Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Krtek, the Little Mole

KrtekKrtek does not live in America. He is originally Czech, and like many Czechs, he likes to travel, but he’s never found a niche in the U.S., never had the chance to settle down and stay awhile.

Krtek grew up in Kladno, a mining town a few kilometers from Prague, drawn into life by Zdenek Miler in the 1950s. You can find him in 62 short films, now collected into DVDs in the Czech Republic and Germany, where his films were produced. Our European friends watched him as children and when they come to Prague and walk past a store where he stands patiently waiting to be noticed, they do. "Der Kleine Maulwurf!" our German friends say, while Caroline argues with them - "ne, Krtek! Krteček!" His films are short, about five minutes each, filled with music, but few words. The shorts are so expressive Caroline laughs with joy when she sees them, and it is a thing to hear, that bubbling up of delight caused by such a fellow - a small miner all in black, his hands and whiskers his most expressive features.

Krtek isn’t a complicated character. He doesn’t outwit anyone, engage in long chase scenes, or become the fall guy for physical comedy. He is simply a kind soul, good to his friends, something of an environmentalist and an excellent gardener, when he isn’t expanding his mole hill. His curiousity and willingness to try give him great charm. My favorite shorts take place right in his front yard, beneath the cherry tree that stands as a calendar for his seasons.

Caroline’s pick would be "Little Mole and the Snowman" (Krtek a snehulák), produced in 1998, towards the end of Miler’s career. The movie opens in winter, as Krtek builds a snowman that then comes alive. They play, eat icicles, and become good pals. When it turns warm, predictably, the snowman begins to melt. But Krtek refuses to let his creation down and saves him by taking a trip to the top of the coldest mountain around and leaving his friend there, safe and sound while Krtek heads back to his cherry tree alone, to wait for the seasons to change. When winter arrives again, the snowman skis down the mountain to the film’s happy conclusion.

I like this short too, because to me it is a story about a story. Both Krtek and Miler have made friends with their creations - love them in fact. In the film, Krtek doesn’t want his snowman to change and melt; it would clearly be the end for his friend. I imagine Miler working out the plot while thinking about his own future. Growing older, and ill with Lyme disease, Miler declared a few years ago that he would not sell off his rights to Krtek, because he believed changes made by Krtek's new creators would be the death of the little mole. Perhaps Miler felt that, like the snowman, Krtek would have to go away to be preserved, safe and sound.

Let's just hope that with the increase in digital distribution those films that now exist will eventually find their way to mainstream audiences in America. In the meantime, you can order Krtek dvds from amazon.de, or buy them in stores in the Czech Republic.


Karla said...

Now you're tempting me to get Krtek DVDs. Certainly, children's books and films are often so much better than those for adults. (On average, anyway.)

tuckova said...

Have you read "Krtek a Maminka"? It's one of the best pregnant/new baby books i've seen in any language. We made "translations" for a friend of mine in the States when she had her first baby, and it was a big hit with everyone.

Julia said...

I'll definitely have to check it out, as we have not read that book yet. Which reminds me, we are in the States stocking up on children's books and I wondered if you might have a list of books that Kein read when he was 3. We're in the middle of the great book debate here.

Karla said...

I don't know what's new and exciting, but you may recall classics like Make Way for Ducklings, A Tree Is Nice, Little Toot... (I am starting to blank out on titles, although not on the books themselves; also, there is the question of what's still in print.) Maybe some simple fairy tale books. (I could have been tempted to do a degree in children's literature had I known there was such a thing.)

tuckova said...

My main tip would be: never buy a book for a three year old that you're not willing to read a dozen times. They do not care --and it probably doesn't really matter-- what you read to them, as long as you read, so be decent to yourself, here. It's more important (I think) to convey the sense that reading is fun, so make it something for which you can believe that to be true.

Like most three year olds, Kein liked all things with pictures (which meant he sometimes got Discover magazine read aloud to him in Very Dramatic Tones because I needed the stimulation). I don't really like Dr. Seuss (I think it's better for learning to read than reading aloud). The Frog and Toad books are good, as are most of the Francis books; almost all the Caldecott winners are a safe bet (get them secondhand and save lots! Those are pricey when new.) Ezra Jack Keats' books are lovely and bright. Also, Kein still really likes Harold and the Purple Crayon, which I don't get but I'm passing the information along.

Hope this helps and that you're enjoying your visit stateside.

tuckova said...

Before I burn at the stake about the Dr. Seuss thing, I should clarify: he has two kinds of books, the books with crazy words and the books for early readers. I find the books with crazy words a little preachy (The Lorax) but if you like them, they're definitely very fun to read aloud and the messages are usually solid and probably not heavy-handed for the intended audience. The books for early readers (The Cat in the Hat) are GREAT for early readers but I always was drifting off around the "her gown with the dots that were blahzzzz" part, and then Kein knew already it by heart when it would have been a fun thing for him to be decoding. My error.

matysek said...

tady, tady, hele ;)

Anonymous said...

About 40 years ago I saw an animated short film called something like "The Mole and the Star", and the memory of it has stayed with me ever since then!
Does that seem like one of director Miler's films? If so, which collection is it in?
Thanks, Leonard

Julia said...

That sounds a lot like Krtek and the Green Star. YouTube has a clip of it at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8lugJIegVR4

Let me know if it is the short you are thinking about, we also very much like this one.

Anonymous said...

The Krtek series means so much to me from my childhood. It reminds me of the beautiful simplicity of the world and the most important values to uphold, things that we most often forget as we grow older.

I have always wanted to preserve my liking of this series with perhaps a sketch or autograph by Mr. Miler. Do you know perhaps who I may contact to see if this would be possible??


Julia said...

Unfortunately, I don't know where it would be possible to buy a sketch by Miler, but I understand the desire! Luckily there is no shortage of calendars, books and small Krtek dolls here (which we are fans of) but it isn't quite the same. Good luck!

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