Jan 8, 2008

East European Cartoons II

Few months back I wrote a post about some of the most popular East European cartoons (Baltazar, Gustav,...). A couple of days ago Chris Sobieniak wrote a very insightful comment to this post. I found it a pity that his comment/analysis of East European cartoons remains at level of a comment to the post so asked him for permission to publish it is as a separated post. @Chris: Thanks for this great analysis.

Chris' analysis of East Europaen cartoons:

Since I tend to be the the American authority on Eastern European Animation (a title I don't really have, but often attributed to though early exposure to said works), I do like to say some words about this entry of interest to those who might stumble upon in later.

While it is true that hardly many American cartoons ever got much exposure in Eastern Europe, I assume the one country lucky enough to have had the best of both worlds was probably Yugoslavia (given the differences in political structure and less restrictions on foreign trade during those years), I know a couple guys on a forum who grew up watching Bugs Bunny and Tom & Jerry alongside Gustavus and others mentioned here. Of course the Croatian republic of the country was and still is home of of the world's famous animation festivals, the Zagreb World Festival of Animated Films.

Being reminded of having first saw the Gustav cartoons some years ago and found them quite impressive with the type of contemporary issues they often dealt with in the series. While being made for adults, often children have also seen and enjoyed these cartoons alike, as they were often placed as afternoon tea-time pieces in between programming in places like Italy. I think the cartoon also got mild exposure in places like the UK though I don't think they were ever seen at all in the states.

One thing of note about Gustavus that I often noticed in the episodes I've seen was it's use of a solid color background that the outlines are placed over as cel overlays in the animation process. A similar technique was utilized very briefly in the first season of The Simpsons (1989-90), where a piece of textured paper was used often to create the look of the floors in the cartoon.

Apart from Gustavus, the production studio who made in, Pannonia Film, also produced this classic children's piece in the late 70's called A Kockásfülű nyúl or "The Checkered-Eared Rabbit", a 26 episode series created by Veronika Marék and Zsolt Richly. Much of the series involves a rabbit whom pops out of a trunk in an attic and helps out a group of kids with whatever problem occurs in the series. In the US this cartoon was seen on the cable network Nickelodeon during the program "Pinwheel" in the 1980's, though some viewers often thought the title of it was "Bunny in a Suitcase". Here's a few episodes to gander at...

When you mentioned "The Adventures of Aladar Mezga", it should be of note it was the second of three series in the Mezga Family trilogy of sorts that began in 1968 with the very first program, "Üzenet a jövőből – A Mézga család különös kalandjai" or "Legacy from the future - fantastic adventures of family Mézga". In this program, the son of the faimly, Aladar, came across perfecting a means of communicating with a descendant in the 30th Century name "MZ/X", who sends the family various gadgets from the future in the hopes of bettering their lives, which often isn't the case. The series has been a cult classic in Hungary, as well as in Czechoslovakia, Bulgaria, Italy and both German states. Here's the first episode for those to check out (though in Hungarian)...

The third series that was produced in the later part of the 1970's was "Vakáción a Mézga család" or "The Mezga Family Vacation". In the third and last series of the Mézga saga the family receive an invitation from Paula's former fiance' Steve Huffnágel who lives now in Australia. They sell everything in the house to be able to buy the tickets, hoping Steve is a millionaire, they will get everything back. Dr. Máris, their neighbor accompany the family in return for lending some money too... After arriving they have to face the truth: Steve is nowhere to find, he is wanted by the police, and they have no money at all to travel back to Budapest. The adventure begins, and their trip around the world turns into a nightmare.

Pannonia also produced another interesting cartoon in the 80's called "Pityke" about a policman who solves cases with his dog. I don't know too much about this series as it was probably not seen much outside the Iron Curtain, though a Spanish version used to air in Spain. I know one guy in South Dakota on the other hand who just found out about this show and had to order the DVD of it because it was THAT interesting to him! Here's a couple episodes of that...

Staying with Pannonia for the minute, they've also produced a number of interested animated features over the years, one that was popular in many parts of Europe and even in the US through exposure on video and Nickelodeon was a film called "Vuk" or "The Little Fox", a story about the life of a young fox, Vuk, who is taught how to survive from a wise old fox name Karak. The film was quite serious in tone and didn't stray away from exposing the viewers to the concept of death as it occurs in the cource of the story. It left quite an impression of me having saw it as a 10-11 year old over 20 years ago.
Here's a clip of the first five minutes of this movie (though in Hungarian)...

Pannonia Film has also had it's share of more adult works such as those that often are seen in film festivals and have won awards/accolades in the process. Two noted ones I'll highlight here are Marcell Jankovics' "Sisyphus" and Ferenc Rófusz's Oscar-Winning "The Fly"...

Aside from "Pat & Mat", Czechoslovakia also had another classic animated series beloved the world over, "Krtek" or "The Little Mole, created by Zdeněk Miler in the 1950's. Neaerly fifty episodes were produced at Prague's famous "Studio Bratři v triku", spanning the past half-century, and was seen in many countries including the US where the show aired also on Nick's Pinwheel series and on 16mm for educational use. Some episodes of that for good measure!

Studio Bratři v triku might also be responsible for having animated many American cartoons, directed by American emigrate Gene Deitch, that were outsourced through Rembrandt Films in NY in the early 60's, these include MGM's Tom & Jerry, King Features' Popeye and Krazy Kat and several other productions. Often viewers who think of "Eastern European Animation" in general often conjures up rather poor memories of the T&J cartoons due to their quirky, slightly bizarre nature, that should not be the fault of the animators of course since they had never seen a T&J cartoon in their lives when they were producing these. An episode of the Simpsons, involving Krusty showing off such a terrible Eastern European equivalent to Itchy & Scratchy has been noted for more recent rants over it. If anything, Deitch's effort is said to indirectly benefited the the studio in streamlining their process a little, since more familiar methods of hand-drawn animation present in American and Western European animation hadn't came into practice yet.

Of course, alongside "Nu, Pogodi!", Soyuzmultfilm in Moscow had produced many animated shorts and movies that spanned much of the 20th Century, only to be hampered by the fall of Communism, and the rise in privatization in the country by studios like Pilot. Soyuzmultfilm also has produced very impressive mature works by animators like Fyodor Khitruk, Ivan Ivanov-Vano, Yuri Norstein and others.

Apart from "Nu, Pogodi", another Soyuzmultfilm classic character that soon became the mascot of the studio was "Cheburashka", who appeared in a series of stop-motion pieces during the 70's and 80's. Popularlity for this character went as far as Japan. A character that appears in the Japanese cartoon, "Revolutionary Girl Utena" seems like an inspiration based on Cheburashka.

Another popular series (albeit, only three films made) was one based on a story of sorts called "Three from Prostokvashino" or "Three from Prostokvashino" (Prostokvashino is a town in Russia I believe). The story revolves around a boy who finds a cat outside his apartment whom he wanted to keep, but his parents didn't want him to have him, but the boy decides to escape to Prostokvashino, where a dog they met tells them of a vacant shack they could stay at together that becomes the home for the two animals. While in the town, they encounter several characters including a bird that is used as a sort of carrier pigeon for messages and a postman as well. Later films dealt with summer and winter holidays shared by the characters...

Of course animation from the Soviet Union tends to be rather vast, and in the time I took to write this whole thing, I rather just leave it at that for now!

Interesting to hear Zagreb picked Balthazar as their mascot now, they should have done that years ago as far as I'm concern. Those cartoons were unique and colorful! They were the brainchild of animator Zlatko Grgic, one of Zagreb Film's finest animators who later emigrated to Canada where he taught animation at Sheridan College, and produced several films like the National Film Board of Canada's "Hot Stuff".

Well I guess that's all I have to say for now, but thanks for having to bring up a subject only a few of us across the Atlantic might even care about! :-)


Keremcan said...

I am looking for some Socialist Realism cartoons like The Simpsons spoof "Worker and Parasite". Are there any examples available?

Peperutce said...

Does anyone remember the cartoon with a little boy and a ball bouncing on his head? I can't remember the title of that one. Hope u can help...

Anonymous said...

Does anyone remember the cartoon with a little boy and a ball constantly bouncing on his head? I cant remember the title of that one. Hope u can help.

R. Horta said...

@ Peperutce: That's Pomysłowy Dobromir :)