Back during the waning years of the Soviet Union, animator Aleksandr Tatarsky left the state-run studio Écran to form his own animation company called Studio Pilot, the first privately owned company of its kind in Russia. The studio quickly made a name for itself by turning out bizarre, surreal and, at times, downright disturbing animated shorts. If you went to animation festivals during the Clinton presidency, you probably saw something from Studio Pilot.
Metafilter user “Nomyte,” who clearly knows both animation and Russian, put together an exhaustive list of movies on Youtube from Studio Pilot. A whopping 17 hours of footage. Here are a few favorites:
His Wife is a Chicken (1989) — A surrealist domestic drama tale about a guy who rejects his loving, hardworking wife when he realizes that, well, she’s a chicken. Told completely without words, the film (shown above) masterfully fuses everyday banality with some truly unnerving bits of weirdness – like that horrific worm dog creature with a human face. I saw this movie at some point in the early ‘90s and it gave me nightmares.
The Coup (1991) – An animated political cartoon that — 20 some odd years later — has become a fascinating historical document. The short shows a svelte Boris Yeltsin literally flush away the leaders of the doomed 1991 coup attempted against Mikhail Gorbachev. The incident was the last gasp of the Soviet old guard; its failure resulted in the eventual dissolution of the USSR. As the film’s end title points out, all of the short’s animators were personally involved in fighting the coup: “From 19 to 21 of August 1991, all animators who made this film have been [sic] defending the white house of Russia. Only by night on August 21 they could start working on the film.”
Gone with the Wind (1998) – Nothing about romance during the Civil War here. Instead, this movie is about, once again, a chicken. The short animation is a macabre tale about a boiled bird that comes back from the dead and struggles to return to its original unplucked state. You won’t look at eggs in quite the same way again.
2+1= (2003) – A lighthearted comedy about dinosaurs in love.
If you want to see the complete list of Studio Pilot animations, check it out here. Many more great animated shorts can be found on our list of Free Animated Films, part of our bigger collection 700 Free Movies Online: Great Classics, Indies, Noir, Westerns, etc..
Jonathan Crow is a Los Angeles-based writer and filmmaker whose work has appeared in Yahoo!, The Hollywood Reporter, and other publications. You can follow him at @jonccrow.