Soviet Multiki: The Charming, the Classic, and the Bizarre
The Soviet Union was famous for many things. Its flag, its leaders, its “evil,” and, of course, its multiki (cartoons). After all, who doesn’t recall lazy Komsomol mornings sprawled out on your stomach with a warm bottle of Буратино (Soviet soda) next to you, eyes glued to the TV, hours melting away like ice cream in summer?
And indeed, a lot of quality cartoons come from the Soviet Union. Whether you’re interested in something more classic stuff, like the fluffy Cheburashka, something absolutely charming, like The Giant Ear saving a little bat, or something more bizarre, like a phantasmagoric space adventure or a surreal fairytale, I’ve got you covered.
Малыш и Карлсон, который живет на крыше (Karlsson-on-the-Roof), SoyuzMultFilm, 1968 and 1970
This one’s charming and classic. Adapted from the Swedish children’s books written by Astrid Lingren, Karlsson-on-the-Roof is a whimsical story about a seven-year-old-boy who makes friends with Karlsson, an overconfident and bumbling neighbor who uses a propeller to fly around and drinks all the family’s jam (he is fuelled by sugar). It’s endlessly quotable and easy to watch.
Как казаки… (How the Cossacks…) 1967-1995 KievNaukFilm
This series doesn’t actually have words, so it’s not so great for language learning, but there’s something so enchanting and triumphant about the three main Cossack heroes and their fellow compatriots. It’ll put a smile on your face to watch these noble heroes win the world cup in football, save a princess, and much more, all in perfect union with playful music.
Большой ух (The Giant Ear) 1989 Экран
A mystical, spritely being, The Giant Ear, appears in the middle of the woods and approaches a lone, loud wolf. The Giant Ear encourages the wolf to listen, really listen, to the universe. Together, they discover and save a struggling bat. It’s so cute I’m gonna die.
Ну погоди (Well, Just You Wait!) 1969-2012 SoyuzMultFilm
This series is often described as a Soviet analogue to Tom and Jerry. It began as a slapstick comedy featuring a menacing and gruff but surprisingly talented hooligan, Волк (Wolf), whose plans to ensnare and exploit the goody-goody Заяц (Hare) are always doomed to fail, at which point Волк shakes his fist and delivers his famous, “Ну, заяц! Ну, погоди!” Though some say it is devoid of subtext, others have read it as an exemplar of tensions between the intelligentsia, represented by Заяц, and the proletariat (working class), represented by Волк.
Ёжик в тумане (Hedgehog in the Fog) 1975 SoyuzMultFilm
Atmospheric, cerebral, and chilling, this one’s a true masterpiece. In 2003 Hedgehog in the Fog was dubbed the “No.1 animated film of all time” at a Tokyo film festival. Need I say more? Here’s how poet Joseph Brodsky interprets the animation:
In Hedgehog in the Fog, Y. Nortstein considers our first encounters with the mysteries of being, the fundamental strangeness of all that is, the grotesque tragedy that inhabits our world, and the limited nature of kindness.”
В „Ежике в тумане“ Ю. Норштейн говорит о первом соприкосновении с таинствами бытия, о загадочности всего сущего, о нелепой трагичности, существующей в мире, и о конечной его доброте.
All of Yuri Nortstein’s work is worth a watch, particularly Сказки сказок (Tale of tales).
Чебурашка 1969-1983 SoyuzMultFilm
When Eduard Uspensky, the writer who created Cheburashka, died on August 14, 2018, it was somewhat of a national tragedy in Russia. After all, Cheburashka, along with matryoshkas and khokhloma, emblemizes Russia. In the stop-motion animation, Cheburashka, together with his crocodile friend Gena (yep, Cheburashka is male), sings some songs known to almost every Russian to this day. К сожалению, день рождения только раз в году (What a pity that One’s Birthday Happens Only Once per Year)
Ух ты, говорящая рыба (Woah, A Talking Fish) 1983 ArmenFilm
If you happen to be a college kid looking to really trip out with your friends, this one’s for you. It’s basically a fairytale on acid. At the beginning of the story, a fisherman catches a talking fish, who promises to come to the man’s rescue some day if only he’s released. The man does release the fish. Then, impoverished and hungry, the man encounters a shape-shifting monster who gifts him and his wife a smorgasbord of food, but promises to return that night with a riddle. The man must solve the riddle, OR ELSE…!! This one really is weird AF.
Перевал (The Pass) 1973 SoyuzMultFilm
If you like sci-fi and Russian culture, this one’s for you. After a research vessel crashes on a planet in a nearby galaxy, releasing toxic radiation, its voyagers are forced to settle on the uninhabitable planet. Sixteen years after the crash, the brave children of the initial explorers embark on a mission to cross the pass separating them from the vessel. Along the way, they battle local wildlife and begin to encounter the effects of the radiation as they near the vessel. Things start weird, get weirder, and end downright bizarre. The animation features some truly epic song sequences set to the poetry of Sasha Chorny.