Alice’s adventures in Russia

Alice in Wonderland has recently returned to the American media spotlight once again with director Tim Burton’s upcoming remake of Lewis Carroll’s classic tale.

Many animation or film adaptations have been made of the book around the world, but a Soviet-produced animated version made by Efrem Pruzhansky in 1981 appears to be the most different.

In fact, it seems that the Soviet version’s darker and trippier style is closer to the original book as opposed to Disney’s family-friendly 1951 feature.

Here’s a short clip from the animation (sorry, no subtitles):

Marina Galperina, a blogger at at Read Russia! writes:

Unlike most other Alices, all lovely and sugar-sweet and just a little spoiled, the Soviet Alice is acidic, stubborn, bitchy and very welcoming to any and all hallucinations Wonderland has to offer, conjured up in a surrealist frolic by the Soviet animators.

But has Alice in Wonderland always been a popular icon in Russia like it has in America and England? It’s hard to imagine such a fantastical and psychedelic story being promoted during Soviet times.

In fact, according to this article by Viktor Sonkin for The St. Petersburg Times, although the book was published in Russia in 1879, it never gained much public appeal. He writes,

…children’s literature in Russia at that time tended to be extremely moralistic and plot-based, and Caroll’s wild imagination did not fit in.

Alice’s Russian journey brings us to the 1960s, when an official searching for non-Soviet socialist literature mistook a Bulgarian translation for a Bulgarian book and ordered it to be translated into Russian.

Through more twists and turns, the first post-war version of Alice finally appeared in 1967. It quickly gained popularity amongst a population that had become more open to fantasy and absurdity, and paved the way to these 1981 animations. As Sonkin concludes,

So perhaps the lack of fear was one reason behind Caroll’s popularity in the Soviet Union: For people stuck in a gray reality, Alice’s rabbit hole and looking-glass offered a way out.

To watch the full animation, click on the following links.
Part 1
Part 2
Part 3

One thought on “Alice’s adventures in Russia

  1. // It’s hard to imagine such a fantastical and psychedelic story being promoted during Soviet times. //

    How many times I have read such replies by Western viewers regarding Soviet animation films! (and movies too – for example, about Russian Sherlock Holmes series: Western viewers never await such quality and accuracy to Conan Doyle’s word and spirit).

    Every time I can’t get away from a feeling of cliche in the replies, but I must confess that surprises before Soviet animations by Western viewers are quite sincerely. In fact, they never know about Soviet animation industry.

    I highly recommend the journal:
    http://niffiwan.livejournal.com – a lot info and links about Soviet and Russian productions.

    …returning to a fantastical and psychedelic “Alice”

    On my view, such “a fantastical and psychedelic” took up a subtstantial share in Soviet animation screen. For example:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bxF2X__JwdM

    (cartoon called – “Wow! It’s the Speaking Fish!”), dir. Robert Saakyantz

    or
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=79yCl3zTMxs
    (“Musical-box”), dir. Vladimir Uvarov

    or
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=p1HSv_F3dRg
    (“Dropped last year’s snow, snow from the previous year”), dir. Alexander Tatarsky

    etc…

    I have to say that these productions were not “pure artsy for animation festivals”, but were an important part of Soviet animation mainstream, as a rule, for children 🙂 And, on my view, it is an uniqueness of Soviet animation industry unlike Disney productions.

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