Next year will mark the fortieth anniversary of my book Of Mice and Magic: A History of Animated Cartoons. I feel lucky that it’s still in print; that’s because it has been adopted by high school and college courses covering the history of animation. But I never could have foreseen that it would have another life in the Russian language!

This happy turn of events came about because one of the country’s preeminent animators, Fyodor Khitruk, wanted to use it as a teaching tool. Frustrated that he could not interest a Soviet publisher, he set about translating the text, word for word, himself. (He had worked as a translator during World War Two.) Khitruk died in 2012 but some colleagues never gave up on the project. A few years ago I learned that it was in the works from Penguin, my American publisher. I rescanned the photos for their use; thank goodness I had almost all of them in my files.


Fyodor Khitruk, a master of animation who was honored around the world


Now it is a reality. I’m still getting accustomed to seeing my name spelled out in Cyrillic. (I’m reminded of the story Harpo Marx tells in his autobiography about touring the Soviet Union in the 1930s and phonetically reading his name as Xapno Mapcase.)

I am especially flattered that Mr. Khitruk took on this endeavor because I admire his work so much. I met him ever so briefly at an international animation festival in New York City back in 1973. Sometime later I fell in love with his clever comic short about how movies get made, Film Film Film (1968), which speaks a universal language. I just checked and it is available on YouTube along with other more serious-minded work by this masterful artist.


Here is the forlorn screenwriter in Khitruk’s very funny Film Film Film


I’m sorry he didn’t live to see his translated text become a published book, and I have him to thank for the rave reviews I have received in such unexpected sources as Izvestiya, one of the country’s leading newspapers, the TASS news agency, and a number of film journals.

My new friends, film historians Natalie Ryabchikova and Stanislav Dedinsky, have told me that my book’s publication “has been a momentous occasion for the professional community as well as for all lovers of animation (there’s a list of some of the critical responses below). The book has been highly praised by famous Russian animation directors and artists, such as Yuri Norshtein, Andrey Khrzhanovsky, Garry Bardin, Ivan Maximov, Konstantin Bronzit, Mikhail Tumelya, and others.” (Norstein’s classic Tale of Tales is about to play at New York City’s Film Forum.)

My Russian colleagues who have seen this through have also started making discoveries based on the book’s filmographies, which were prepared long ago by a young fellow named Jerry Beck. (I wonder what ever happened to him.) This may lead to some “finds,” which would be the highest reward I could ask.

Leonard Maltin is one of the world’s most respected film critics and historians. He is best known for his widely-used reference work Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide and its companion volume Leonard Maltin’s Classic Movie Guide, now in its third edition, as well as his thirty-year run on television’s Entertainment Tonight. He teaches at the USC School of Cinematic Arts and appears regularly on Reelz Channel and Turner Classic Movies. His books include The 151 Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, Of Mice and Magic: A History of American Animated Cartoons, The Great Movie Comedians, The Disney Films, The Art of the Cinematographer, Movie Comedy Teams, The Great American Broadcast, and Leonard Maltin’s Movie Encyclopedia. He served two terms as President of the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, is a voting member of the National Film Registry, and was appointed by the Librarian of Congress to sit on the Board of Directors of the National Film Preservation Foundation. He hosted and co-produced the popular Walt Disney Treasures DVD series and has appeared on innumerable television programs and documentaries. He has been the recipient of awards from the American Society of Cinematographers, the Telluride Film Festival, Anthology Film Archives, and San Diego’s Comic-Con International. Perhaps the pinnacle of his career was his appearance in a now-classic episode of South Park. (Or was it Carmela consulting his Movie Guide on an episode of The Sopranos?) He holds court at Follow him on Twitter and Facebook; you can also listen to him on his weekly podcast: Maltin on Movies. — [Artwork by Drew Friedman]

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July 2024