This trippy anti-capitalist cartoon was the USSR's first animated film

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It's not surprising that the first animation to come out the newly formed Soviet Union was anti-capitalist propaganda, but 1924's Soviet Toys has particularly unnerving imagery, which includes a disappearing woman, a man with cameras for eyes, and a capitalist whose stomach is treated as piñata by the proletariat.

A handful of filmmakers began experimenting with animation in pre-Soviet Russia. Ballet dancer Aleksander Shiryayev filmed a series of stop-motion puppet films between 1906 and 1909, and Ladislas Starevich independently began making stop-motion films in 1910. However, animation was marginalized in the years following the Bolshevik Revolution. It wasn't until 1924 that the Soviet State Film Committee would produce its first animated film, Soviet Toys, directed by documentary filmmaker Dziga Vertov, who would become best known for his 1929 film Man with a Movie Camera.

Although it's pretty easy to understand much of the film's heavy-handed imagery without much context, Soviet Toys was the product of a specific era in Soviet history. Vladimir Lenin's New Economic Policy had created certain entrepreneurial opportunities for middlemen, and these "NEPmen" were reviled as capitalists. The scissors one man uses to try to cut open the NEPman's belly is a reference to the Scissor Crisis, when the Soviet Union experienced a widening gap between industrial and agricultural prices. Other images are just plain out-there, like the lady who dives into the capitalist's belly and disappears from the film.


From an animation perspective, Soviet Toys is interesting for its combination of crude line drawings with more detailed iris views of the characters.

Watch Dziga Vertov's Unsettling Soviet Toys: The First Soviet Animated Movie Ever (1924) [Open Culture via Dangerous Minds]