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