Little Mole in the City: gentle satire poking fun at human nature and Western technocratic society

Zdenek Miler, “Little Mole in the City / Der Maulwurf kommt in die Stadt / Kiskavond a varosban / Kurmiukas mieste” (1982)

Another charming half-hour adventure about Krtecek and his hedgehog and bunny pals thrust suddenly into a city as a result of their forest home being taken over by the forces of Western civilisation and converted into a concrete-n-skyscraper jungle. A trio of town burghers take pity on them and give them a stamped certificate that virtually amounts to a key to the entire city when it is built. Initially Krtecek, Hedgehog and Bunny enjoy a penthouse-level replica of their forest home but when they accidentally trash the place, they take off into the streets below and cause traffic chaos. Eventually the air pollution and the rush of robot-like people begin to pall and some migrating swans are persuaded to lift our friends away and back into a natural forest environment.

Many episodes in the Krtecek series provide Miler opportunities to comment on and satirise aspects of Czech life and this episode is no different: red-tape bureaucracy that suggests apparatchiks from the Austro-Hungarian imperial period and the Soviet period are much the same in slavish adherence to the letter of the law rather than its spirit; the technocratic mind-set that encourages and is encouraged by mass assembly methods, conformity and obsession with order; and the fragility of mechanised civilisation when such seemingly harmless little critters like Krtecek, Hedgehog and Bunny are let loose on the streets and cause mayhem by bunging up car exhaust pipes with sausages stolen from a sausage van. The situation comedy is a series of skits with the first half of the film showing our friends negotiating their way into the city via escalating levels of public-servant officiousness and ineptitude; the second half of the film sees our friends enjoying themselves at the humans’ expense in a kind of sweet revenge for the destruction of their forest. When they leave the city, it’s mainly because they can’t stand the air pollution enveloping the city in a grey haze, not because they’ve run out of ideas of what to mess up next!

Miler’s love of background detail with surrealist influences from his days studying fine art in the 1930s is apparent in most city scenes: the jumping castle disguised as forest installed in the skyscraper is one delirious moment in the film, especially when it bursts, as is also the animals’ visit to a doll-making factory where they watch the entire assembly line process against a background of colourful and psychedelic blinking lights and switches. Hilariously the foreman appears and uses Krtecek as a model for a batch of Krtecek clone toys, photographing him and programming his machine to put the visuals onto a tape which is then inserted into another machine: incredible to think that this film, made in 1982, anticipated the use of CD-ROMs to transfer 2-D images into digital information from which to create and print out 3-D objects from computers. Did Miler have his own time-machine to travel into the future and bring back ideas for Krtecek cartoons? We’ll never know.

The more I watch Krtecek films, the more fiendishly clever, original and inventive they become, and adult viewers will find much gentle satirical humour poking fun at human nature and herd mentality, and taking apart urbanisation, mechanisation and technological complexity and progress, showing how fragile these phenomena are and how easily subverted they can be by little animals.

 

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