Long before masters of the short story like Raymond Carver and Flannery O’Connor commanded the respect of creative writing teachers everywhere, Anton Chekhov’s spare, mannered stories set the standard for the form. Known for their subtlety and keen observations of human weakness and social ills, the typical Chekhov story never boils over into melodrama but simmers, slowly pushing tensions close to the surface of routine interactions without letting them break through and explode.
The story animated above, however, is something of an exception to Chekhov’s domestic human dramas. “Kashtanka” is a about a dog, and a good bit of it is told from her perspective. First published in 1884 as “In Bad Times,” the story was allegedly inspired by Chekhov’s love of the circus. Chekhov wrote the story for children, so it’s fitting that it receive this Disney-esque treatment (the opening scene reminded me of Geppetto’s workshop).
Russian poster designer and children’s book illustrator Mikhail Tsekhanovsky made the film in 1952, when cartoons were painstakingly hand-drawn cel by cel. Another Russian animator, Natalia Orlova, takes advantage of 21st century technology in her 2004 rendering of “Kashtanka" below, but she does so in a unique way that integrates hand-painted images; the flickering stop-motion resembles children’s book illustrations come to life. Along with the excellent sound design, her captivating style makes for a very different visualization of the story.
Note: You will need to click CC at the bottom of the video to launch the subtitles.
Josh Jones is a writer and musician based in Washington, DC. Follow him @jdmagness