Thanks to The Simpsons’ parody of Eastern European animation (remember “Worker And Parasite?”), many assume communist-era cartoons to be uniformly grim, humorless, and abstract. The Red Cartoons anthology paints a different picture, showcasing the varying styles and thematic concerns of a group of artists who worked at East Germany’s DEFA studio from the ’50s until 1992. The 16 shorts on Red Cartoons come primarily from the ’70s and ’80s, and average three minutes or less. Some resemble whimsical comic-book one-pagers; others are more like editorials. And watched in chronological order, they tell—with wit and artistry—the story of the mounting frustration in the GDR in the years before the Berlin Wall fell.

Though each cartoon aims to make a point, some of those points are fairly benign. In Hans Moser and Thomas Rosié’s “Hello,” for example, a man travels from the city to the country to the mountains to the beach to the desert, looking for a solitude that proves less than satisfying when he finally finds it. And in Otto Sacher’s “Star And Flower,” a man on the ground neglects a flower because he wants to reach a star, while a man in the sky does the opposite. These are simple, universal ideas: critiques of dissatisfaction that sympathize with the irritated while also reminding them that restlessness is a common human condition, not a uniquely socialist one.


But others of these Red Cartoons have real sting—especially the work of Klaus Georgi and his occasional collaborator Lutz Stützner. Georgi’s “The Full Circle” is a bitter pill, depicting people wearing gas masks because of the pollution emitted by a gas-mask factory. His “Consequence” is even more savage, showing an audience applauding an anti-pollution film, then heading out to their exhaust-spewing automobiles. Georgi and Stützner’s collaborations “The Breakdown” and “The Monument” take direct aim at the establishment: the former through the absurdist image of a tiny car towing a convoy of bloated political leaders’ vehicles, and the latter through a vignette of a statue changing position after it receives a phone call from the party. And Stützner’s 1990 “Island Joke” exemplifies what these DEFA animators do so well, by encapsulating the ridiculousness of a failing state in a scene of three freezing, naked men using a bolt of cloth to make a flag they can salute.

Key features: Just some text pieces and slideshows that put these cartoons in context.