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.