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!