BOOTLEG FILES 189: “Nu Pogodi!” (series of Russian cartoons made between 1969 and 2005).
LAST SEEN: Available for online viewing at several sites.
AMERICAN HOME VIDEO: Only as an import from a Russian label.
REASON FOR DISAPPEARANCE: The cartoons are unknown to American audiences.
CHANCES OF SEEING A DVD RELEASE: Not very likely, though stranger things have happened.
During the bad old days of the Cold War, the Soviet Union had an “anything you can do, I can do better” attitude towards the United States. Whether it involved creating atomic weapons, space rockets or Olympic champions, the Soviets had a desperate and pathological need for one-upmanship with their capitalist foes.
This rivalry also extended to animated shorts. If the decadent Americans could churn out cartoons featuring the likes of Bugs Bunny and Daffy Duck, then (according to Kremlin logic) why couldn’t the Russian animators do the same?
Well, there was one good reason why the Russian animators couldn’t do the same as their American counterparts: they had no talent. If the Russian animated series “Nu Pogodi!” is any indication, the fears that the Soviets lacked a sense of humor was more than justified.
“Nu Pogodi!” has often been compared to American offerings such as the Tom and Jerry or Road Runner cartoons. That’s really not fair, since Tom and Jerry and the Road Runner were actually very funny and very well made. “Nu Pogodi!”, with its sloppy animation and sluggish humor, is probably closer to the third-rate Hanna-Barbera muck that was being dumped on Saturday morning TV in the early 1970s – but even third-rate Hanna-Barbera is superior to first-tier Soviet animation.
The concept of “Nu Pogodi!” is fairly simple: the main focus is on Wolf, a cigarette-smoking lupine anti-hero given to hooligan behavior. Wolf is obsessed with catching and eating Hare, a small bunny with voluptuous eyelashes. Hare is supposedly a male, though his giggly demeanor would suggest he’s a rather effeminate male. In occasional dance numbers, Hare takes on the female role while Wolf leads vigorously – and at one point, Wolf greets Hare with roses and champagne! (Brokeback comrades?)
In typical Wile E. Coyote fashion, Wolf goes through elaborate but reckless lengths to capture Hare, but these efforts inevitably backfire. For example, Wolf ties a rope along the side of an apartment building and climbs up to Hare’s balcony, but Hare snips the rope and Wolf tumbles into a passing police vehicle that ushers him to a Soviet jail. Or in a beachfront setting, Wolf commandeers a speedboat to chase Hare across a lake, but he overshoots his target and drives the boat up across the sand and on a highway.
Whenever he realizes he’s failed, Wolf angrily shakes his fist at Hare and yells out “Nu Pogodi!” – that’s Russian for “Just you wait!” Actually, the cartoons have very little dialogue and it is easy for the non-Russian speaker to understand what’s happening.
But, truth be told, the series stinks. In the “Nu Pogodi!” cartoons, the slapstick is painfully lame and predictable. It is a given that Wolf winds up on the rough end of the knockabout – falling on a family of porcupines, having his tail slammed in a piano lid, getting welded into industrial plumbing, tumbling into a smokestack, etc. But unlike the classic Tom and Jerry or Road Runner cartoons, none of this is well-planned. The lethargic pacing is so painful that it appears the films are being projected at a too-slow speed. And Wolf, unlike Wile E. Coyote or Tom Cat, isn’t the least bit engaging – you don’t even love to hate him, let alone feel sorry for his chronic failings. (Forget about Hare – that character has no personality whatsoever.)
Oddly, none of the “Nu Pogodi!” productions have titles. Fans of the series (yes, some people like this stuff) alleviate this problem by referring to each cartoon as “Episode One,” “Episode Two” and so forth. A total of 20 cartoons were created, with the bulk of the output taking place on an average of one cartoon per year between 1969 and 1980. Beyond 1980, production was limited to fits-and-starts: a couple of cartoons in the mid-1980s, then nothing until a pair of cartoons in 1993, then nothing more until another pair in 2005.
In fairness, “Nu Pogodi!” is not without interest. Although the animation is crude and inconsistent (Wolf’s appearance keeps changing between episodes), the cartoons are actually rich with a surprisingly eccentric music score that alternates between Russian pop and eclectic jazzy instrumentals.
The cartoons also provide a curious glimpse of Soviet life: a shaky fear of the police (Wolf always seems nervous about being arrested, even when he is not engaged in criminal activity), a decided lack of luxuries (a cruise ship episode finds a cabin with a water pitcher on the wall instead of a bathroom with a working sink), and an obsession with sports (Wolf and Hare bring their shenanigans to the 1980 Moscow Olympics). There are also occasional references to Russian fairytales, an unlikely Christmas pageant with Hare as the Russian equivalent of Santa Claus, and even a rare bit of bootlegging from Western cultural sources (one cartoon includes an unauthorized sampling of the Paul McCartney-penned ditty “Those Were the Days”).
“Nu Pogodi!” was helmed by the animator Vyacheslav Kotyonochkin, working at the government-operated Soyuzmultfilm studio in Moscow. Kotyonochkin claimed that he never saw the classic American cartoons in creating his work, and judging from the inferior nature of his animation it is easy to believe him. The last two cartoons, from 2005, were created by his son Aleksey Kotyonochkin.
“Nu Pogodi!” was never commercially released in the United States. The limited volume of cartoons cancelled any possibility of TV syndication, and standalone presentation of each cartoon would’ve been impossible since the U.S. theatrical shorts evaporated by the time the cartoons were made. No English-dubbed or subtitled version has been brought forth, but the cartoons apparently played on a few local low-power American stations that offered Russian-language programming.
The “Nu Pogodi!” cartoons can easily be found in unauthorized presentations on several Internet sites. The cartoons, which were taken from Russian import DVDs, have a muddy color that suggests a much-needed digital restoration is required. But outside of die-hard animation addicts who need to see everything, it is difficult to imagine why any non-Russian would want to waste their time on these lousy cartoons. “Nu Pogodi!”, like the Soviet Union, was just a bad idea that never lived up to its potential.
IMPORTANT NOTICE: The unauthorized duplication and distribution of copyright-protected material is not widely appreciated by the entertainment industry, and on occasion law enforcement personnel help boost their arrest quotas by collaring cheery cinephiles engaged in such activities. So if you are going to copy and sell bootleg videos, a word to the wise: don’t get caught. The purchase and ownership of bootleg videos, however, is perfectly legal and we think that’s just peachy! This column was brought to you by Phil Hall, a contributing editor at
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Posted on July 13, 2007 in Bootleg Files, Features by Phil Hall
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