic Pony starring Johnny Whittaker, Erin Moran, Jim Backus and Hans Conried.

    Back in the 1990’s Soyuzfilms animated shorts were being broadcasted on Mexico City’s XEPIN TV Once as part of the “Ventanas de Colores” (Windows of Color) tv series. Which included a few propaganda cartoons, whimsical family fare and dark animated stories.

    The ones I remember most are:

    Bring Back Rex: about a young boy who fell into thin ice while playing hockey with his elderly dog Rex and not knowing about his dog’s fate.

    Tchaikovsky’s Children Corner: a Fantasia type cartoon featuring the music of Tchaikovsky.

    The Messenger Fish: about Valentina’s younger sister asking a postman why he wasn’t delivering letters to her sister and not knowing that her fiancé was serving in the Soviet Navy in a Submarine.

    And one dark tale about a man whose foot became a singing sensation until fame and fortune got to his foot and he had to shoot his foot after it went into hysterics.

    And a weird little animated film involving a retired general training cockroaches as his personal army.

  • The fleeting moment in “The Case of the Artist” where the painter leaves footprints on his creation to the immediate applause of the assembled gallery onlookers anticipates performance art.

  • For comparison’s sake, here are some of Herluf Bidstrup’s comics that got adapted into “The Bench”:

    Boris Efimov also did character designs for a few other Soyuzmultfilm shorts: a puppet/stop-motion adaption of Alexander Pushkin’s “The Tale of the Priest and of His Workman Balda”, and two political animations (“Prophets and Lessons” and “A Lesson Not Learned”). Some of Efimov’s political cartoons also appear in Yefim Gamberg’s 1989 cartoon “Stereotypes”, during the “enemy image” Rubik’s cube segment.

  • These are some of the most beautiful cartoons I have ever seen.
    It’s interesting how the animation and music appeals to the highest intellect while the message appeals to the very lowest. Communism/Statism can’t thrive without harping on racism, sexism, etc, and if it doesn’t already exist then they find it necessary to invent it in order to divide up enough special interests into self-serving little voting constituencies. Notice how The Shareholder omits the sequence where black tribes kidnapped their rivals to sell them to the evil Dutch traders? And then omits how the Communist Banana Republic warlords in the Africa of the 60’s (& today) are the direct descendants of those evil African Gold Coast “capitalists”?

    • You mean to say that films produced by the oppressive Soviet government for the express purpose of selling its narrow and discredited political dogma might be … less than honest?

      The impressionable dupes of Cartoon Research must be warned!

    • Clown of all clowns:
      We get it. Africans were complicit in the enslavement of their race. Historical fact, and yet somehow I don’t think it lets white America off the hook. Not then, not now. And I suppose next you will tell us how Rhodesia got a bum rap, because look at Mugabe – those negroes just can’t self-govern because their ooga-booga culture is too primitive.

      Nobody here likes you. Even Oswald the Rabbit is embarrassed by your Ayndy Randa rants. Get off my internet, and take your little “Ö” with a hat on it with you when you go.

  • No mention of “Ograblenie Po”, which showcases 4 different types of robberies, and even tried to simulate a Hollywood feature by rotoscoping the MGM logo (only for the lion to e replaced by the Russian cartoon character Cheburashka)?

    • This is only going up to 1967, perhpas Milt will do one for 1967 onward someday.

  • The stylization, staging, depth and contour of these cartoons is astounding! The delicacy of the animation is first-rate. So many subtle gestures and actions/reactions that are outside the scope of American animation of the era. This is a HUGE eye-opener. Thank you, Milton!

  • For an example of Russian adult cartoons of more recent vintage, here is supposedly all of a series of naughty TV fillers, aired, I would guess, after midnight. Real SEX TO SEXTY stuff.

    • Well, at least there’s still some animation in it for the grown ups these days. I feel like Russia is always stuck in this kids-only mode for quite a long time. You need to shake it up now and then.

  • I remember coming across a documentary series about Soviet propaganda animation that showcased parts of ‘The Shareholder’. It was fascinating to see the entire film. Thanks!

  • Thank you so much for this post! These cartoons are a true revelation! The quality of the animation is astounding. Is this what most Russian animation is like? Can these, or other Russian cartoons be found on DVD? Will you do more posts on similar films? Please? 🙂

  • In the 70s a friend of my brother came back from the USSR with some 8mm silent home movie versions of a few Soviet cartoons. One in particular had a sort of Boris and Natasha-in-reverse: a pair of Americanski spies, and a top-hatted Kapitalist who were up to no good. And, for no reason I could discern, the last scene was a kitty cat doing a sort of “ha-cha-cha-cha” thing with his jaw. Very odd.

    Does this ring a bell? I’d love to see that one again.

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