Framing the Fantastic examines the social and material processes of imagination, co-constructed by children and adults in institutions of childhood in the city of Almaty. This dissertation shows how make-believe endeavors create and maintain relations with present and absent others, these creative processes nonetheless part of the sensory, material worlds in which people live. This project examines how people animate objects and humans – bringing them to life or compelling them into action, revealing the ways citizens – including children – become involved in shaping and creating ideologies of childhood and futurity. In Almaty, the former capital and largest city of Kazakhstan, children appear in public life, adults valuing child performance as a source of entertainment and as a pedagogical method. Meanwhile, adult artists use puppetry to socialize young children, a form of entertainment that became institutionalized under Soviet times in urban centers around the USSR. According to local puppet artists, the medium of puppetry offers a material instantiation of essential qualities that make these animated objects ideal forms for children to understand abstract qualities, such as good and evil. Based on participant observation and the analysis of video collected over the course of 24 months of fieldwork, Framing the Fantastic examines the rehearsals and performances of a government-run puppet theater alongside the daily activities of a temporary, state-sponsored home for preschool-aged children, called Hope House. Parents placed children at Hope House with the promise of resuming care for them when the children were old enough to begin school. Fantasy played an important role at Hope House in two ways: First, children and teachers, in play and in daily lessons, imagined and anticipated life outside Hope House, these fantasies often centered around the children’s family homes, to which they would return. Second, due to the complex network of state, corporate, and nongovernment sponsors providing material support for the home’s functioning, a regular influx of visitors meant that children became adept at singing and dancing for visiting adults. These performances offered outsiders evidence of the children’s abilities in a context of frequent stigmatization of institutionalized children. At the puppet theatre, a massive renovation of the theatre’s building prompted an overhaul of the troupe’s repertoire. An influx of new directors gave rise to new techniques of animation, which they linked to larger-scale questions of the theater’s role in reaching audiences in twenty-first century Kazakhstan. Attempts to change modes of artistic production highlighted tensions within ideologies of performance as both work and play. The processes and discussions surrounding animation and de-animation, moreover, reveal these endeavors as both intimate and hierarchical, as actors move through other bodies or treat their own bodies as instruments of manipulation. This dissertation reveals the intersensory and intersubjective processes through which children and adults give life to characters and to stories, and the ways these processes create, alter, or maintain social relations. It examines slippery relationships between humans and nonhumans, and between “play” and “real,” as actors distribute and accept agency, responsibility, and sentimental attachments. It rejects common separation of childhood and children — or of ideology versus lived experience — to show how these projects of animating childhood shape children’s experiences and their relationships with adults. In contemporary Kazakhstan, children become symbols of futurity, offering the possibility of social transformation, while also anchoring nostalgia for adults’ own pasts.