Krtek a Hodiny: amusing children’s animated film hides a moral about industrialisation’s effects on humans

Zdenek Miler, “Krtek a Hodiny” (1995)

Found this 28-minute cartoon on Youtube while looking for Latvian animated shorts which compared to the abundance of Estonian animated films I found last month (July 2012) appear very scarce and what there is, is made for children’s television. This work is also aimed at children but at nearly 30 minutes in length, it seems a mighty stretch for littlies’ attention span. Just as well though that it has a strong story-line in which the three main characters – Mole, Rat and Rabbit, all with wide, startled-looking eyes and perennially cheerful expressions – come across an alarm clock that’s just fallen off the back of a truck travelling through their forest home. After a few surprises, the trio rapidly accustom themselves to the clock and the daily routines it forces on them while other animals in the forest, especially the family of owls, must put up with the discomfort of the constant ticking that upsets their sleep and other circadian rhythms. Over time though, Mole, Rat and Rabbit find themselves enslaved to the clock’s demands of constant exercise and work, and the other animals become increasingly distressed by the clock having taken over their friends’ lives until one animal decides to get rid of the clock once and for all.

The action is completely silent save for the sound of children’s laughter when the animals are happy and the occasional tears when they’re sad. Cheery accordion and other instrumental music accompanies the action. The animation looks ingeniously simple, at least until your glance starts wandering over the forest backgrounds and it’s here that the film’s charm is displayed in full glory: the painted  backgrounds are beautifully and lovingly rendered and coloured in a small-scale, homely and friendly folksy way. The paintings looks as if they are in watercolour and the emphasis on pale washed-out greens and blues contrasts with the animals’ stronger browns, blacks, greys and other block colours.

The story didn’t completely pan out to my satisfaction: Mole, Rat and Rabbit should at least have acknowledged that the clock had them in its slave-master grip and should have been made aware of the upset the other forest denizens were experiencing and the estrangement between themselves and the other animals that was developing as a result. Co-operation is a major theme here and all the animals could have been shown as agreeing that the clock is the source of their problems and tensions so they could all work towards ridding themselves of their unwanted guest. The clock itself appears friendly but its face betrays no expression; it’s a completely ambivalent being. A little moral might be present: if it’s very easy for Mole, Rat and Rabbit to fall into a trap created by the clock, so it may be easy also for humans to let their lives become debased by machine routines and that at the end of the day, it’s not how much activity and work you pack into a set period, it’s how you enjoy what you do and having time to play and be friends with others that count.

The film can be found on Youtube as “Kurmis un modinatajpulkstenis”, its Latvian name. There are other animated shorts about Mole and his friends that have been uploaded in Czech, German and Hungarian.

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