Tango: cycle of life with 36 disconnected characters from young to old playing out in one room

Zbigniew Rybczinski, “Tango” (1981)

Winner of the 1981 Oscar for Best Animated Short, this 8-minute film is a collection of live-action film clips, all of which are repeated over and over in parallel in an artful way. In a plain setting of a room with three doors, a round wooden table surrounded by benches, a cupboard without a door, a bed in the foreground, a window opposite and a baby’s cot to the right-hand side of the screen (from the viewer’s point of view), a ball is tossed through the sole window into the room. A boy climbs through the window to retrieve the ball and then returns outside the same way. The ball then comes into the room again and the boy repeats his action; almost immediately a woman comes through a door to the left of the window into the room to nurse a baby and then place it in the cot before returning to her original spot through the same door. As with the boy and his ball, the woman repeats her action over and over. With each repetition, new people, one by one, enter the room: a burglar climbs through the window to steal a case on top of the cupboard; a schoolgirl comes into the room to dig about in the cupboard; a courier arrives to place the case on top of the cupboard; various workmen arrive; a man balances upside down on one bench; another man stands on the table to touch the light, screams and falls onto the floor, recovers and goes off with a limp; a naked woman enters the room to put on her clothes; two lovers make out on the bed; an elderly woman lies down on the bed; and somewhere in all of that to-ing and fro-ing, two other women enter the room (separately of course), each with a small child in tow.

Viewers quickly lose track of who goes in and out and does whatever in the meantime. A gorilla could have entered to face the audience, beat its chest with a roar and then exited without being noticed. The crowd of people go about their actions repeatedly without any one of them noticing what everyone else is doing. The courier does not notice that the burglar has stolen his case. The burglar need not have worried about anyone noticing him. The schoolgirl appears to throw something at the burglar but he does not notice. Nobody comments on the naked woman in the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. The two lovers go about their business openly. The man who is electrocuted receives no help. No-one laughs at the fellow doing his headstand on the bench. A workman brings a toilet-bowl into the room. What’s significant here is that people are doing outrageous things and everyone else rushes by!

Eventually people stop performing their obsessive actions and it’s only at the very end that something new happens: there is a connection between an action performed by someone and somebody else noticing the result of that action. But that second person does not know who performed the action that led to the result – because the perpetrator has vanished. This might say something about how fragmented and impersonal our society has become.

Mini-narratives might be seen: the burglar and the courier might be two spies vying for valuable secrets in the case; the lovers are interrupted by another character who flees the scene in distress; workmen come and go. The small children might represent the same child at different ages. An entire cycle of life takes place in the room from the tiny baby being nursed and put into its cot, to children at play or home from school, to young adults finding life partners, to adults at work or caring for children, to elderly people being served dinner or put to rest.

There’s no definite narrative – viewers can interpret the short in different ways. Some might see modern society at its most impersonal and robotic, others might simply see people in all stages of a person’s life-cycle going about their daily activities.

Technically the film is no big deal in this age of computer-generated imagery and it does look dated and flat. Still, it’s quite mesmerising in its own way with a rhythm all its own. The film can bear a certain number of repeat viewings until the viewer registers most of the characters and the mini-narratives being enacted to his/her heart’s content.

The Banquet: a much loved cartoon with wry gallows humour

Zofia Oraczewska, “The Banquet / Bankiet” (1976)

Its style seems outdated for a short animation of its vintage but I believe this is still a much loved cartoon in Poland for its inversion of roles and what that might have said about Polish society at the time (and might still say generally about Western society today). Waiters and cooks working at a swanky hotel or palace prepare a lavish banquet for guests (one of whom looks suspiciously like Liza Minnelli) who arrive dressed in luxurious furs and glittering jewellery in chauffeured limousines. The guests eagerly race for the food – but unpleasant surprises await them and never was the saying “eat the rich” more appropriately applied as here.

The short piece is rich in gallows humour fantasy at a level that would delight and scare the very young and the old alike for different reasons: among others, the weak and powerless rise up against those who would literally consume them, heart and soul; Gothic horror meets the every-day; and the amount of mayhem and mess left behind when the waiters come to clear away the dishes might be a comment on the devastation we unthinking humans leave behind whenever we stop at or pass through a place or country.

The animation is reminiscent of Jan Svankmajer’s collages of cut-up figures set against painted backgrounds. Only the waiters and cooks are fully animated characters done in conventional children’s-cartoon style, and only they seem fully alive and alert to their surroundings. Everything else from the food to the guests either looks realistic in parts or is grotesque and crudely drawn, which suggests the food and the guests have much more in common with each other than either has to the general human collective. Thus the eater and eaten are cannibals of a sort.

The music is excellent accompaniment to the proceedings, giving away little hint of the carnage and bloodshed that will occur when the guests charge towards the groaning tables of food.

As long as there is short, succinct and intelligent animation and an audience exists for it, “The Banquet” will always have its fans.

Little Black Riding Hood / The Walls: two very different early shorts by Piotr Dumala

Piotr Dumala, “Little Black Riding Hood / Czarny Kapturek” (1983)

Piotr Dumala, “The Walls / Sciany” (1988)

Based on the familiar childhood story but rendered in such a way as to make it an adults-only animation short, “Little Black Riding Hood” is an early work by Piotr Dumala that subverts expectations about what a film adaptation of a fairy tale should do and about the roles of the characters themselves and what they represent. The result returns some of the original darkness of the story back to it: some mediaeval versions of the tale included cannibalism and sexual intercourse, and both are present in Dumala’s adaptation.

Drawn in a superficially child-like scrawl, the whole cartoon has a slight smutty air, encapsulated in the sketchy landscapes where trees have a bushy, almost electrified appearance and suspiciously resemble pubic hair. As soon as the girl and the wolf meet, they’re at each other’s throats straight away in an orgy of violence, bloodletting and carnivorous consumption. The hunter who’s supposed to be the hero of the story joins in the carnage. Granny turns out to be skilled with a crudely drawn katana and further bloodshed ensues. Then the story repeats but with a happy ending instead as two unlikely characters decide to get it on and the house conveniently spews enough chimney smoke to preserve decorum.

Most viewers might find the short meaningless and pointless but it does remind us of the original tale’s themes of restoration and rebirth, however low-brow these transformations appear, and that fairy-tale characters aren’t always strictly good (and tame) or strictly bad (and wild) but possess aspects of both. There is an absurd quality to the short as well and that may be Dumala’s snide reference to some versions of the Red Riding Hood tale which had a moralistic slant about how well-bred young ladies should not talk to strangers who might have bestial designs on them.

Five years later, “The Walls” represents Dumala at his more typical and refined: his distinctive technique of drawing over plaster and scratching out figures, then erasing and drawing new figures gives a three-dimensional and very nuanced appearance to his characters, and brings a melancholy that suits the existential theme and the main character’s inner psychological turmoil. light and shadow are beautifully illustrated with depth and the technique readily lends itself to stream-of-consciousness thinking and surreal imagery and story-telling.

The film can be interpreted on several levels: on one level, it could be about a prisoner or a deranged man in a mental asylum; on another, it could be an allegory about living in a repressive society where one’s life is at the mercy of uncaring bureaucrats and ideologues; on yet another, it might be an expression of angst at living an absurd life in an absurd universe created and controlled by an indifferent God for whom existence may also be absurd.

Both very different in style, theme and mood, yet in their own way these shorts may have deeper meanings that viewers need to draw out for themselves.

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.


The Mole and the Eagle: inventive and heart-warming episode about friendship, love and happiness

Zdenek Miler, “The Mole and the Eagle / Kiskavond es a sas” (1992)

Yet another delightful episode from the Little Mole / Krtecek series and moreover one of the best and most inventive episodes as well; it’s about love, friendship and loyalty and what could be more heart-warming than the friendship between Krtecek and the young eagle he finds as an orphan?

The countryside where Krtecek lives is flooded after heavy storms and after being washed out of his home, Krtecek finds a lost orphan eagle. He brings it up and teaches it to fly. The eagle is tracked by a hunter whom Krtecek tries to divert but ends up being captured and taken home as a pet for the hunter’s son. Eagle rescues Krtecek but the hunter manages to wound him with a bullet. Krtecek calls the paramedics to take Eagle to hospital where he undergoes emergency surgery and recuperates in bed. Mechanised equipment feed Eagle and change his bandages and the doctors do double duty as jazz musicians in one of the more bizarre and surrealist passages in the film – but, hey, this is a Czech film so what did we expect? Soon Eagle and Krtecek leave the hospital and they travel to the city together, marvelling at the incongruity of forest on the tops of buildings (in Western countries, there would be only penthouses and swimming pools for the rich) and paying for drinks at a skyscraper cafe with a feather. Eagle takes Krtecek to mountainous country where Krtecek nearly loses his life to a dastardly fox and Eagle finally finds one of his own kind – a girl eagle, natch. Krtecek is saddened that the demands of the natural order and Darwinian evolution take precedence over their unlikely friendship but not for long: Eagle remembers Krtecek’s babysitting skills and before long Krtecek is playing nanny to a bunch of screaming brats.

The glories of the film are to be found in the animals’ numerous and varied encounters with human beings: some treat the animals well and others, well, not so benevolently but even the worst humans Krtecek and Eagle meet are kindly in their own way. The doctors could have come straight out of Jaroslav Hasek’s famous novel “The Good Soldier Svejk”, their fancy black moustaches and prissy manner reminding me of quaint Ruritanian soldiers from the far reaches of the old Austro-Hungarian empire. Miler’s eye for detail is at its most creative and original in the scenes where emergency relief workers help people come down from the tops of churches, trees and houses after the great flood has subsided, and the hospital scenes where Eagle has his operation and is taken to a ward to recover. Then it’s off to the busy, bustling city where cars follow one another smoothly with nary a sight of a traffic jam or two drivers punching the lights out of each other in mutual road rage.

The look of the film is deceptively simple but its details can be very technical in a functional and minimalist way without appearing over-fussy. The adventures the two animals share segue into one another naturally and seamlessly depending on the situation and viewers can almost predict what will happen as Miler puts in objects that Krtecek or Eagle finds a use for almost by accident. The accordion-dominated music is cheerful and sweet without becoming sentimental or sickly.

Highly recommended viewing for families with young viewers for its adorable characters who demonstrate loyalty to each other and express love, affection and happiness without affect.

The Mole and the Medicine: heart-warming film about a resourceful and fearless little hero

Zdenek Miler, “The Mole and the Medicine / Krtek a medicina / Kiskavond es a gyogyszer” (1987)

Found on Youtube under its Hungarian title, this episode of the Krtecek series sees our hero off to foreign lands and climes in search of a herbal medicine to cure his friend Mouse of a high fever. Doctor Owl diagnoses a bad cold and prescribes matricaria and chamomile as the cure so Krtek eagerly sets off in search of the herbs. His journey takes him to Africa where he has many adventures with a lion, a giraffe, an elephant, a caterpillar and a carnivorous plant. A hot-air balloon sends him to Australia, land of rabbits, kangaroos and a polar bear that’s just run away from the zoo. A whale carries them both to the polar regions where the bear introduces Krtek to his wife and kids. They pop him on an ice floe and send him off to yet another foreign country where he comes across a conservatory looked after by a caretaker mole. His new best friend takes him to the airport and sends him home. Safely back in his own community, Krtek informs Doctor Owl that his journey to find the herbs has been in vain, only to be told that the matricaria and chamomile are growing beside his little mole mound! Happy at last, Krtek brews a herbal drink for Mouse and the two pals are soon reunited.

The episode is an opportunity for Miler and his team to show off their skill at painting plants in their two-dimensional details, yet not so technically exact that the plants threaten to steal the show from Krtek. The Venus fly-trap comes close to upstaging our hero but it’s all in good fun. The film’s original plot shines especially in the links between one country and the next: Krtek does good deeds for fish trapped in a basket and a caterpillar trapped in rapids and he is repaid in kind. Strange creatures big and small offer him hospitality and do all they can to help him though they haven’t a clue what matricaria and chamomile might be. A really loopy moment comes when he sniffs an orange flower and the perfume sends him floating (and later an elephant) up to the heavens – literally. Dialogue as usual is kept to the minimum needed for the film – “Hallo!”,  “Ahoy!” and “Chamomila?” are the words heard most often. The music is gentle and relaxed and the accordion melody reminds me of old cartoons set in Gay Paris or the French Riviera of the 1950s though Krtek never goes anywhere near La Belle France.

The highlight of the film really is the flora featured as Krtek examines each and every flower and herb he sees, and every plant seems to have its own individuality no matter how simply it is portrayed. Insects are also among the stars here and even an octopus gets a shoo-in.

If there’s a message for families and small children, it is that one should never be afraid to ask for help and to venture afar to help a good friend, and one can have fun and make new friends no matter how different they are. A very beautiful and endearing film about a resourceful and fearless little animal, “The Mole and the Medicine” is highly recommended viewing.

Krtek the Multi-talented Mole tries different occupations in near-abstract / experimental shorts

Zdenek Miler, “The Mole as a Chemist / The Mole as Painter / The Mole as Photographer / The Mole as Watchmaker” (1972 – 1975)

By the mid-1970s, Krtek the Mole was nearly 20 years old so it seemed right that he should start looking for gainful employment. In this quartet of short pieces made from 1972 to 1975, he tests different roles for size and although he’s quite good at a couple, he doesn’t last beyond one short and at the end of all of them, Krtek is back to digging ditches.

In the 5-minute short “The Mole as Photographer”, our friend Krtek acquires a camera from a mouse and immediately starts taking pictures of a family of frogs – but the camera plays up on him and he is reduced to drawing pictures of the family. Soon all the animals want portraits done and they drive the little fella nuts as he tries to keep up with all their demands.

Krtek digs his way into a warehouse of chemistry sets in “The Mole as a Chemist” and finds a set to play with. Predictably the mix of chemicals he makes threatens to explode so he hides the test-tube in a box, from which geometric shapes in different colours burst out. He assembles the pieces into a car, then a wheel, then a mobile castle with towers, but all of them quickly get out of control and he ends up spraying the box with the test-tude with a neutraliser he finds in the original set. Everything the box spews out turns into bubbles and Krtek is relieved that the mess he created soon disappears.

In “The Mole as Watchmaker”, Krtek finds an unlikely new friend in a mechanical cuckoo he finds in a clock set up in a tree. At first the cuckoo annoys him so he tries to teach the bird a lesson in manners and ends up crashing the clock onto the ground. He puts it back together to revive the comatose cuckoo and in no time at all the clock is in perfect working order and the cuckoo revives.

The longest of the four, “The Mole as Painter”, Krtek and his friends paint themselves and the forest with various paints they find in discarded cans in order to torment a fox that’s been harassing them all. Faced with a psychedelic scene, Reynard panicks and runs off. The rains come and wash all the brilliant colours and patterns away and the animals celebrate Reynard’s permanent banishment.

IN all these little animated situation comedies, there’s often a moral about co-operation and mutual benefit, being kind to others and helping them, or messing about with dangerous and unknown things. The most ordinary situation is bursting with original creative potential: a set of chemicals and equipment generates strange and wonderful shapes and colours and a forgotten set of paints provides an opportunity to render one’s home in crazy cacophonies of colour. “The Mole as Painter” must have had particular resonance for Miler who originally trained as a painter before the Second World War disrupted as career.

As with other Krtek shorts, these cartoons have beautifully painted background scenery and “The Mole as Painter” goes to town on this as the animals paint spots, lines, patterns and spirals all over one another and over the trees, flowers and grass. The style of animation is appropriately minimal if somewhat old-fashioned for the period but it suits Miler’s purposes in teaching young viewers about colour and creativity and a couple of shorts featured here acquire an abstract and experimental look and feel.

The music is significant to the shorts and often features whistling and cheery accordion melodies.

All cartoons are recommended for families with young (and not-so-young!) children. The educational purpose is quite subtle and the mood is usually happy and optimistic without being sentimental or treacly.



The Mole and the Robot / The Mole and the Rocket / The Mole as a Gardener: lessons in co-operation for little people

Zdenek Miler, “The Mole and the Robot”(1995) / “The Mole and the Rocket” (1966) / “The Mole as a Gardener” (1969)

Let’s turn to a 5-minute charmer in which our friend Krtek acquires a robot to help him do all his hard work. After nearly putting his back out tunnelling and shovelling dirt as moles do, Krtek finds a rare diamond and goes into town to sell it. He returns home with a huge parcel, opens it, reads the instructions and brings out a boxy contraption that converts into a robot when Krtek presses a button on remote control device. The robot does Krtek’s bidding, tunnelling and shovelling you-know-what and Krtek admires its work. As he’s had a long day, Krtek goes to sleep outside his mound. Two mice take advantage of his slumber to program the robot into stealing food and drink for them. Krtek soon finds out what’s been going on behind his back so he orders his robot servant to find a solution to rid him of those pesky rodents.

A little more adventurous is an 8-minute episode in which Krtek comes across a rocket and flies off in the air. The engine sputters and the rocket falls and crashes on a tiny island strewn with shells. After despairing that he will never return home, Krtek is found and befriended by a crab who helps him recover the remains of the rocket and rebuild it. Several other creatures like jellyfish and seahorses also scout about and retrieve bits and pieces. Just as the rocket is rebuilt, a snorkelling boy intrudes on them and attempts to stop Krtek from returning home but our mole has a narrow escape and sails off happily into the sunset.

In “The Mole as a Gardener”, Krtek tussles with a rogue garden hose that turns out to be blocked in its middle. A mouse helps Krtek to redirect the water in the burst hose to the flowers that need it as the weather is hot and the delicate plants are wilting in the heat. Krtek digs a channel to and around the flowers and the mouse directs the water into the channel dug.

In these shorts in which Krtek confronts an aspect of human technology and uses it not just to benefit himself but to help others and along the way acquire new friends, there’s a subtle little message about the value of people working together to achieve common goals and what happens to people if they steal things and use them for selfish purposes. The tone is always cheerful, everyone receives his or her just deserts and any sticky situation Krtek finds himself is resolved through his resourcefulness, quick thinking and hard work. As always in these shorts, there is plenty of detailed (but not too technical) drawing and sketching, the background scenes are lovingly rendered in soft colours, the mood is always bright and the action fast-paced. There’s very little violence, apart from when the mouse reshapes Krtek’s accidentally misshapen head after an unfortunate encounter with a woodwind instrument in the 1969 cartoon.

The Mole in a Dream: children’s animation short verges on surreal and sci-fi / apocalyptic

Zdenek Miler, “The Mole in a Dream / Krtek ve Snu” (1985)

Another film episode in the life of Krtek the Mole and this one’s a real doozy verging on the near-surreal and sci-fi / post-apocalyptic. I gotta wonder whether Miler was high on hallucinogens at the time he made this little classic. This time the focus is on an unnamed human adult male who meets Krtek and this gives animator Miler a chance to show he can do more than paint lovely forest and flower backgrounds and write little kiddie stories about Krtek and his animal pals. One fine sunny day Krtek emerges out of hibernation underground and watches peak hour traffic; he’s bemused at the sight of a motorist’s car stopping due to a flat tyre and the motorist getting out and, by remote control on a handheld computerised transistor radio box, commands the car to replace the flat tyre with a spare. Intrigued, Krtek hitches a ride on the car and is taken back to the motorist’s house which is completely computer-controlled and can do its own cooking, cleaning and caring for its occupants. There the man has dinner and a bath, and then settles down in front of the TV to watch a pop music program. Krtek gets himself a free meal in the man’s house while its owner, oblivious to his presence, falls asleep and has a dream.

In the dream, the house malfunctions and the man has to call the tradesman to come and fix the central control unit in the basement. Unbeknownst to him as he lives in the countryside, civilisation has broken down and the man near freezes to death while waiting for the tradie. Krtek and his friends (Hare, Hedgehog) take pity on the man by lighting a fire in his house, warming and reviving him. Excitedly the man chops ups all the furniture in the house to keep himself and his new animal companions warm. A bear – we’ll call him Bear – joins them all and they teach the man how to survive in the forest. They kindly find him a goat that can give him milk. A lion joins them all and as winter makes way for spring, they find an old gramophone player with a record and start playing music and dancing in a circle as if performing a spring celebration rite. A mammoth tries to join the party and near flattens the man and at this point he wakes up.

As with other Krtek cartoons I’ve seen, the animation style is kept minimal while at the same time it portrays objects and backgrounds in considerable technical detail, though not too much so for young viewers and for 1980s-era animation purposes. In those days, animators were still working with pen and paper and, in Miler’s case, paintings. (With CGI now, we may have lost a lot of the whimsical charm of cartoons like the Krtek series.) The animation enables Miler to show how a smart house might operate: the man in the film presses a button and talks into his transistor box and an assembly line delivers him food and drink, and cleans up the dishes – and Krtek by accident who ends up bleached and pressed into a template along with the crockery and cutlery; fortunately Mouse comes by and sprays black shoe polish over him.

There is a little message about how humans can learn to live in harmony with nature and how cocooning yourself in automated comfort can put you at risk of danger and death if technology breaks down. Nature can be harsh but also offers help if one learns to be resourceful (and Krtek is a very resourceful little fella!) and reaches out for assistance from others and co-operates with them. Situational humour arises in most parts of the film though there are a few unexpected scenes where the action is forced: a lion comes by, storks kidnap Krtek, a Tree of Life sprouts through and destroys the man’s house; I know we are watching a dream which has its own logic but still, my conservative mind finds the lion and the mammoth a little jarring. Lots of little Chekhovian guns abound to serve as linchpins for plot development or the preservation of personal dignity: a carpet gets burned early on with a big hole in the middle so the man uses it as a poncho, having lost all his clothes to a wild boar. Once the gramophone appears on the scene, the animals play with it but you know eventually they’re going to fiddle with the stylus and force it play the old shellac record.

Without a doubt this is the kookiest and funniest Krtek film I’ve seen so far and I want to see more! There are full-frontal nudity scenes (oh my!) and lots of gentle slapstick but no violence. The music is varied and ranges from acoustic instrumentation for most of the film to near-trance tribal electro-acoustic music at the end where the animals and the man dance in a circle. I’m amazed that censors in Czechoslovakia overlooked that neo-primitive shamanistic aspect of the film. I heartily recommend this film for all age groups, even the very young under-18s.

How the Mole got his Pants: charming little short on making flax that set off a phenomenon

Zdenek Miler, “How the Mole got his Pants / Jak krtek ke kalhotkám prišel” (1957)

As it turns out, I’ve stumbled across the famous series of cartoons about Krtek the Mole that animator Zdenek Miler made over a period spanning 45 years, starting with “How the Mole got his Pants” in 1957. This first cartoon is a little charmer about how flax is spun and how clothing can be made from it.  Our little pal Krtek needs something to carry various tools in so he can perform his handy-man jobs and he gets the idea for a pair of overalls with deep pockets. He enlists the help of various animals like a lobster, a bird, a hedgehog and several species of insects to help him grow the plants, harvest the raw material and beat it, and then weave it into cloth. The plot is highly inventive with a very endearing scene of little bugs organising themselves into little work teams to set up the loom, throw the shuttle and weave the material for the overalls.

In contrast to the earlier cartoon I saw, “The Mole and the Clock / Krtek na hodiny”, this piece includes voice-over narration (the version I saw on Youtube was in German) which is helpful as the plot by itself is not clear with respect to all the details of flax production and needs more explication by voice, either in voice-over narrative or by having the animals speak to one another. I believe it was with the second cartoon in the series that Miler decided to do away with spoken voice altogether and just use his daughters’ voices to create sound effects such as laughter to emphasise the mood of particular scenes. The music here takes secondary place to the voice-over and tends to illustrate the mood of a particular passage, follow actions or call attention to a development in the plot.

The animation is deceptively simple but look closely and you’ll see the backgrounds and forest settings are beautifully rendered in pale green, blue and brown watercolours with very detailed portrayals of plants and flowers. Those viewers interested in painting or portraying scenes of nature and still life pictures of flowers, trees, other plants and of objects like looms should take note of the clinically yet minimally delineated two-dimensional background settings: they are obviously down-scaled for children’s perceptions but adults can find much to admire in the way individual flowers and trees are sketched and filled in. The technical minutiae of the flax-making scene are wonderfully drawn and depicted fairly accurately with all the little beetles tirelessly working together to set up the loom and make the cloth.

The Krtek series enjoyed tremendous success across eastern Europe and the Soviet Union and was exported to Germany, India and China as well. It is only very recently that the series has become known in the English-speaking world and already a commercial campaign to sell the series with Krtek dolls made up is beginning in the United States. Not that Krtek needs much to sell his charms. Curiously with his rounded head and ski-slope profile he resembles Josef Lada’s drawings of the famous soldier Švejk in Jaroslav Hašek’s famous novel “The Good Soldier Švejk” and that cannot be merely coincidental as Krtek is as obliging and resourceful as that lovable dog-catcher rogue.