Filled with adorable characters and wintertime miracles, these colourful animations are a warm pick-me-up for the festive season. And, as always, all are available online with English subtitles.
An explosion of colour that dances alongside Tchaikovsky’s exquisite score, this cartoon is a timeless treat. Released in 1973 by Soviet film studio Soyuzmultfilm, The Nutcracker is based on the 1816 libretto by E.T.A. Hoffmann, with music from the famous 1892 ballet. Although later versions in other languages have added dialogue to the animation, the original is completely instrumental, yet with its beautifully-drawn characters and gripping orchestra music, remains endlessly captivating. Short and sweet at just over 20 minutes, The Nutcracker is pure joy.
As New Year approaches, a group of children realise they won’t be able to join in with the festivities — they don’t have a tree. Dismayed, they write a letter to the most resourceful person they know: Father Frost, otherwise known as the Russian Santa Claus. But who can withstand the freezing cold and deliver the letter to his house in the Arctic Circle? In this adorable Soviet animation, nothing is impossible. The children build a snowman who comes alive, takes on his quest as postman, and, after battling with the dangers of the Russian forest, delivers the letter to Father Frost. In the closing scene, the children and the snowman perform choreography on ice around their new, beautifully-lit tree. Although released in 1955, this classic cartoon is a timeless reminder of the childlike innocence that brings alive the magic of Christmas time.
Based on an eponymous story by Nikolai Gogol, the success of this 1951 Soviet feature animation preceded the release of a real-life version — Evenings on a Farm Near Dikanka — 10 years later. Directed by the pioneers of Soviet animation, Valentina and Zinaida Brumberg, the film is set in a Ukrainian village on the night before Christmas, where a love story between peasants Oksana and Vakula intertwines with magical creatures and other mysterious aspects of Ukrainian village life. An ode to the magic of folk traditions, The Night Before Christmas is considered one of the best examples of the socialist-realist period in Russian animation, and a great holiday film.
Winter in Prostovkashino is the New Year episode of The Three from Prostokvashino: the adventures of a runaway boy called Fyodor, his cat Matroskin, and their adopted dog friend Sharik. In this short animated film, Sharik and Matroskin are in the middle of an argument. Matroskin is upset with Sharik for buying a fashionable pair of shoes instead of warm boots, leaving them all with just one pair of sturdy shoes to share over the winter. They refuse to talk to each other, until Postman Pechkin acts as an intermediary. Then, on New Year’s Eve, Fyodor’s father becomes stuck on his way to Prostokvashino. The last minute misfortune brings the unlikely friends back together, and, by way of a festive miracle, Sharik, Matroskin, Fyodor, and his parents all reunite just in time to celebrate the last night of the year.
This 1957 Soviet animated feature film, based on the eponymous story by Hans Christian Andersen, is a revolutionary Christmas classic. Directed by Lev Atamanov, a Soviet Armenian filmmaker, The Snow Queen is the first adaptation of the Danish fable ever since it was written in 1844. Due to its success, Universal Pictures acquired the film in 1959 for distribution in the US, marking the first purchase of a Soviet film by an American company. When it was adapted into other languages, an array of stars would go on to voice the princess herself, including Sandra Dee in the United States, or Catherine Deneuve in France. More than 60 years after its release, The Snow Queen remains not only a beautiful, hand-drawn animated fairytale where love — obviously — triumphs, but also a proof that art can bring countries together, even at the height of the Cold War.