December 13th, 2009

drawing, old man

Masha and the Bear

Masha and the Bear is a new series of short animated films released this year by Animakkord studio. ValerieChatoner has made English subtitles for the first three episodes of this series. (her other large subtitling project over the past few months has been the feature film Ilya Muromets and Nightingale the Robber. You can see the partial translation on her Youtube channel)

Somewhat unusually for Russia, the films in this series use 3D computer animation. They're pretty well-made and have a certain charm, along with some memorable music. Although personally, I've never been able to sympathize with characters like the girl in this series who're always happily destroying things. The first episode reminds me a little of the Canadian cartoon The Cat Came Back, though the girl at least helps put a few things back at the end of the film.

"First Meeting", directed by Denis Chervyatsov:

"Don't Awaken Till Spring", directed by Oleg Kuzovkov:

"One, Two, Three! Christmas Tree, Burn!", directed by Oleg Uzhinov:
drawing, old man


The 1964 Thumbelina (Duymovochka), directed by Leonid Amalrik at Soyuzmultfilm studio, is a beloved adaptation of the story by Hans Christian Andersen. I've been working on English subtitles to it for quite a while, and finally finished the translation a bit over a month ago. The film is 30 minutes long. It's one of the classics of Soviet animation. It's also pretty funny in places.

The following is a bit of commentary that contains "spoilers".

This is definitely a very old-fashioned tale, with some ideas that would be considered outdated today. For a large part of the story, Thumbelina doesn't take active control of her life, and only avoids many catastrophes through the kindness of strangers who feel sorry for her. The only thing she does of her own will is take care of a sick bird and months later, upon an accidental meeting with that bird, asks it to take her away. Nevertheless, the film contains some rather well-done and amusing exaggerations of certain types of people. From the unbelievably lazy toads to the bustling (and somewhat self-serving) field mouse, the supporting characters are well-developed, well-animated and, for me at least, are the most interesting part of the film. The only one I really didn't like was the prince at the end, who is rather ridiculously over-dramatic in declaring his love for Thumbelina (much more so than in the Andersen story). You can see influences from ballet, particularly in the way that Thumbelina is animated.

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drawing, old man

The Little Tiger on the Sunflower

This is a wonderful film that was directed by Leonid Nosyrev (also known for "Laughter and Grief by the White Sea" and earlier films such as "Two Merry Ganders") in 1981. It takes place near the river of Ussuri, which is near Korea in the far east of Russia, making part of the border between Russia and China.

I adore this film. It is a warm story that is lovingly made, and a perfect film to watch for the holiday season.

The following interview with Leonid Nosyrev appeared in the program guide for WFAC '09:


This film looks very unusual, both compared to your other cartoons and compared to other cartoons in general. The characters display a certain naturalism. What was the reason for choosing this style? How was it created, and what unique difficulties did it offer?

We wrote the screenplay with writer Yuriy Koval based on his story; not even a story, but a little fable that happened at an exhibition of children's drawings. There, the writer saw a strange drawing on which was shown a little tiger lying on a sunflower which was growing in the middle of a snowy taiga. The writer enquired about identity of the artist, and a little boy in valenki1 came up (it was wintertime). "Why is the tiger on a sunflower in winter?" asked the writer. "A little tiger walked and walked across the snow. He got tired. He burrowed himself in the snow. And under the snow, he saw a sunflower seed. The little tiger started to breathe on the seed - he warmed it up - and the seed started to germinate and grew into a sunflower. And on the sunflower was the little tiger," said the little boy.

And on the basis of this story written down by the writer, we created our own story about The Little Tiger on the Sunflower.

If you saw my films from Merry-Go-Round2, the 4th installment of this film-journal contains my work The Hamster Who Refuses to Speak. This little film features a hamster, a beaver, a squirrel, a jay, and all of them are realistically-shaped and furry. The film was made in 1972. The Little Tiger came out in 1980. If you carefully look at my films, you will see that the characters of my films correspond well with the style of the backgrounds. The difference between a character that is solidly colored and one colored with gradients (such as the tiger) is large. The very theme, plot and texture required the presence of animals that were furry and charming, for they then become much more attractive for the viewer. But this requires a lot of labour-intensive work. Each cel (a sheet of celluloid with a drawing) had to first be painted from the back side, then the method of trimming the paint with a hard-bristle brush is used from the front side, to create furriness and form. And this was repeated on thousands of cels, in order to create movement. But the characters of the film The Little Tiger on the Sunflower aren't naturalistic. They are similar to nature, but far from being naturalistic. Fervent naturalism is, in a certain sense, non-artistic.

The animals in the animated film do not speak with human voices, but their voices are nevertheless incredibly diverse and expressive. I've never seen anything like it. Why did you decide to go in this direction, and how were these sounds recorded?

We decided to record the voices of the animals in the following manner: the characters would growl, and pronounce something in their own way (they were voiced by an imitation actor), and then the actor Yevgeniy Leonov would translate it into human language as the narrator. This method gives the opportunity of seeing the animals in their natural environment, while avoiding the distasteful sound of "talking" animals.

1Valenki are traditional Russian felt boots.
2A Soyuzmultfilm series running for 33 installments from 1969 to 2002 (link). Each 10-minute film contained a number of smaller films, very often first films by new directors. Nosyrev was one of its creators.