Monday, 16 June 2014

Hoch Hech!

Is anyone familiar with the Zagreb (Croatia) School of Animation?

I'm sure I've seen that Zagreb Film horse logo before, maybe on a Public Domain video. After which I would presumably have fast-forwarded through the cartoon, expecting there to be a culture and/or language barrier.

I think when most people think of Eastern European animation, they think of this:

From the Simpsons episode "Krusty Gets Kancelled", where kids' TV show host Krusty the Klown shows a cartoon starring "Eastern Europe's favorite cat and mouse team, Worker and Parasite!" The title, gloomy music and settings (a factory and a bread-line) are clearly meant to invoke images of the austere, work-driven Soviet Union at the time of the Cold War, and the joke is that it is neither entertaining nor comprehensible to anyone who doesn't live east of the Iron Curtain in the '50s.

(As a side note, in another Simpsons episode from the same time, "Mr Plow", Homer tries to buy a car from "Crazy Vaclav's Place of Automobiles", and is told that the car was built in a country which "no longer exists". I like to think this was the same country that produced "Worker and Parasite", whose titles are written in a fictional Slavic language. And the head animator of the Rembrandt Films Tom and Jerry series, animated and scored - but not written - in 1960s Czechoslovakia, was named VACLAV Bedrich! Coincidence?)

Soviet-era Eastern Europe may well have produced animated shorts which bring "Worker and Parasite" to mind. But the Zagreb cartoons from the 50s and 60s I have found have, I think, a universal appeal. They are generally dialogue-free but manage to tell stories through animation and music. I don't know if their creators had American animation in mind when they made them - were they trying to copy the style of U.S. cartoons, or react against it, or neither?

This cartoon, "Ersatz/Surogat", has the distinction of winning an Academy Award (an Oscar to you and me). It's very quirky and doesn't look anything like a U.S. cartoon... well, not a mainstream U.S. cartoon anyway. It's still easy for Western audiences to follow and be entertained by it, but putting it out as an example of Croatian animated film making kind of implies "they don't think the way we do".

The same director, Dusan Vukotic, was also capable of creating cartoons that were much more recognisable to people in the West. This one tells a story of childhood rivalry and ingenuity that's familiar to all who have been children, but still exaggerated in a suitably cartoony way. It's a bit like the final act of "Hare Today, Gone Tomorrow", where Buster and Babs fool Elmyra into thinking she's travelled to another planet.

The events from 6:15-6:50 bring to mind the fable of the blind men and the elephant.

Another director, Zlatko Grgic (who previously worked as character designer on Vukotic's cartoons) appears to have had two favourite themes: "No Good Deed Goes Unpunished" and "I Don't Know How To End This Thing". Here's his "Musical Pig". Watch as the poor pig brings happiness to all around him by his singing, and how his refusal to let them eat him anyway (!) causes conflict, strife, and even war!

Oh, and the knife-eating sound effects are painfully convincing!