Krtek 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.
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