Russian cartoon, what is it?

By: Margarita Kharokhorina

Colorful cartoons with interesting storylines attract children of different nationalities. In cartoons children see different ways of communication with nature and human beings, recognize and fight their fears, learn to distinguish the “bad” and the “good”. Through comparison of himself/herself with his/her favorite cartoon character, a child models different real-life situations and behavioral patterns.

Being created under certain cultural and social conditions, cartoons, as well as any other form of art, represent the general ideological field of the country, its mentality. So what are the peculiarities of Russian cartoons? What do children learn from them?

People of our parents’ generation, of our generation, as well as children born in 2000s, are familiar with Soviet cartoons of 1960-90s. Cartoon watching has become, say, a mandatory part of the educational process. A child gets to know the world together with cartoon characters. For example, in many episodes of the “38 parrots” cartoon (1976-1991, dir. Ivan Ufimcev) characters (the Monkey, the Elephant, the Parrot and the Boa) handle funny paradoxes related to different meanings of words, or to word-play: they are physically “sending one’s love”, “making a recovery” (instead of a discovery), etc.; it all contributes to the development of associative thinking.

A viewer, just like a producer of a cartoon, is also a participant of the creative process, with only difference of being on the opposite side. Thanks to such a united “viewer-cartoon” creative process and to viewers’ empathy, cartoonists are able to come up with some particular ideas. “Leopold the cat” cartoon series (1975-1993, directed by Anatoly Reznikov) tells the story of a good cat, who constantly gets bothered by two bully-mice in various situations and still manages to remain friendly, despite all the dirty tricks of the mice. Leopold’s motto also remains always unchanged: “Let’s live in peace, guys”. The phrase has stepped out of the screen and became a popular quotation. Through his life philosophy, the cat teaches children to accept and solve problems with a smile, to be tolerant, and to harbour no grudge after being offended by someone.

Many Russian cartoons are notable for their philosophical aspect. A strong example is the “Hedgehog in the Fog” by Yuriy Norshteyn (1975). The little hedgehog occasionally visits his little bear friend, together they like drinking tea and counting stars. And then one day, when the Hedgehog goes to his friend again, mysterious fog covers everything. Strange sounds come from everywhere, he sees a horse, an owl, a snail… He loses a fardel with jam, but to a greater surprise, then a dog brings that fardel directly into his paws. And step by step the little hedgehog not only reaches the little bear’s place, but also his consciousness and his very soul change. Watching this cartoon, a feeling arises that you are in the fog yourself. In the end the Hedgehog comes to his friend, but it becomes obvious that he is still under the impression, that he has realized something very important about the Genesis. The Bear pours out his hospitality onto his best friend, but the Hedgehog doesn’t hear him, he is thinking about how is that horse in the fog, how to explain everything to the Bear, whether he would then understand why the Hedgehog needs to go back into the fog. And then they begin counting stars… The cartoon is full of symbols and deep images, so it is interesting for people of all ages.

Among the modern Russian cartoons the “Smeshariki” (Kikoriki) can be singled out. The characters are animals, drawn in the shape of balls, which further emphasizes their kindness and simplicity. In each episode they face a problem and try their best to solve it together, because it is way easier and more fun together. In addition to the main theme of friendship, the cartoon raises serious questions concerning the universe, the meaning of life, etc. The cartoon is considered to belong to a complex, many-sided genre: “lyrical comic philosophical drama”. Currently the series airs in 60 countries, but it must be said that there is a difference between the Russian and international “Smeshariki”. Here I want to give an excerpt from the “Russkiy Reportyor” (Russian Reporter) Magazine, no. 15 (343) 17-24 April. In the article called “Peking style Smeshariki” Egor Mostovsh’ikov writes about the fate of the Russian cartoon series in China. In RikiGroupChina (which promotes “Smeshariki”) the journalist meets its CEO Eduard Konovalov. According to him the “Smeshariki” had a gruelling time at first and then there was a long period of adaptation of the cartoon to the Chinese mentality, “We have a good, witty, funny, sometimes philosophical cartoon. But it wasn’t very easy to bring it all to the Chinese audience <…> It’s our Chinese partners who say that their children do not like witty jabbers, that in this age of 6-10 years – it’s all about fun and laughter…” And I think that our cartoons about the three bogatyrs (Alyosha Popovich, Dobrynya Nikitich, and Ilya Muromets), which have so many of the original Russia, wouldn’t have any success abroad.

A child’s borders of perception of the world are much broader than those of an adult, because he/she doesn’t have any “life experience” and is eager to absorb any information; so one has to select carefully, what a child should watch or read and what he/she shouldn’t. The majority of Russian cartoons aim to nurture children’s feeling of love to the entire world, and to point out the significance of each individual in the society. Also they expand the range of interests and knowledge with the help of a thorough approach to presenting the information. Yes, the majority of Russian cartoons are small, lightweight philosophical treatises for children.

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