Red Cartoons DVD review

Following the end of the Soviet Union and the advent of commercial infiltration by global carpetbagger culture, some Eastern European countries were carved up and ceased to exist, while others disappeared entirely. The most well known case in point, was the former German Democratic Repubic which became part of Germany again, along with a divided Berlin.

And whether those changes were for better or worse, depends on who’s being asked. Not likely to show much enthusiasm are the vast numbers of unemployed that materialized in the former GDR, and without being afforded the previous benefits, pensions and free health care provided by a state economy. Or the many youth forced into the sex trade epidemic or immigration, in search of sustenance elsewhere.

Which tends to make the DVD collection Red Cartoons: Animated Films From East Germany less an instructive experience than a fairly blank slate, particularly for relatively clueless outsiders, upon which the amassing of an array of contradictory subjective impressions is possible. And a culturally minimalist response rendered all the more ambiguous by the absence of subtitles for the admittedly sparse language, or voiceover narration. As a result, with this basically on-your-own format, the assertion provided that these cleverly conceived sixteen animated shorts created by eight directors at the state run GDR DEFA Studio until the facilities closed in 1992, were of a subversive nature that would not have been allowed in feature films, is of the grain of salt variety.

What does impress, is not only the noted absence of the relentless violence, mean-spirited competitiveness, greed, oneupmanship, obsessive consumerism, materialism and product placement permeating American cartoons, even for very young and impressionable minds, in glaring contrast. But an unusual focus as well, presenting mostly constructive criticism and negotiating the everyday dilemmas of human beings, attempting to live in satisfying harmony together.

In this manner, the worried but cheerful protagonists set off on highly creative quests for human company or else solitude, a planet without pollution, or simply a seat on overly crowded public transportation. In any case, among the many pleasures to be had in this unique journey through vintage animation boasting much high IQ food for thought, is that there’s not a billboard or commercial in sight.

DVD Features: Bographies and Filmographies; Made In East Germany: An Essay by Film Historian Ralf Schenk; About the German Institute For Animation (DIAF); Slide Show: Behind the Scenes at DIAF, by Rolf Hofmann and Martin Grosser 2007; Read More About German Animation.

First Run Features


2 1/2 stars

Prairie Miller
Prairie Miller is a New York multimedia journalist online, in print and radio, who reviews movies and conducts in-depth interviews. She can also be heard on WBAI/Pacifica National Radio Network's Arts Express.