The Animated Collapse of Soviet Childhood

Lora Wheeler, University of California, Irvine

The aim of this paper is to explore the representation of childhood in animated films both in Soviet. I will compare the representations of childhood in four short animation films, Xrjanovskij's Butterfly (1972) and Gorlenko's Old Stair (1985), with Golovanova's Boy is Boy(1986) and Cat and Clown (1988).

The first animated films in both pre-Revolutionary Russia and post-Revolutionary Russia, Starevich's The Cameraman's Revenge (1912) or Vertov's Political Toys had very little to do with childhood and were not made necessarily for children. However, the cult of the child and childhood soon took center stage after the 1917 Revolution. The new Soviet state required a common goal: the education of the universal man, the molding of a world outlook, a moral outlook and aesthetic values. One means for reaching this common goal was the appropriation of childhood. The ultimate goal of the new Soviet regime was to create 'the new man' who would be able to take socialist principles forward from one generation to the next. Children in particular were to be the bearers of the new social order, since the child represented the beginning, vitality, potential, as well as the future in which that potential will be realized. The model Soviet child does not continue the heritage of his ancestors, but is instead detached from his roots and forced to lead the way in a new, unexplored and newly molded environment without guidance. However, while this goal was an ideal, and most of the films and literature for children contained highly didactic messages.

As early as 1925 the first animated films for children were released, already with a socialist approach to mold the child into the "new man" of the Soviet Union. Even into the 1960s and 1970s, Soviet animated films, not especially for children, still appropriated childhood with Soviet ideals as will be demonstrated in Xrjanovskij's Butterfly. While Soviet animated film in the1960s has been praised for its Avant-Garde and experimental qualities, childhood and the world of the child is still dominated by a didactic, molding, quality. Films as late as Gorlenko's Old Stair, continued this pattern of representing childhood. With the start of Perestroika and Glasnost' at the end of the 1980s and early 90s, childhood was no longer the domain of the builders of communism. As the building blocks of the Soviet State were slowly dismantled, children and the representation of childhood took a new direction in animated films. Fantasy and the world of the child, as will be demonstrated in Golovanova's Boy is Boy and Cat and Clown, enter the adult sphere. The post-Soviet childhood, in these films, has its own didactic message for the newly forming adult world.