Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Photographs from My Vacation

Earlier this month, my family and I took our weekly annual vacation up to the Inyo National forest area, between Yosemite and Mono Lake. The elevation where we were staying in the Sierras was at about 10,000 feet, which takes some time getting used to (and often gives me nose bleeds...). Within five days, my family and I hiked over thirty miles throughout the forest. We visited locations such as the Saddlebag Lakes / 20 Lakes Basin and Lundy Canyon. Below are a some pictures I snapped. Hopefully, the fires that have been threatening Yosemite will be contained soon; the dry weather has been very concerning.

One of the many lakes along the Saddlebag loop.

A gorgeous view down Lundy Canyon. 

Wildflowers such as mountain daises and lupin lined the trials.

A beaver left his mark here.

One of the many waterfalls of Lundy Canyon.

My sister enjoying the view.

Monday, August 26, 2013

Five Anime Productions that Never Saw the Light of Day

There is no questioning the ever growing appeal of anime in the West. The medium was popularized not only due to audiences being curious about alternatives to Saturday morning cartoons, but also due to the combined talents of pioneers such as Osamu Tezuka, Hayao Miyazaki, Rintaro, Shinichiro Watanabe, and Hideaki Anno, just to name a few. However, as with the case of several American studios, some projects by famous directors never made it past the drawing boards or were put on indefinite hiatus. Producing high quality animation is certainly not cheap. Below is a small glimpse at what could have been.

 Miyazaki's and Takahada's Pippi Longstocking 

Production art for for the proposed film.

One hardly needs an introduction to Studio Ghibli founders Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahada. Their impressive filmography includes the likes of Laputa: Castle in the Sky (1986), Grave of Fireflies (1988), Only Yesterday (1990), Princess Mononoke (1997), and Spirited Away (2001). However, the two had just started out in the early 1970s and were relatively unknown. Takahada's and Miyazaki's efforts on ambitious projects, such as Horus: Prince of the Sun (1968) and the original Lupin III series (1971-1972), were shunned and ignored for several years, as they were ahead of their time.

In 1971, Miyazaki and Takahada approached Pippi Longstocking's author, Astrid Lindgren, expressing intrest in adapting the property into an animated feature entitled Pippi Longstocking: The Strongest Girl in the World (Nagakutsushita No Pippi: Sekai Ichi Tsuyoi Onna No Ko). They even traveled around Sweden, making observations for their proposed film. However, Lindgren was not keen on the idea. This was likely due to her unhappiness with the 1949 film adaptation of her book. All that remains of Miyazaki's and Takahada's project are some proposed watercolor storyboards.

Miyazaki and Takahada compromised by creating an original project featuring a young, feisty redhead in pigtails, Panda Kopanda. The two films, Panda Kopanda (1972) and The Rainy Day Circus (1973) run at about half an hour each. They follow a girl named Mimiko, who is left to take care of the house when her grandmother is away. But when she returns home from the station she finds herself in charge of two unusual guests, a large Panda and his son. Keen eyed fans will notice that Papa Panda bares an uncanny resemblance to Totoro. Indeed, the Panda Kopanda shorts were training grounds for the relatively new filmmakers, and they greatly influenced the direction of Miyazaki's My Neighbor Totoro (1988). So in other words, if Miyazaki and Takahada had actually managed to obtain Pippi Longstocking's copyrights, there likely would never even been a My Neighbor Totoro!  

Storyboards for Pippi Longstockings vs Panda Kopanda.

Rintaro's Lupin VIII 


A still from the pilot, "A Man from the Past."

After having three television series and three feature films, American producers began to notice the immense success of the Lupin III franchise in Japan. Thus, the French company DiC (which previously collaborated on anime-like projects, Ulysses 31 [1981] and The Mysterious Cities of Gold [1982-1983]) and TMS, decided to adapt Lupin III to suit American tastes. In 1982, production began under legendary director Rintaro (Galaxy Express 999 [1979], Metropolis [2001]), who was given a large budget to work with.

But, making Lupin appeal to Westerners proved to be difficult. The Japanese series was aimed at a more adult audience, featuring frequent gunplay and innuendos. Since cartoons in America were deemed as 'kid's stuff' throughout the '70s and '80s (save for a few wild cards like Ralph Bakshi), Lupin's occupation as a master thief and his criminal outings were deemed unsuitable for childern. The series had to undergo a major makeover.

This whole scene explains why Lupin had to be changed for American audiences....

Lupin VIII is set in the 22nd century. It follows the descendant of Lupin III, who is a freelance detective that pilots a spaceship. Since smoking and guns were a big 'no no' for American cartoons, Jigen's trademark cigarette and pistol were replaced with a lollipop and a laser gun. Goemon's samurai sword was changed into a ... lightsaber sword. And Fujiko's sexuality was toned down considerably. Because Lupin VIII is not a criminal, Inspector Zenigata's descendent simply chases him based on past family history.

A promotional poster for Lupin VIII

The series did manage to produce a pilot episode, "A Man From the Past,". Although the episode's animation and sound effects were completed, the project fell through before dialogue could be recorded. Apparently, a second episode was scripted, but it has yet to emerge on the internet. Lupin VIII failed to get off the ground due to copyright issues surrounding the Arsene Lupin name. Despite that Rintaro was set to direct the series, it probably relieved many anime fans that the show was canceled. Lupin VIII had changed so much from its original incarnation it wasn't even Lupin III anymore! DiC seems to have realized this though. It came up with a compromise about another (but rather clumsy) detective, Inspector Gadget.  

So instead of a wily thief, we got an incompetent inspector. Great. 

Miyazaki's and Takahada's Little Nemo

The 1985 pilot for Little Nemo by Yoshifumi Kondo.

 TMS is one of the the oldest and most successful anime studios. Not only did it bring us Lupin III, but also Rose of Versailles (1979-1980), Sherlock Hound (1984-1985), Akira (1989), and Detective Conan (1996-present). In order to try and expand its international market, the studio decided to try and make a feature length production that would transcend cultural boundaries. In 1977 producer Yutaka Fujioka flew over to Monterey, California to negotiate with Winsor McCay's family. He wanted to create a Japanese / American coproduction of McCay's comic strip, Little Nemo in Slumberland.

The project grew to be very ambitious and expensive. Perhaps a bit too ambitious and expensive. Fujioka approached both George Lucas and Chuck Jones to help with the film, but both declined, noting Little Nemo was plagued with story problems. Fujioka did manage to gather many other talented people for the production, including Ray Bradbury, the French comic artist Moebius, several Disney animators, Brian Froud, and the Sherman Brothers. Both Hayao Miyazaki and Isao Takahada were brought on board in the early 1980s as well. Their longtime friend and animator director, Yoshifumi Kondo, managed to create a short pilot trailer for the film, before they all left the seemingly doomed production and established Studio Ghibli.

Beautiful concept art for Nemo by Moebius.  

But despite this blowing loss, Little Nemo: Adventures in Slumberland continued to clunk along. Osamu Dezaki managed to create a second pilot and Sadao Tsukioka created a third, now seemingly lost, pilot. Dezaki's pilot is considerably closer to the finalized version of Nemo, but still bares more resemblance to an anime movie than a Disney cartoon. In 1988, Yutaka Fujioka appointed Masami Hata and William Hurtz as the film's directors. The film was finally released in 1989, after twelve years in production.

Even though Little Nemo holds the distinction of being the first anime film to receive national release in the United States, it flopped. Nemo only earned 10 million for its 35 million budget. It failed to connect with both Japanese and Western audiences, in spite of all its superb animation and inspired visuals. There were simply too many artists with differing opinions involved, which the movie's storyline obviously suffers from.

Akira Kurosawa's The Masque of Black Death

Kurosawa doing what he does best. 

Akira Kurosawa was one of Japan's most important and influential directors. His contributions to Asian cinema include Stray Dog (1949), Rashomon (1950), Seven Samurai (1954), and Ran (1985). Kurosawa not only directed, but also often wrote and edited his own films. His work ranged from historical epics to noir-like dramas.

In 1998, Kurosawa surprised everyone when he announced that he had written a screenplay for the short Edgar Allen Poe story, "The Masque of Red Death." The film was going to be his first animated feature. However,  Kurosawa died on September 6th that year of a stroke. Renewed interest in the project occured in 2008, and Kurosawa Production planned to have the film completed by 2010, in honor of Kurosawa's 100th birthday. That deadline has long since passed, and The Masque of Red Death remains in hiatus. Very little information is known about what the initial production would have been like, as no animated stills from the film have been leaked online.

Satoshi Kon's The Dreaming Machine


Promotional art for the film.

Outside of Studio Ghibli, perhaps no other anime director has met as wide acclaim as Satoshi Kon at studio Madhouse. His movies are often realistically animated, and deal with complex issues such as social inequality, homelessness, and exploitation in modern Japan. Satoshi Kon frequently used female characters as his leads, who often dealt with keeping grasp with reality. His best known works are Perfect Blue (1998), Millennium Actress (2001), Tokyo Godfathers (2003), and Paprika (2006).

In 2010, Kon announced that he would make a fantasy-adventure movie targeted for family audiences entitled The Dreaming Machine (Yume-Miru Kikai). The Dreaming Machine was to feature no human characters, and instead star only robots. The plot was to center around three robots (Ririco, Robin, and King) as they embark on some sort of road trip.

Tragically, Satoshi Kon was diagnosed with terminal pancreatic cancer. His health rapidly deteriorated and he passed away on August 24, 2010. Before he died, Kon did manage to get all of The Dreaming Machine's storyboards complete and asked his studio to finish his film for him as a last request. Madhouse put character designer and chief animator, Yoshimi Itazu, in charge of directing. As of 2011, 600 out of 1500 of The Dreaming Machine's shots were completed. The production was put on hold and its website was taken down. When asked about progress earlier this year, Madhouse still cites that finacial issues are keeping The Dreaming Machine from being completed.

A model sheet for the female lead.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Nu Pogodi! (Review)

Directors: Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin (episodes 1-16), Vladimir Tarasov (episodes 17 & 18), Aleksey Kotyonochkin (episodes 19 & 20)

Company: Soyuzmultfilm

Year: 1969 - 2005

Country: Russia (Soviet Union)

What happens when a Western style chase cartoon meets local culture?

For over forty years, Nu Pogodi! ('Well, Just You Wait!') has entertained families throughout Russia and Eastern Europe. It is indisputably the most popular cartoon series in that region. There are Nu Pogodi! plush toys, Nu Pogodi! bottle openers, Nu Pogodi! statues in public parks, and even Nu Pogodi! video games. The reason for its appeal is simple. Nu Pogodi! is a funny animal cartoon filled with many sites gags and humor, very much in vein of Tom and Jerry or Looney Tunes's Willy Coyote and Roadrunner shorts. Despite that Nu Pogodi! is quite similar to many slapstick Western cartoons (It's about an ever persistent wolf trying to catch a hare.), Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin claimed to have never seen in any American cartoons outside of Disney, until his son bought a VCR in 1987.

The series follows the various exploits of Volk (Wolf) and Zayats (Hare). Each episode takes place in an unique setting, where Volk chases Zayats while trying to avoid various obstacles while at the beach, skiing, or on passenger ship, etc. Some of these surroundings are distinctively Russian. For instance, episode 16 takes place in a land comprised of various folktales, and episode 20 is set in a dacha community. An another notable aspect of this show is that it contains very little dialogue, aside from the two characters saying each other's names and Volk uttering his trademark threat to Zayats, "Nu Pogodi!" Much more emphasis is thus able to placed on physical interactions between Volk and Zayats, their environment, and the occasional side character they encounter (such as a magician cat, an angry hippo, or a large female pig).

Interestingly enough, Volk, rather than Zayats, is the more developed character, despite being the antagonist. Zayats is very cute and young. He is naturally curious, but seemly ignorant about many dangerous situations. He often gets away from Volk just by mere luck and he rarely fights back. Volk, on the other hand, is actually more easy to relate to, as he gets far more screen time. Volk is a hooligan who constantly breaks laws, taunts police, smokes, and bears a large beer gut. His relationship with Zayats is rather obsessive. Volk is willing to seek work at a construction site, sneak into museums, and even enroll in the Olympics in order to capture Zayats. But despite that he is a constant trouble maker and often quite cocky (not to mention a bit of a coward), Volk is equally goofy and fun loving. He is also quite talented, being able to play the guitar, figure skate, and engages in the fine arts.

To keep things fresh, Volk and Zayats are occasionally shown to work together against a greater force or Zayats will save Volk from danger, only to be chased again. This is particular noticeable in episode seven where Volk and Zayats must plug a hole they made in the hull of a ship, and in episode 18 where Zayats lights a cigarette for Volk when the wolf is trapped in a large safe. Their relationship can even resemble that of a friendship, on occasion. This has led to a lot of confusion and fan speculation surrounding the show. Zayats is commonly mistaken as girl due to his long eyelashes and high voice. Volk often wears various shades of purple and pink. In episode 14, Volk visits Zayats in fancy clothes. He gives him flowers and brings a bottle of cider to share. Although this may seem like Volk is courting Zayats, giving flowers to another man in Russia is not unheard of. It is often done as sign of friendship and goodwill.

People are likely to take this frame out of context....It doesn't help that Volk is wearing a purple jacket.

While Nu Pogodi's creators were often scoffed at by fellow animators at Soymuzltfilm, it is still an enjoyable enough program. Sure, Nu Pogodi! isn't at the same level as Yuri Norstein's work or Roman Kachanov's films, but there is nothing wrong with that. Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin simply strove to create a series that entertained, to make people forget their troubles and laugh. Each installment of the series is self contained and can be watched in any order. Their is no effort to develop the characters any further than their ten minute run time will allow. Many of the episodes end rather abruptly, with Volk being carried away or separated from Zayats, vowing to capture the hare one day. The art direction and animation of the show is a bit privative by today's standards, but it manages to hold up will enough, thanks to the timeless character designs of the two leads. Nu Pogodi's use of music also helps add to its appeal. It features many popular Russian and Eastern European songs from the 1960s-80s throughout, often in synchronization with the animation. 

Volk and Zayats as they appear in the pilot and the first episode.

Unfortunately, the later episodes of the series are not as good as Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin's original sixteen installments. Vladimir Tarasov directed the next two episodes in 1994 and 1995, after the fall of the Soviet Union. Their budget woes are very apparent. The characters are frequently off model, the shorts' scores are less refined, and both of them are filled with excessive production placement from Nokia and AMT. Aleksey Kotyonochkin also took a crack at reviving his father's series in 2005, but his efforts manage to be even more offensive than Tarasov's attempt. His take on Nu Pogodi! is very juvenile. It is crammed with loud, obnoxious pop music and lacks narrative flow. It is also stiffly colored and rendered in Flash (which is a shame since the original pencil tests looked rather nice). Not to mention, Aleksey removed Volk's trademark cigaret and replaced with a more 'politically correct' lollipop!

All in all, Nu Pogodi! is light hearted fun fare. It is nothing ground breaking, but the series holds great appeal for many people who grew up in the Soviet Union. Nu Pogodi! is escapist entertainment, which is perfectly ok. So go ahead and watch the original series. If you are fan of American theatrical cartoons or animation about humanoid animals, chances are you will love it, just avoid the rather lackluster later episodes.

A typical Nu Pogodi! cartoon.

Rating: 3.5

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Movie Night: Rusalochka

As always, whenever I review an obscure work, I post it here on the blog if it is available from Youtube. Tonight's offering is the half an hour Russian film, Rusalochka (aka 'The Little Mermaid') from 1968. Dark, heartfelt, and expertly crafted, Rusalochka is quite unlike any other fairytale adaptation that you are ever likely to see. It is presented below in Russian audio with English subtitles.

Rusalochka / The Little Mermaid (Review)

Director: Ivan Aksenchuk

Company: Soyuzmultfilm

Year: 1968

Country: Russia (Soviet Union)

This fairly loyal adaption is an artistic spectacle to boot. 

For those only familiar with the Disney version of Han Christian Anderson's The Little Mermaid, the original version is considerably more brutal and tragic (but honest). It might also be surprising for some to learn that The Little Mermaid was, in fact, adapted twice before the Disney film debuted in 1988. Both versions, the 1968 short, Rusalochka, and the 1975 anime feature, are far more loyal to Anderson's tale and bare little resemblance to Ariel's undersea frolics. However, while the later is more well known, it is also less skillfully directed and cheaply animated. The 1968 film, on the other hand, is a overlooked piece of art.

Rusalochka opens in modern day Copenhagen, Denmark. Several tourists gather around the capital's famous mermaid statue, as a tour guide explains its significance. A fish in the water below the tourists scoffs at their foolishness, and then proceeds to tell about the doomed love of the mermaid.

Upon reaching her 15th birthday, the Little Mermaid is allowed to swim up to the surface above. As soon as she does, however, the Mermaid spots a young prince caught up in a dreadful storm. She admires the man's bravery and decides to save him, declaring that, "The beautiful and the brave should not perish." After the mermaid returns to the ocean, she decides that she wants to become human. Unfortunately for her, the Prince is found on shore by another women, whom he mistakes as his rescuer.

"These stupid people! They think that love exists and mermaids don't!" 

From this point on, Rusalochka's story differs greatly from Disney's The Little Mermaid. The mermaid runs away from home to meet the sea witch. The sea witch is not a malevolent character. She is just an eccentric, but wise individual. The witch warns that if the prince does not wed the mermaid, she will turn into sea foam. However, the mermaid has her mind set on love and exchanges her voice for a pair of human legs.

By the time the film reaches its climax, the mermaid must make the choice wether to not to release a storm on the prince, so that she can return to her sisters in the sea, or allow the prince to marry another. The unintentional consequences of the Mermaid's love become painfully apparent when she chooses to die rather than kill her lover, who is unaware of the whole ordeal (though he still cares for the Mermaid). But like the Prince, The Mermaid is also a flawed character. Although her bravery and perseverance are certainly admirable (She is willing to endure pain with every step she takes as a human), the Mermaid is quite naive and is easily swayed by her overwhelming emotions. The decisions that she makes aren't always smart, but the audience still feels for her when reality comes crashing down on her dreams.

Each scene utilizes a different style and color scheme to effectively convey mood.   

Rusalochka's animation style is also in stark contrast to that of Disney's. This is apparent at the very start of the film, which is shot in black and white, featuring animated characters alongside real life photo stills. After the introduction, Rusalochka switches over to a more complex, design based style. Although the animation may seem a bit jerky by modern standards, it is lovingly drawn in every frame. The look of the Rusalochka is heavily based upon Medieval paintings and frescos. Its artwork is filled with elaborate patterns and textures. Rusalochka's symphonic score also helps aid each scene's emotional resonance. Although the film contains little dialogue, it does not need extra talking to convey its message. Indeed, the film is primarily a visual experience.

Quite easily one of the most beautiful animated shorts ever created, Rusalochka manages to be a unique and faithful retelling of one of the world's most famous fairytales. Because it is so different than what most Western audiences are accustomed too, I hesitate to recommend it to someone uninterested in 'art house films', but I highly suggest that everybody else should seek out this mini masterpiece.   

How long did it take the animators to draw this single panel alone?

Rating: 4/5

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Russian Masterpieces: Short Films from the Top of the World

Visually elaborate?  Possesses a dreamlike quality? Moves at a tranquil pace? It must be a Russian cartoon! 

Several Russian animated productions have been showcased on this blog before, including the work of Yuri Norstein, the ever popular Cheburashka series, and the 1957 film, The Snow Queen. Although the golden years of Soviet era animation are long gone and the former studio giant, Soyuzmultfilm, is plagued with problems, an occasional high profile product still comes out once in a while.

Truly, it's a shame that much of Russia's output from the 1950s through the 1980s is ignored here in the West, no doubt due to tense political misgivings between the country and the United States. Contrary to popular belief, the vast majority of Russian animation is not propaganda. It covers a wide variety of genres, ranging from family aimed fantasies to complex adult dramas. Most of this animation is highly lyrical in style, is artistically unique, and quite often contains social commentary. Interestingly enough, cartoon television series never really caught on in Russia (save for foreign exports) and animated features became increasingly less common in the second half of the 20th century. Short films were the preferred format, and it has been argued by some that animators living during this period perfected it.

Below, I have complied a list of ten notable (and often overlooked) Russian shorts from over the years with English subtitles. Enjoy! 

1. The Golden Antelope (1954)

This half an hour short practically plays out like a feature film. "The Golden Antelope" is notable for being directed by Lev Atamonov, who was one of the best known and most respected animators in his homeland. He was very active during the second era of Soviet animation. This era strove to reach a sense of 'fairytale realism' in a similar vein to that of Disney. (Later, Russia would begin to distinguish itself from Western cartoons by producing more ethically inspired works.) Unlike Disney, however, Atamonov's films tend to be closer to their source material. They have a crisp, simplified design to them which greatly influenced future anime directors, including Hayao Miyazaki.

"The Golden Antelope" is about an impoverished but kindhearted Indian boy. He helps an antelope escape from a band of hunters lead by a greedy raja. The raja wants to capture the antelope because she produces gold coins whenever she taps her hooves. The golden antelope is so grateful to the boy, that she promises to protect him. The antelope later must journey with the boy to the palace of the raja, after it is discovered that the boy hid her.

At its heart, "The Golden Antelope" is a moral story about the virtues of humbleness and how wealth can corrupt. Indeed, the raja is so selfish, that he initially considers giving the boy a gold coin, but then reconsiders and simply 'lets the boy live'. On the other hand, the boy shows no interest in obtaining riches. He is completely unswayed by the offers made by the raja and his servants. His friendship with the antelope and the compassion he shows to the other jungle animals ultimately is rewarded, whereas the raja almost becomes buried alive in coins, due to his insatiable greed.

2. The Mitten (1967)

After years of working at Soyuzmultfilm, Roman Kachanov, made his first big break with this charming little film. In "The Mitten", a girl desires to have a puppy of her own after watching various people play with their dogs outside on a snowy day. However, her mother is not so keen on the idea. The girl resolves the issue by imagining that her mitten is actually a small red puppy. She even enters her mitten into a dog contest, which results in an interesting turn of events.

This stop-motion short proves that one does not need to use dialogue (or have a high budget) to create something memorable. In fact, the short's simple yet focused plot has much more heart than many of this year's expensive blockbusters do. Its musical score and character interactions easily rival any of the material that Rankin / Bass put out during the same time period.

3. Ballerina on a Boat (1969) 

One of Lev Atamonov's later works, "Ballerina on a Boat" marked a significant departure in the style of Russian animation. As with many countries during the 1960s, Russian animation became increasingly more abstract in style and began dealing with a wider range of topics. The animation is somewhat reminiscent Ludwig Bemelman's Madeline books. Most of the short's characters, particularly the sailors, are drawn in a very boxy, geometrical manner. On the other hand, the titular ballerina is very willowy, weightless, and drawn with fine lines.

As with, "The Mitten", "Ballerina on a Boat" is wordless, but conveys much emotion based upon its classical score and use of body language. The plot revolves around a young ballerina who barely manages to catch a ride on a passenger ship. Once on board, she entertains the ship's captain and crew and makes their work considerably less dull. (There is a running gag of several sailors falling overboard, after failing to mimic the ballerina's movements.) The ballerina is so engrossed with her dancing, that she is seemingly oblivious to all around her. Her actions start to annoy the crew who become concerned about her safety. However, the ballerina later proves her usefulness when she assists the sailors manning the ship in a fierce storm.

4. Winnie the Pooh (1969 -1972, 3 episodes)

Although the Soviet version of Winnie the Pooh is not as well known as the Disney version, it is perhaps the most heartfelt and personal adaptation of the classic childern's story. Fyoder Khitruk, who had previously produced the more adult "The Story of a Crime" (1962) and the satirical "Film, Film, Film" (1968), is a very competent director. He really encouraged his fellow colleges to develop their own unique visuals. This is clearly displayed in his Winnie the Pooh series. The series's backgrounds resemble childern's crayon drawings crossed with traditional folk art. Each character is drawn in a simplified, yet appealing manner.

Although relatively close to his source material, Khitruk took a few liberties, sprinkled with Russian flavor. Winnie the Pooh is not drawn as stuffed doll, but rather as a brown bear. (Khitruk claimed that brown bears were more familiar than teddybears to Russian childern at the time.) Owl is portrayed as female and there is no Christopher Robbin in sight. As the series finished before reaching all of the original book's chapters, Tigger does not appear either. However, the events that take place in the series (such as Winnie trying to steal honey from bees, being 'invited' into Rabbit's house, or trying to cheer up Eeyore) should be immediately recognizable to anybody who has read the books or seen the Disney version. To watch the next two episodes of the series, "Winnie the Pooh Goes Visiting" and "Winnie the Pooh and a Day of Concerns", click on their titles.

5. A Kitten Named Woof (1976- 1982, 5 episodes)

"A Kitten Named Woof" was the last production Lev Atamonov directed before he passed away in 1981. The series's last episode was released posthumously and dedicated in Atamonov's memory. Woof's household adventures usually involve him having to learn about many things, such as why the moon has a reflection and that snow is wet. Being a kitten, Woof is a very curious, albeit quite naive about the world around him.

Woof gave himself his own name because he likes the way it sounds, much to the dismay of a black alley cat. The alley cat acts as Woof's occasional mentor, although he will steal food from Woof and will bully him with little hesitation. Woof must also beware of a grumpy old dog, who hates cats and prefers the company of his bones over anything else. Woof is best friends with a small black and white puppy, Ballon, who bears a striking resemblance to Little Golden Book's The Pocky Little Puppy.

This series is very cute, but manages not to be overly so. This is due to "A Kitten Named Woof" using dialogue in a manner which real childern speak. Unlike some other childern's programs, this one is not taxing for parents to watch with their kids. The series's format is quite unique. Each episode is divided into three short vignettes, each with a self contained story. (Save for the last episode.) The next four episodes can be found here.

6.Vasilissa the Beautiful (1977)

Youtube has removed the English subbed version. A translation can be found here for those curious.

Heavily influenced by the art nouveau illustrator, Ivan Bilibin, "Vasilissa the Beautiful" (director: Vladimir Pekar) harkens back to the older folktale films more commonly made by Soyuzmultfilm twenty years earlier. An old king tells his sons that they must find themselves a bride to marry. Whoever finds the most industrious, kindest  and most beautiful women shall become the next ruler. Each son fires an arrow into an open field. Where ever the arrow lands they shall find a wife. Unfortunately, for the youngest son, Ivan, his arrow is caught by a small, green frog. But the frog is actually a women named Vasilissa, who uses her guise to test Ivan's loyalty.

Quite easily one of the most beautiful shorts ever animated, "Vasilissa the Beautiful's" distinctive visuals are quite unlike any other cartoon ever produced. "Vasilissa's" plot is nothing complex, but it manages to hold its self together due to its clever writing and various references to traditional Russian culture.

7. The Firing Range (1977)

Anatoly Petrov's "The Firing Range" (aka "Polygon") is a powerful anti-war science fiction story about the dangers of going to far with revenge. Quite a lot darker than some of the previous entries on this list, the ten minute film takes place on the African coast. A scientist is meeting there with a military power to showcase his invention, an automatic tank that reacts to hostility and fear. The tank was initially invented to end human conflict. But the scientist is bitter and weary from war, after the loss of his son in combat. He successfully manages to turn the machine on all of the generals and high ranking military officials at the meeting, but ends up losing his own life in turn. The presence of everyone at the meeting is erased, and only the native peoples are left alongside the tank. Their childern play on it, unaware of its terrible capabilities, and thus safe.

Also of note, is "The Firing Range's" unique animation style. It is quite realistic, and in places resembles rotoscoping. The technique is called photographica, which consists of layering two celluloids on each character. Each layer has a specific color scheme that creates the illusion of three dimensional rendering, despite that no CGI is used.

8. The Passage (1988)

Although Vladimir Tarasov directed a few episodes of the relatively accessible and family friendly Nu, Pogodi! cartoons, his more personal work is often quite strange but expertly drawn. His films commonly involved lonely protagonists trying to live the best they can in difficult situations. "The Passage" ("Pereval") is based upon a sci-fi story by acclaimed Russian author Kir Bulychov. It is set on a distant planet where a sole spacecraft crashed sixteen years earlier. The inhabitants of the ship were forced to evacuate do to high radiation levels. Now with few survivors left, three young teenagers who were born on this world (Oleg, Dick, and Mariana) must cross a treacherous mountain pass in order to return to the crash site. They must brave the elements and fight off wild animals, in order to get more supplies and alert Earth of their presence.

While certainly not a perfect film, there is something quite compelling about "Pereval's" freeform strangeness and surreal landscapes. Its limited color scheme, sparse dialogue, and engrossing storyline really draw the viewer into an another reality. The perseverance of the main characters is also quite admirable. Still, one is left to wonder what the short could have been like, if it had managed to squeeze in more details or clarify a few aspects within its half an hour run time.

9. The Old Man and the Sea (1999)

Outside of Yuri Norstein, no Russian director has created such time consuming and technically advanced work as Alexander Petrov. Petrov is one of the few animators in the post-Soviet era to produce a significant body of work. His impressionist paint-on-glass technique has won him numerous awards and his skill is unmatched by the few other filmmakers that utilize the same style. Every individual frame in his films is a piece of artwork within itself.

"The Old Man and the Sea", adapted from the novel of the same name, is Petrov's best known work in the West. The short follows the reminiscences and experiences of an old man named Santiago, who spends much of his time alone in the ocean, usually without catching a thing. Santiago often shares his past experiences with his young apprentice, Mandolin, despite that the boy's parents forbid their child to go out in the ocean. One day, Santiago tries to reel in a large marlin. The fish gets away and Santiago makes it his goal to capture it. "The Old Man and the Sea" moves at a gentle pace, with almost a dreamlike quality. This small Youtube upload does not due the film its proper justice.

10. The Dog Door (2007) 

Youtube has removed the video. It can be watched on Dailymotion here.

"The Dog Door" is easily one of the best (if not the best) production to come out of post-Soviet Russia in recent years. Produced by Animos Studios and directed by Natalia Malgina, it follows the hardships of a small pack of dogs living in a ravine. Proud is the leader of the strays which consists of a puppy, a former pet dachshund, a cranky mutt, and the old schnauzer, Lame. The pack is in search of an object called the dog door, which Lame says will lead them to a better life. Proud manages to befriend a poor artist, and often seeks advice from the comically overweight siamese cat, Yamamoto. But, the wellbeing of the pack is continually disturbed by development, and tractors threaten to fill in the ravine.

"The Dog Door" is often very touching and sweet, but it is quite sad. The short often hints at nostalgia for better times, poverty is seen to be rampant, and problems that modern Russia faces often appear on screen. However, this short also stresses the importance of hope, and how even when things seem the worst, we must continue to live.