Country of Origin: Union of Soviet Socialist Republics
First Screened: 1941 (Exact date unclear)
All of the shorts we’ve looked at in this series thus far have been propaganda to a greater or lesser extent. But they weren’t just propaganda. American audiences liked their propaganda leavened with comedy or drama or catchy tunes about farting in Hitler’s face. The Russians though? They took their propaganda straight while growling at the bartender to leave the bottle.
The blunt, hammer-blow-to-the-noggin nature of Soviet propaganda is right there in the name of today’s short Fascist Jackboots Shall Not Trample Our Motherland.
So a little background. Jackboots is one the earliest productions of Soyuzmultfilm, the pre-eminent home of Russian animation and screen puppeteering. The studio is still going to this day but its heyday was during the Soviet era where they produced beautiful and beloved animated classics like the Winnie-the Pooh trilogy and Hedgehog in the Fog.
Now keep in mind, I don’t read Russian, so all my information is coming second hand from places like Wikipedia which claims, for instance, that after the fall of the Soviet Union Soyuzmultfilm’s facilities were sold to the Russian Orthodox Church and then promptly burned to the ground by Cossacks who believed that their puppets were animated with the blood of Christian children. And, while anything on the internet originating from Russia should normally be treated as purest truth from the beardy lips of God Himself, I find that a bit hard to swallow.
Anyway, that was all in the future. Although originally based in Moscow, Soyuzmultfilm was evacuated to Samarkand when the Germans invaded and were put to work creating propaganda for the war effort. And one of those films was Fascist Jackboots Shall Not Trample Our Motherland.
So, as I said before, this is one of the purest examples of propaganda you will ever see. There is hardly any real plot to speak of. The Nazi war machine, portrayed as a pig-snouted, fanged ogre, is shown rampaging through Europe.
Oh well, I guess it would be a bit embarrassing to admit that the invasion that the German invasion of Poland was carried out with the USSR’s eager assistance. But then, they’re just a naturally helpful country.
It feels kind of cruel to criticise animation that I have no doubt was made under very, um, tense working conditions and I’d actually say that, grading on a curve for the conditions the animators were working under it’s actually quite fine. After all, it’s one thing to make cartoons in sunny Burbank when the war is on the other side of two oceans, quite another when the Nazis have actually invaded your homeland. It’s decent animation, but it’s actually fairly awful propaganda.
The short makes a rather baffling and basic error. We’re given a villain to root against, but no one to root for. Oh sure, we see rotoscoped Soviet tanks and planes and cavalry men, but the only figure who’s given any character at all is the Nazi Pig Ogre. That, by default, makes him the protagonist and subconsciously encourages us to root for him. However grotesque and repulsive he is, he still has more of a sense of an inner life than this dude…
Remember when Reason and Emotion explained how propaganda works? Hatred, Fear, Pride and Sympathy?
Jackboots has the first two in spades but utterly fails at the second two. There’s no equivalent moment here of Donald Duck hugging his star spangled curtains, or the narrator telling Reason and Emotion “We’ll win this war, and we’ll do it right.” Judging from this cartoon alone, I would have no question as to what the Soviets were fighting against but no idea what they were fighting for. And for that reason, I can’t imagine that this was very effective in raising morale for the fight against Hitler.
Then again, they’re the ones who actually beat the bastard, so what do I know?
How’s the animation?: It’s…striking. I’ll give it that.
Art or Propaganda?: PROPAGANDA. Pure, uncut, straight to the vein.
How does this rate on the Jingo-Meter?: Yeah, there’s tanks and planes and stirring songs about how Comrade Stalin has a massive cock but this honestly fails rather miserably at instilling patriotic fervour. 1 hammer and sickle-engraved ice-pick buried in the skull of Leon Trotsky out of 5.
What’s going on with the War?: I actually don’t know. Unlike the previous shorts I can’t seem to track down a definite release date, only that it was made in 1941. In 1941…a lot happened. Let’s leave it at that.
Dude, is this racist?: Dude, there are, I am sure, some out there who might be willing to argue that depicting the Nazis as a giant moustachioed pig ogre is racist. But not I. Not I.
Should I buy bonds?: NYET TOVARICH! Bonds are a tool of the capitalist oppressors!
Comrade Crow screens this at all his dinner parties.
Well, it’s to the point, that’s for sure. Not even 3 minutes long. And that’s a pretty impressively animated Nazi pig ogre.
Other than that, not a lot to say about it, really. I give it two bowls of borscht out of five.
I don’t have a degree in this or anything, but I suspect the lack of “character” in our, er, heroes is the whole point. In the West (America especially) individualism is lionized and the default starting-point for fiction (or at least cartoons), but the Soviet Union is both an autocracy AND (nominally) Communist. It makes perfect sense for them to value the faceless collective – the true engine of labor and revolutions alike. Pair that with the singular Nazi Pig Ogre, and the message isn’t just clear, but downright prophetic:
“There’s one of Them and a million of Us. Let Them come. Mother Russia has reserves.”
(And no Communist Crow? For shame…)
I know, I know. Couldn’t think of a good joke for him.
Much of Soviet art had a somewhat subversive edge to it that came about as a result of the great purges of the 1930s, when artists lived in an environment of utter terror and fear and were told to toe the party line or find themselves on the receiving side of a visit from Uncle Beria’s goons. (Which many of them did anyways despite doing nothing wrong–the Great Terror was mindless and arbitrary, where nothing guaranteed safety against a midnight knock on the door.) The official line on art, laid down as it was by the bureaucracy, was stiflingly dull.
Then the invasion happened in 1941 and suddenly these same artists–some of whom came back from the worst the Gulags had to offer–were actually given a little bit of creative space. Not much, but just enough.
Is it any wonder that they put their hatred of the fascist invaders down, but were a little…less than enthusiastic…about glorifying the Party?
I think part of the reason why you don’t have Donald Duck hugging a statue of Stalin while wearing red pajamas is that you don’t really need that in the Soviet Union. Americans needed to be convinced to fight a war across the ocean against an enemy most of them would never see. The Soviets didn’t have that. They had kill them now or your village is next. They actually have a memorial in Belarus to villages. It commemorates the villages that were massacred and burned to the ground. When dealing with that you don’t need to go beyond pure fear the enemy and kill them.
That music at the start was very… how-you-say… ‘Worker and Parasite.’
WHAT THE HELL WUZZAT?!
Honestly, I can’t tell if it’s racist or not simply because I am lacking the cultural context…for all I know, calling Germans pigs (I don’t think that this is an ogre, it looks more like a giant wild boar or a particularly ugly pig) is a proud tradition in Russia. Wouldn’t be the only ones who make “fun” of our preference for pork.
Otherwise, I suspect that the reason why they weren’t glorifying Stalin all that much might be because artists didn’t exactly have an easy time in the Soviet Union. From the post war time there are a bunch of shorts decrying the stifling impact of the party (“The Hand” being the most famous one, I guess, and that wasn’t even made in Russia itself). I guess they could get behind fighting the Nazis, but not necessarily behind their own regime. It’s different in the US where people actually believed to live in the greatest country possible.
There’s also the what happens if you try glorifying Stalin and he doesn’t like how you went about it.
Did one of those tanks just drive off a cliff and sink? I think that happened. That whole battle montage had some intense editing. I could see that being very stirring at the time.
“that’s one big-time flag”
Apparently the mouse has never been to Texas.
Big time? Texas? Apparently?
Apropos of nothing more than the suspicion that this will be right up your Grand Patriotic Boulevard with grubby little side-alleys:
Somewhat surprised Comrade Crow didn’t show up for this one.
By the way, have you considered doing the Japanese propaganda cartoon “Momotaro’s Divine Sea Warriors” as part of the Mouse Goes To War series?
It’s really cool that you’re doing other countries’ war propaganda for WWII and not just other countries’, which is something I haven’t seen very often on sites that talk about animation. I laughed at the jokes about stuff from Russia being from the “beardy lips of God himself”, the puppet blood joke, the joke about war bonds, etc.
I don’t want to be the umpteenth person in the comments to bring up you not using communist crow, but as much as I still enjoy your blog, it does seem like you haven’t used your cast of recurring joke characters nearly as often lately and I miss both them and those silly storylines you used to do. I’ll totally understand if you just don’t want to go in that direction anymore, but I just thought I’d give my feedback as a fan.
“Good ol’ Russia. Always HELPING.”
I hate to say “I told you so”, but…well, I did say let’s not all jump to the conclusion that it was Russia, didn’t I?
It’s a combination of things. The Marvel movies tend to be a good bit longer than the Disney reviews and I’ve been really pressed for time this year, hence less long digressions with the usual cast of thousands (the Buffy review, which was for a short episode, tried to redress this). Also, the last “story arc” review was the two parter Gravity Falls review which, let’s just say was an unsuccessful experiment. I’ll definitely do more at some point, but it’ll be when I actually have time to come up with some good material, rather than “Oh, I haven’t used Gangsta Asia in a while, better shoe horn him in.”