Soyuzmultfilm (Russian: Союзмультфильм; [səjʉsmʊlʲtˈfʲilʲm], Union Cartoon) is a Russian animation studio based in Moscow. Over the years it has gained international attention and respect, garnering numerous awards both at home and abroad. Noted for a great variety of style, it is regarded as the most influential animation studio of the former Soviet Union. The studio has produced 1530 films during its existence.
It is currently divided into two studios: "Creative union of the "Film studio "Soyuzmultfilm" («Творческо-производственное объединение «Киностудия «Союзмультфильм») and the Soyuzmultfilm Film Fund («Фильмофонд Киностудии «Союзмультфильм»).
The Studio was founded on 10 June 1936 under the name Soyuzdetmultfilm (Союздетмультфильм – abbr. from Union Children's Animations). The name was changed to Soyuzmultfilm on 20 August 1937. Initially comprising only a few scattered workshops, Soyuzmultfilm grew quickly, soon becoming the Soviet Union's premier animation studio. The studio produced exclusively traditional animation until 1954, when a "puppet division" was founded and the first stop motion-animated film released. The puppet division would later also make cutout-animated films.
During the Soviet era, the studio employed a maximum of over 700 skilled labourers and released an average of 20 films each year (the highest number was 47, in 1973). The studio was one of the most ethnically-integrated cultural industries in the Soviet Union.
Over the next five decades, many Soyuzmultfilms contained characters who would eventually become an integral part of Soviet culture, such as Winnie-the-Pooh (Винни-Пух), Crocodile Gena (Крокодил Гена), Film, Film, Film (Фильм, фильм, фильм), Karlsson-on-the-Roof (Карлсон, который живёт на крыше), The Musicians of Bremen (Бременские музыканты), Three from Prostokvashino (Трое из Простоквашино), Nu, pogodi! (Ну, погоди!), Hedgehog in the Fog (Ёжик в тумане), and The Mystery of the Third Planet (Тайна третьей планеты).
The variety of animation styles and the unprecedented degree of artistic freedom given to its many animators made Soyuzmultfilm perhaps the most diverse of the world's major animation studios. Soyuzmultfilm's creativity was fueled in part by the socialist economy of the Soviet Union, which obviated the goal of profitability. Because animators were paid by the Academy of Film regardless of how well or how poorly their products sold (though they were not, in fact, "sold"), they were free to pursue their artistic vision without giving a thought to finances.
The collapse of the Soviet Union brought to a close the golden era of Soyuzmultfilm. New economic realities made it impossible for the government to support the studio any longer. In 1989, Soyuzmultfilm was made into a leased enterprise (expiring after 10 years) and forced into the capitalist marketplace.
Although the studio survived, it shrank dramatically, losing nearly 90% of its staff and releasing only a few films. One early misfortune happened when the Russian courts transferred the studio's puppet division building (in a legal decision involving many other buildings) to the Russian Orthodox Church. Before the animators could react to this turn of events, an Orthodox Cossack squadron, accompanied by religious locals, broke into the building with swords unsheathed for the purpose of exorcism and began throwing out the "satanic puppets animated with the blood of Christian babies". No studio employees were allowed to come in and salvage any item, despite the presence of much expensive equipment and a whole library of puppets.
The main reason for the collapse, however, was the studio's deliberate dismantling by the new top management and the illegal selling off of its assets for personal gain (see: – in Russian). In 1992–1993, Sergei Skulyabin was elected president.
In 1992, the studio signed a deal with the American company Films by Jove, owned by Russian immigrant actor Oleg Vidov and his American wife Joan Borsten. It was the first international offer that the studio had received. The deal stipulated that Films by Jove would be granted the rights to 547 of the most popular classic studio films for a period of 10 years in all territories except the CIS; as part of the return, Soyuzmultfilm would receive 37% of the net profits. Films by Jove restored many of the films and released many of them on television, video and DVD in the United States and Europe, albeit usually with dubbed voices and changed music.
According to current director Akop Kirakosyan, the original deal seemed promising at the time but turned out to be "deadly" for the studio. The expected payouts never materialized because Films by Jove never posted any net profits; all of the money officially went to things such as new soundtracks, lawsuits and copy protection measures.
Whether either deal was legal was debated in court, with the Soyuzmultfilm Film Fund (see section below) claiming that because the company's lease on its possessions would have expired in 1999 (at which time ownership would have automatically reverted to the government if no new lease were signed), Soyuzmultfilm had no authority to issue rights that lasted beyond that timeframe. Joan Borsten presented a different story. In the end, the Russian courts sided with Soyuzmultfilm and the American courts sided with Films by Jove.
U.S. Federal Court found that the Russian government has twice tried to invalidate Judge Trager's August 2001 summary judgment decision in favor of Films By Jove and transfer the copyrights to a library of 1,500 animated films, which Films by Jove licensed from Soyuzmultfilm Studios in 1992 to a new state-owned company. The judge found evidence of "continued actions being taken by the Russian government and judiciary to influence the outcome of this United States litigation with the purpose of depriving plaintiff Films by Jove of its right to distribute the animated films in the United States and elsewhere outside the former Soviet Union." The voulminous and very thorough decision further noted that, "In the case at bar, expropriation of the property of an American company by an act of a foreign sovereign is unquestionably against the public policy of the United States."
On 11 April 2007, Russian businessman Alisher Usmanov announced that he was in the final stages of negotiating a price with Films by Jove to buy back the collection. A source close to Usmanov said that Films by Jove's initial price was $10 million, while Usmanov is willing to pay "several times less", as he considers that the rights already belong to Soyuzmultfilm and that he himself is only buying the physical film prints. In September 2007, the deal was finalized, and Usmanov handed everything over to Russian state children's TV channel Bibigon.
In 1999, Soyuzmultfilm came back under the control of the government. A government edict on August 12, 2003  divided the company into two separate companies. The separation was finalised on March 1, 2004.
The rights of all Soyuzmultfilm films before March 1, 2004 belong to the "Soyuzmultfilm Film Fund", headed by Ernest Rakhimov, and its official mission is restoring and marketing them. The mission of the "Creative union of the "Film studio "Soyuzmultfilm", headed by Akop Kirakosyan, is to create new films (anywhere from 3–7 short films a year) and to eventually privatize itself (currently, 100% of its stock is owned by the Russian Ministry of Culture).
The next year, Soyuzmultfilm created an animated opening title for the children's TV show Ulitsa Sezam.
In August 2013, the studio relocated to Moscow's Design Bureau of Film Equipment, after spending 68 years in their former premises. According to artistic director Michael Aldashin, "Everything must be decided within a year. There are too many technical and bureaucratic problems, but we are clearly moving." Aldashin also cited the limited space in the premises as a factor behind the move.
As of 2013, Soyuzmultfilm is contemplating the production of computer-animated and educational films, as well as video games. Since the early 2000s, the studio has worked on the upcoming feature film Hoffmaniada. Backed by Mikhail Shemyakin and directed by Stanislav Sokolov, it will be based on the tales of E. T. A. Hoffmann. The film will use stop motion animation exclusively and will avoid using computer animation for special effects. The first 20 minutes were screened on November 20, 2006, in Saint Petersburg, and the full film is planned for a 2016 release.