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From Agitprop to Artistic Rebellion: A Brief History of Soviet Animation

Art is always political. But especially when you’re an animator in the Soviet Union.
Soviet Animation History
By  · Published on June 30th, 2021

Welcome to The Queue — your daily distraction of curated video content sourced from across the web. Today, we’re watching a video essay on the history of the animation output of the Soviet Union.

Animation created under Soviet rule is a little bit like porn: you know it when you see it. Even if you aren’t a history buff or an animation nerd, I do believe (let me adjust my tinfoil hat) that you can kind of tell when you’re watching Soviet animation. M. Night Shyamalan was wrong. The sixth sense is actually the unfounded ability to tell when something was animated behind the Iron Curtain.

Okay, so maybe all the overt agitprop (a fun and definitely not scary portmanteau of “agitation” and “propaganda”) gives early Soviet animation away. And maybe Soyuzmultfilm’s slightly-off but unmissable parroting of “the Disney style” is a tell. And, hey, maybe the bleak, rebellious uptake of Czech puppetry as a means of rebelling against an oppressive occupation is also a clue. Suffice to say: Soviet animation is distinct and endlessly fascinating. Like all art, it’s political. And because it’s Soviet Art, it’s doubly so.

As the video essay below teases out, it’s fascinating to see the medium transform and flourish in response to political change. The essay is by no means a complete history. But if you’re a fan of animation techniques, production, and Soviet heavy hitters, it’s a marvelous place to start.

Watch “History of Soviet Animation”:

Who made this?

This video on the history of Soviet animation is by Mountains of Media, a channel dedicated to exploring and analyzing, well, media! As of the writing of this article, they are relatively new on the video essay scene. So if you like what you see, give ’em a follow over on YouTube.

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Meg has been writing professionally about all things film-related since 2016. She is a Senior Contributor at Film School Rejects as well as a Curator for One Perfect Shot. She has attended international film festivals such as TIFF, Hot Docs, and the Nitrate Picture Show as a member of the press. In her day job as an archivist and records manager, she regularly works with physical media and is committed to ensuring ongoing physical media accessibility in the digital age. You can find more of Meg's work at Cinema Scope, Dead Central, and Nonfics. She has also appeared on a number of film-related podcasts, including All the President's Minutes, Zodiac: Chronicle, Cannes I Kick It?, and Junk Filter. Her work has been shared on NPR's Pop Culture Happy Hour, Business Insider, and CherryPicks. Meg has a B.A. from the University of King's College and a Master of Information degree from the University of Toronto.