Whilst writing the previous post on animators Halas and Batchelor, I was reminded of a trip to Prague a couple of years ago.
I was visiting this beautiful city as part of an Urban Design course, but as soon as I noticed that in amongst the general tourist tat, there were little stuffed toys of a cartoon character that I hadn’t thought about for many, many years, but that I instantly recognised from my childhood, all thoughts of Urban Design were put on hold…..
Mole (or Krtek in Czech) was the star of an animated series of short films from the 1960′ s and 70′s by acclaimed Czech animator Zdenek Milar. Milar was originally commissioned to make educational films in the late 1950′s and needing a vehicle for the films, admits that he took inspiration from Mickey Mouse – a small, simply drawn, mostly black animal with four fingers, that would appeal to children.
As a little boy, I loved everything about Mole, from his strange laughing and the nonsense language he spoke with his woodland friends, to the fact that his mole hill always had a perfectly flat top. The final frame of each episode said “Konec” which at six years old, I proudly knew was Czech for The End…
There are many Mole films on YouTube, but I have chosen this one as I am 99% certain I can actually remember it… Mole falling into a tin of red paint and then painting his friends who then all scare off the fox and head off to paint the forest in bright stripey colours before the rain washes them all clean. These are images that have been stuck somewhere in my subconscious all these years.
The fact that this clip appears to be from a Middle Eastern source, only reinforces how universal Little Mole was…
Although their names are not well known, the husband and wife team of John Halas & Joy Batchelor were responsible for some of the most recognisable British animations and cartoons of the post war period.
The couple met in the early 1940′s and together created what was for over 50 years, the largest and most influential animation studio in Western Europe. Sometimes referred to as the British Disney, Halas & Batchelors Studio produced over 2000 films, bringing to the world of animation a reputation for extending the possibilities and boundaries of the medium.
Their works include a number of post war public information films including the rather wonderful Charley in New Town, a 1948 promo for the Government’s New Town Development Programme.
The one most people might recognise is their highly acclaimed animated version of Animal Farm. Released in 1954 it is generally considered to be the very first British animated feature film released worldwide. Amazingly YouTube has all 1 hour and 11 minutes of the film here
The seventies saw their influence spread across the Atlantic and resulted in animated series for both the Jackson Five and the Osmonds, both of which I can clearly remember from my childhood. And then something I’ve only just discovered writing this post; an inspired psychedelic interpretation of Kraftwerk’s Autobahn from 1979.
Clips from a number of their films can be found on their own site here.
Anyway, I read today that the Halas and Batchelor archives have been donated to the BFI for the Nations posterity, which I think is very fitting. Hopefully this will result in a more widespread appreciation of their work.
Check out Automania 2000 from 1963, a fantastic 8 minutes of film with a message truly ahead of its time: