Russian Pooh

Winnie the Pooh

Russian animation director Fyodor Khitruk once said in an interview that the best award he ever received was when Disney director Woolie Reitherman told him, “You know, your Winnie is better than mine.” Now we can judge if Reitherman was right. The first of Khitruk’s three Pooh shorts, Winnie the Pooh (1969), has been posted online (watch it below). I think if I ever had to point to an example of perfect stylized animation, this short would be it. Just look at the way Pooh and Piglet move in this cartoon–so simple yet so much personality and humor throughout. There’s a moment when Pooh is talking to Piglet and he takes a deep breath before speaking. It is absolutely beautiful. You can truly feel these characters thinking before they act.

Looking at this, I can’t help but think of all the Flash TV cartoons being produced nowadays. The character designs in this Pooh short, in terms of complexity and construction, are no more complicated than anything one would find in a contemporary piece of Flash animation. Yet the animation in Khitruk’s film is light years ahead of anything being produced today. I was just watching an episode of a Cartoon Network Flash series yesterday. The movement was even fuller than this Pooh cartoon, but it left me feeling completely empty. The characters moved with generic gestures, mechanically matched to the dialogue and scripted actions; there was never the sense that the characters were alive or had a thought process beyond their meaningless movements on the screen. To create great character animation, whether it’s stylized or full animation, one must believe in…empathize with…truly feel…their characters; clearly Khitruk and company did.

Some stills from Khitruk’s other Pooh shorts are here.


  • http://chuckchuckrekow.com Chuck Rekow

    Those are fantastic —especially the backgrounds. Thanks for posting them! Obviously, a much more liberal interpretation of the books than Disney’s version, but charming. Like Mickey Mouse, it’s hard to look at Disney’s Pooh with an un-jaded eye, because he’s such a huge licensing juggernaut.

    The Winnie the Pooh films are a rare case of Disney staying pretty close to the source material. With the exception of Rabbit and Roo, the backgrounds and characters are about as close to Ernest Shepard’s designs as one could expect. It also may have been the first time since 101 Dalmatians, that the Xerox technique really contributed to the design in a meaningful way. The ever-moving storybook text was a nice touch too.

    It’s funny that Disney continues to make licensed products with the original Shepard look, but in films they are going farther away from what really made those characters appealing. It would be fun to see the “classic” Pooh on the screen just once.

  • http://sandwichbag.blogspot.com Elliot

    Absolutely charming.
    This has more honesty and truth in the first 30 seconds than anything Disney has managed to do with the material – even in Russian.

  • http://www.thefamilycollective.com Tim Rauch

    Thanks for posting this, Khitruk is really a great director. There often seems to be unfortunately very little we get to read/hear/see about him and the other Soviet animation directors (Nazarov and Norstein especially). I hear there is a really great German documentary about Khitruk called “The Spirit of Genius”… does anyone know how to get a copy? It’s supposed to have some footage from Norstein’s “Overcoat”…

  • http://www.jessica-plummer.com Jessica

    my god…I LOVE RUSSIA.

    This makes the Disney Poo characters look like the most lifeless, androgynous, whiny, stuffy…haha ok maybe I’m being a little too mean. But the designs in this are killer…especially Piglet.

    It’s hard to replicate this kind of animation in flash, or anywhere anymore i feel, because I think most young animators and the like are getting too caught up in technology and production lines to actually sit down and make beautiful little pieces like this with a lot of heart.

  • http://www.playlistcomics.blogspot.com Justin

    Much thanks for this post!

    working in flash can be uninpiring…to say the least especially when most cartoons on the air exsist in a world where it’s teenagers at the mall or teenagers at school

    it’s great to see such a beautiful short like this one. the character actions were beyond solid. The short as a whole was tight enough for me to understand what was going on in a film that was made in russian. which is something alot of modern cartoons are missing.
    the ability to watch a film in another language or turn it on mute and still understand what is going on. it’s a simple concept that has been lacking.

    but thanks for this short. it was terrific to see!

  • http://www.shamoozal.com Frank

    a beautiful short no doubt. however amid, you once again feel the need to bash american animators to get your point across. thanks for the love.

  • http://zekeyspaceylizard.blogspot.com ZekeySpaceyLizard

    This is the coolest thing ever. You dont even need to know Russian to understand whats happening. Storytelling at its finest!

  • http://www.daganm.blogspot.com Dagan

    Wow! So beautifully crafted and VERY charming!

    I’m particularly struck by the ‘warmth’ of this piece… It can be a tricky thing to define, but I think it’s something you just feel from
    watching a work like this one. Like others have already mentioned, everything is so clear but the animation isn’t predictable or hokey… In fact, the timing and animation are WONDERFUL! I giggled through all of the opening ‘business’ as Pooh sang his little song… so fun!

    And I agree, NOTHING executed in Flash so far has come CLOSE to this piece on ANY level… Which is indeed very frustrating because I stand by the program as a GREAT tool that is SERIOUSLY and CONTINUOUSLY underused… But that’s a WHOLE nutha’ can-o-worms, no?…;)

    (I mention it though because I agree that THIS “type” of piece is something that Flash would be GREAT for!)

    In any event, VERY inspiring stuff! Thanks for sharing it with us!

  • http://www.levpolyakov.com Lev Polyakov

    I’m so happy that you guys finally shed light on this cartoon. It was probably one of the first cartoons I ever watched (along with the “Bremen Town Musicians”, which I also recommend checking out). Disney Winnie Pooh looks like he ate too much Honey (ie. he’s too sugary), while on the other hand, the Russian Pooh feels like I could talk to him about the war in Iraq, while drinking some vodka. Even though I don’t drink, I would much prefer the latter.

  • Arnaud

    More Vinni Puh shorts here

  • priit

    When I was a little boy, I watched it many times from TV. We had to watch only russian cartoons then because orders came from Moskau. Now Estonia is a free country. We have been slaved about 700 years from the germans. In russian occupation about 100 years.
    Cartoons may be good, but i dont like russians.

  • http://blog.ghworkshop.com Glenn

    Oh man, I’ve been looking for these, thank you so much. The colors are so wonderful! Arnaud, thanks for the link too! I was in need of a little inspiration today!

  • http://ericdeuel.blogspot.com Eric

    Wha? Come on people don’t belive the hype. This is nothing compared to what Disney made.. “Perfect stylized animation”? ..huh? “complexity and construction”, who? Why feel the need to compare it? It’s a walking poo poo.. Any child would prefer the Disney version. I felt nothing, but I probably would have enjoyed it more if it wasn’t attached to such negativity… maybe.

  • http://doubleben.blogspot.com/ Emmett Goodman

    Some very nice stuff going on there. An interesting and very contemporary form of animation. I worked for an animator last summer, Signe Baumane, who comes from Latvia. And her animation has a feel that’s remarkably similar to this (sans the content).

    In terms of animation, there is definitely a whole other world over in Russia. A great place to seek out inspiration.

  • http://members.shaw.ca/petemslie/index.htm Pete Emslie

    Amid said: “The character designs in this Pooh short, in terms of complexity and construction, are no more complicated than anything one would find in a contemporary piece of Flash animation.”

    With all due respect, Amid, I would have to argue this point. Though the designs are simplistic (but very charming!), there is still an organic approach to the animation here. Though there are certainly held cels with character parts, there are numerous instances in there of heads turning from front to side with the full complement of inbetweens. Likewise with the arm movements. In contrast, most Flash animation simply shifts character parts around like paper cutouts, with mostly mechanical results. I agree that this is a lovely little film with sweet, understated designs. However, I don’t appreciate all of the bashing of the Disney version going on here, as their version is just as charming and appealing in its own right. Needless to say, I’m referring to the original series of three theatrical featurettes that captured the flavour and humour of the Milne books very effectively. Disney’s various TV and feature film incarnations since then are another matter altogether, however….

  • Jamie Young

    I laughed spontaneously, and forgot I didn’t know the language. It was masterful work, and no amount of money from corporations will ever make anything close to this little gem. I will start to think of this as the real Winnie the Pooh.

  • http://www.brilliantisland.com Robert

    I’m looking forward to the day when Youtube can reliably show a clip without the sound being out of synch. It’s hard to judge timing things like “a deep breath before speaking” when the picture and sound are not on the same schedule. (I know someone will say it’s Flash’s fault, but after 10 years of Flash can’t they figure how to do synch?) That said, the Russian Pooh looks charming. Perhaps Disney can buy it and give it a proper release as a DVD extra on the next gold-dipped, platinum-plated hurry-before-we-close-the-vaults edition of Pooh.

  • gene schiller

    Love the cartoon – but the dreadful print on YouTube is a misrepresentation of Khitruk’s work. I’m sure he wouldn’t be pleased. Go the extra mile and order the Russian import (or a good bootleg). They’re out there.

  • http://www.theimaginaryworld.com Dan Goodsell

    This is quite wonderful, it is funny how their little songs translate across the language barrier. I must say I am a big fan of the Disney Pooh also. The voice talent of Sterling Holloway alone makes the Pooh material undeniable classic.

  • http://www.kellykilmer.blogspot.com/ kelly

    This is one of my favorites. Drat! Wish ya hadn’t posted the YouTube link as Films By Jove is going to go ape ca ca when they see it. Of course the quality on You Tube is not the best BUT if it is the only way for most of us to see the work, why not!?!?! I would obviously buy it on DVD if I could.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Esn Esn

    Priit – do you realize what you just did? You blamed an entire people for what their government (which, I shall remind you, they had no control over) did to you. Thus, your hatred is senseless and pointless. I find this attitude to be absolutely, utterly revolting, and so do many other sane people (at least here in Canada; maybe where you live your views are common, which doesn’t make them any more right). And for the record, though I’m Russian, I’d find this attitude equally revolting if it were aimed at any other people.

    Zekey: I have a lot of respect for your work, but I’ve noticed that most of it doesn’t really have a story and is more stream-of-consciousness filmmaking. So I find it a little strange that you’re praising the film for its storytelling. Care to elaborate? :)

    This film is a true classic in Russia – and it’s a faithful adaptation of the Russian translation of the Winnie-the-Pooh novels, which are perhaps more popular in Russia than they are in English-speaking countries. The translator (who was a really talented guy) added a lot of his own flavour to the stories; for example, the silly songs that Pooh sings in the film were originally written by him.

  • vzky

    After watching that cartoon, I believe this should happen to Disney’s version of Winnie the Pooh.

  • http://www.smallbusinessrepublicans.com/board.html Alan Farina

    This is marginally less boring than Disney’s Winnie The Pooh.

    Don’t get me wrong – they both suck.

  • http://zekeyspaceylizard.blogspot.com ZekeySpaceyLizard

    “Zekey: I have a lot of respect for your work, but I’ve noticed that most of it doesn’t really have a story and is more stream-of-consciousness filmmaking. So I find it a little strange that you’re praising the film for its storytelling. Care to elaborate? :)”

    ?

    What? Are you implying that if an artist enjoys doing things a certain way that he or she lacks the ability to respect and appreciate things done in another way?

    I am as confused as Pooh.

  • http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:Esn Esn

    Well, it can be true sometimes. I suppose I was wondering if you had any plans to do something with a strong narrative yourself one of these days (or had once had those plans), and why you USUALLY choose to forgo the narrative in your work…

  • http://man-arenas-news.blogspot.com/ Man Arenas

    what a cute masterpiece of art…

  • Mint

    Awe, that is so cute…

  • http://pediatristsplayground.blogspot.com Kevin W. Martinez a.k.a. Leviathan

    More bashing of modern animation from Amid. I’m loving every moment of it.

    Kvetching from Spumcoites aside, this Russian Pooh short looks very good, visually. In fact, this deserves to be in a class of its own seperate from the Disney version.

  • http://gagaman.blogspot.com GagaMan

    I really enjoyed this, very charming and sweet, I especially like Piglet’s design and the backgrounds. I wouldn’t go as far as to say this makes the Disney adaptation look really bad, though, as it was still one of Disney’s most charming films.

    I believe the only reason people are slagging off the Disney version off so much now is because Disney have over-saturated the franchise, pumping it for every drop of honey it had in it. When Stitch started to appear everywhere, it looked as though they were finally gonna let the bear take a rest, but not for long, it seems, thanks to this new CGI series on the way. People seem to be forgetting just how sweet the original 3 films were. This film is easily on par with Disney’s, at least.

  • http://vice.parodius.com/ Dave Silva

    This is oddly charming.

    But I can’t stop thinking Poo’s an Ewok…

  • John

    I’m sorry, but Russian Pooh’s blank, staring eyes never seem to truly focus on anything, and his face seems to have two expressions: Mouth open, mouth closed.

    The cumulative effect makes him seem like a squeaky-voiced automaton.

    Creepy, not charming…and definitely not full of the endearing personality the original A.A. Milne character had.

  • Kyle B

    Something tells me that if this entry was just the first paragraph and the video, I would have actually enjoyed the short instead of thinking of the flash cartoons that were animated frame by frame I’ve seen that had more charm than this.

  • http://www.lakupo.com/grblitz ManekiNeko

    I don’t get the connection between this “Pooh” and Disney’s character… they seem entirely different. Disney brand Pooh is sluggish, dimwitted, and prone to making strange semi-ironic observations that would make even the late Mitch Hedberg scratch his head. This Russian character is more perky and talkative, and he also looks more like a tanuki than a stuffed bear. Nevertheless, I can’t deny that he has his own unique charm.

  • http://thezoo.comicgenesis.com Nate Birch

    Really interesting take on the characters.

    Can’t say I personally like it more than the Disney version…or at least the originals (not the numerous recent Pooh movies). Those original Disney Pooh shorts are probably for sentimental value, my favourite things Disney ever did. I could watch ‘em a million times. I watched this twice and that’s probably enough.

  • http://kbetter.blogspot.com Katie Better

    If any of you enjoyed this “Winnie the Pooh” I highly recommend the Russian take on “Tom & Jerry” called “Nu Pogody.” While the quality isn’t as high as T&J, its character animation is still very entertaining :)

  • John A

    I like the Russian Pooh’s determined little walk, and the way he grabs his head in an attempt to think harder. (Truly a bear of little brain.) Disney’s Pooh just always seemed sluggish and sleepy. In its own way, it’s a charming little short, and it’s always interesting to watch a different take on a familiar character.

  • Alisa

    I grew up watching these! I just wish I could find it on DVD now so I could have my son watch it when he gets old enough.

  • Sophia

    LOL i loved it… i cant even understand it… but i loved it

  • http://www.beingborisartist.blogspot.com Boris

    Yeah! This is what I grew up with, and I was always trying to let people know about this beautiful short (here at Studio B Productions etc.). Also there’s another one masterpiece of Russian animation – The Hedgehog in the Fog. This one was awarded on Laputa Animation Fest – 2003—Tokyo All time animation best 150 in Japan and Worldwide: Hedgehog in the Fog “â„–1 Animated film of all the time”. Take a look at it here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dRsXU4Q6a0Q

  • http://www.beingborisartist.blogspot.com Boris

    And another one Russian short – Film, film, film!
    1part – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FkzHTm9VJNc
    2part – http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nsSul7K2qso

    Enjoy :)