Wednesday, 24 October 2007

Zdeněk Miler "The Mole"

It is half term week and in a world where cartoons on television are all pervasive and of dubious quality in all sorts of ways what a joy it is to discover a wondrous creation from the Czech Republic. Zdeněk Miler is the first of a series of Czech animators I am considering for my "Prague Autumn" series. Born in Kladno in the Czech Republic in 1921 Zdenek's greatest popular triumph has been his series of animations about a mole, Krtek, who keeps popping up in new places. Scarcely known in mainstream Britain Krtek is hugely popular in Eastern Europe and beyond. There have been nearly 70 of the animations produced and many books published. The mole is a lovely creation. Three of the series taken at random have been thoroughly road tested by a (nearly) three year old. The Mole and the Lollipop was our first introduction to the series. Typically Krtek emerges from his earth mound to a new world, new adventure. He bangs his head on the park bench, risks being submerged by litter from two children, and then discovers a lollipop. The ensuing adventures surround his ignorance of the true purpose of the confectionery and the battles he has with three mischievious bees, a struggle that creates a sticky situation when the rain comes. The second road tested episode is The Mole and the Rocket. This has been viewed five times by the youngest member of the two person review team. The story develops like this. Krtek discovers a rocket, takes a flight in it, crashes on an island full of shells, then has to put the rocket back together again with the help of a crab and a collection of brightly coloured citizens of the ocean. It is enchanting. Then there is the snowman created by Krtek who discovers that winter is succeeded by Spring and that Snowmen thrive best in the cold. The Mole and the Snowman is every bit as good as that of that of Raymond Briggs - no mean achievement. So why the success? Zdeněk's mole is generous and playful, the most charming little child, as willing to laugh as to shed a tear or two. His giggle is infectious. His friends are generous too and they help each other out. Thus when the magpie steals the green star the three birds help Krtek raid its nest. The backdrop is exquisitely painted in imaginative designs that set off the characters. The music is also exceptional, ranging from oboe to piano or trumpet as the moment or title requires. There are few better examples of music as good as this in animation anywhere. These are, with the exception of the first episode, wordless and so accessible to children and adults everywhere. Other features too - humour, stories and a message that one wants to give to children. Any trawl of the web will bring up lots of posted copies. However, and it is near Christmas, the DVDs are available though you have to search. seems a good bet although there is a Chinese retailer offering the 6 DVD boxset for an impossibly low price. Finally, the last date I can find for a completed episode was 2002 with The Mole and the Small Frog.

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