You know that I was born so very soft and easy-going, I make no trouble at all.
June 29, 2011 4:41 PM   Subscribe

Get ready to meet the fourth or fifth most famous pairing in Soviet children's animation: the meek, civil Leopold the Cat, and the rowdy mice who endlessly harass him in the course of 11 animated shorts (and a non-canonical feature made after the fall of the USSR).

The first two episodes were made using a sophisticated, intricate, but not very "pretty" style combining cutout animation and cell animation. Sadly, no subtitles are available; I've included synopses for ease of watching.
  1. «Месть кота Леопольда»/Leopold the Cat's Vengeance (1975) —
    The mice sing a song about their attitude toward cats. They issue a challenge to the placid Leopold, who is relaxing in a rocking chair by his Victrola. After much effort, the mice succeed in irritating him. Taking some pills from a passing doctor dog, Leopold is transformed into a raging animal and terrorizes the mice.
  2. «Леопольд и золотая рыбка»/Leopold and the Goldfish (1975) —
    Leopold is out fishing. He catches and releases a wish-granting goldfish. The mice try to interfere and swear revenge when Leopold doesn't notice their efforts. The mice catch the same magic fish (Caution: Oglaf) and wish to be turned into elephants, then crocodiles, and, finally, large predatory birds. To teach them a lesson, Leopold asks to turn invisible, using the opportunity to frighten the mice into abandoning their wicked ways and thoroughly demolishing the flat in the process.
All characters in the first short are voiced by Андрей Миронов/Andrey Mironov, perhaps familiar to Russophiles for playing a suave criminal in The Diamond Arm (previously), or another suave criminal in one of the film versions of The Twelve Chairs. The actor wasn't available for the second short, which was entirely voiced by the actor and comedian Геннадий Хазанов/Gennady Khazanov. Here he is delivering a weather report.

The plot of the second short obviously recalls Pushkin's Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish, a verse tale of classical hubris, beautifully illustrated here. Here is the animated version from 1950, complete with a full reading of the poem, to give you an idea of what it sounds like.

Note the evolving design of the mouse characters, who nonetheless keep the same catchphrase throughout the entire run: «Леопольд, выходи! Выходи, подлый трус!» ("Leopold, come out! Come out, you vile coward!"). Lovely anadiplosis there.

The remaining episodes use the more familiar cartoon animation style. They introduced the now-iconic character designs for Leopold and the mice. The episodes are shorter and have much less spoken dialogue. All the voices are provided by the distinctly feline-looking Alexander Kalyagin, a prolific stage and film actor. Russophiles who are into animation have probably heard his voice in the critically acclaimed Tale of Tales (1, 2, 3, kind of previously).
  1. «Клад кота Леопольда»/Leopold the Cat's Treasure (1981) —
    Leopold responds to the prank the mice play on him by sending them a fake treasure map.
  2. «Телевизор кота Леопольда»/Leopold the Cat's Television (1981) —
    Leopold has a new TV, but the mice are messing with the aerial. Leopold takes a variety of slapstick measures to stop them. The climax involves a battle with a supercharged vacuum cleaner.
  3. «Прогулка кота Леопольда»/Leopold the Cat's Hike (1982) —
    Leopold is enjoying a bike ride in the countryside, but the mice have other ideas. Includes multiple (possibly grating) songs. Note the enclosed-chain bike design, which was probably easier to animate. The part with the construction truck is a visual reference to the 1969 Soviet film «Белое солнце пустыни»/White Sun of the Desert
  4. «День рождения кота Леопольда»/Leopold the Cat's Birthday (1982) —
    Leopold is celebrating his birthday alone (what is it with Soviet cartoon characters?). The mice will have none of it. Provides a fine overview of Soviet domestic life.
  5. «Лето кота Леопольда»/Leopold the Cat's Summer (1983) —
    Dear god, why do I know all of these songs by heart? Leopold enjoys typical Soviet outdoor pastimes: fishing, picking mushrooms, working on his dacha (don't ask why the English Wikipedia page on mushroom picking has been taken over by Russians).
  6. «Кот Леопольд во сне и наяву»/Leopold the Cat Awake and Dreaming (1984) —
    Leopold occupies himself with turizm, which in the USSR typically comprised hiking, camping, and domestic, rather than international, travel (see this book review). The book Leopold is reading is Defoe's Robinson Crusoe. The theme of castaways is rampant in Soviet literature and obviously inspires the action.
  7. «Интервью с котом Леопольдом»/Interview with Leopold the Cat (1984) —
    A bizarre and perhaps lazy interview in the style of Inside the Actor's Studio. Leopold talks about acting, casting choices, fame, his future plans, and living as a cat in the world of cinema. All talk, no subtitles.
  8. «Поликлиника кота Леопольда»/Leopold the Cat's Hospital (1986) —
    Leopold enjoys all the modern benefits of socialized Soviet medicine. The round glass jars are for cupping, a procedure that's discredited elsewhere but is still widely recognized, thought perhaps less widely practiced in Russia today. The mice also try to know Leopold out with a rag soaked with ether. The scene mirrors a similar one in the perennially popular Soviet comedy «Операция Ы»/Operation [ɨ]. When the grey mouse is put to sleep, the soundtrack includes a musical reference to the closing theme of «Спокойной ночи, малыши»/Pleasant Dreams, Children, a beloved and long-running children's bedtime TV show (1987 NYTimes article about a cultural exchange between Mr. Rogers and the show's creators).
  9. «Автомобиль кота Леопольда»/Leopold the Cat's Car (1987) —
    Leopold takes his DIY (!!) automobile, license playe number LEO-19-87, out for a ride. (No, there was no tradition of people building their own cars in the USSR, not even in this fascinating book. No, I'm not sure why the car dispenses milk — out of a genuine USSR-era carton.)
In 1993, after the fall of the USSR, a feature-length animated film about Leopold was released. Little of the creative talent associated with the original shorts seems to have been involved with its creation. Presented in four parts (1, 2, 3, 4), «Возвращение кота Леопольда»/The Return of Leopold the Cat appears to be a drastic departure from the earlier children's cartoons (except, perhaps, Interview). The plot, based on descriptions given, is evidently an extended parody/pastiche of the then-popular telenovela Los Ricos También Lloran (Aprendí a llorar, aprendí a llorar, pero no aprendí a olvidarte… Get a load of the shirt at 1:06). The film must have received a limited release: it's not available either on YouTube or RuTube, but can be found on torrent sites.

Like many Soviet animation properties, post-Soviet rights to the characters were confused and had to be settled, bitterly, in court (Russian | Google-English).

Among numerous colored-silver commemorative coins denominated in Cook Islands dollars, one bears Leopold's likeness.

posted by Nomyte (25 comments total) 55 users marked this as a favorite
This is great.
posted by box at 4:45 PM on June 29, 2011

posted by ArmyOfKittens at 4:50 PM on June 29, 2011

Ребята, давайте жить дружно!

... in fact, you might even say that... дружба магические!!!
posted by boo_radley at 4:53 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Oh, and despite the fact that a lot of people will undoubtedly associate Russian animation with that Worker and Parasite short from the Simpsons, they were doing some really amazing stuff early on. Here is The Mascot by Vladislav Starewich. There's a lot of great stuff on Youtube by him and other Russian animators if you have an afternoon to rabbithole.
posted by boo_radley at 5:01 PM on June 29, 2011

Was looking forward to watching this, but Kheee-rist that cat is creepy looking. Like it was modeled on a bald pot-bellied middle-aged pedo clown.
posted by orthogonality at 5:04 PM on June 29, 2011

> Get ready to meet the fourth or fifth most famous pairing in Soviet children's animation

Where do Worker And Parasite rank?

Great post!
posted by The Card Cheat at 5:05 PM on June 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

I love the cutout style of the first couple of shorts especially. There's something incredibly bleak and yet charming about them.
posted by emmtee at 5:16 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love the idea that there are issues about canonicity in this context.

I also love the milk carton. It's much better than the freaky bags they have in Canada.
posted by SMPA at 5:29 PM on June 29, 2011

I just came here to give you love for the Robyn Hitchcock quote in the title.
posted by mykescipark at 5:31 PM on June 29, 2011

A terrific post—this is what I come to MetaFilter for. Many thanks, and давайте жить дружно!
posted by languagehat at 5:43 PM on June 29, 2011 [2 favorites]

They're fought
They're bitten
They're bitten and fought and bitten
Fought fought fought! Bitten bitten bitten!
In Soviet Russia things are done to Itchy and Scratchy
posted by obiwanwasabi at 5:50 PM on June 29, 2011 [3 favorites]


What the hell was that!?

posted by Navelgazer at 6:03 PM on June 29, 2011

posted by k8t at 6:42 PM on June 29, 2011

Amazing. Thanks!
posted by tickingclock at 6:53 PM on June 29, 2011

oh hey it's
posted by SomaSoda at 7:25 PM on June 29, 2011

But yeah, these are pretty great.
posted by SomaSoda at 7:26 PM on June 29, 2011

This is a subject I know nothing about, and it's really interesting with links I'm looking forward to exploring. It's my definition of a great post. Thanks!
posted by immlass at 7:39 PM on June 29, 2011

I used to watch this is a kid, and I've completely forgotten about it! Holy crap! Thank you!
posted by griphus at 7:56 PM on June 29, 2011

A non-canonical film about cats and mice which came out after the fall of the Soviet Union?

Surely you must mean... Tom And Jerry: The Movie.
posted by hippybear at 8:01 PM on June 29, 2011

I just came here to give you love for the Robyn Hitchcock quote in the title.

You don't have to call me Stalin,
Or even Mao Zedong,
'Cause I'm far too young
posted by Nomyte at 8:06 PM on June 29, 2011

Why would you put a fully-decorated cake into the oven?

Now I'm starting to understand why the Soviet Union fell.
posted by Curious Artificer at 8:22 PM on June 29, 2011 [1 favorite]

Why would you put a fully-decorated cake into the oven?

For drying purposes, after it's been left out in the rain?
posted by dubold at 1:07 AM on June 30, 2011

I'll never have that recipe again!
posted by owtytrof at 8:52 AM on June 30, 2011

Would you like to see Russian cutaway gag? Here is Russian cutaway gag.
posted by infinitywaltz at 10:12 AM on June 30, 2011

Re. the milk: simple. Russians think cats love milk.

(My mom wouldn't stop feeding my cat milk even after I told her that cats are actually lactose intolerant...)
posted by saizai at 2:52 AM on July 2, 2011

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