Mole holes in the Iron Curtain: the success story of the Krtek animated ﬁlms RIIKKA PALONKORPI
The joyful, curious and adorable Little Mole (Krtek or Krtecˇek) has been a beloved and popular animated ﬁgure for decades in a number of countries, both in the West and in the East.1 Zdeneˇk Miler’s Mole became a showcase for socialist Czechoslovakia and brought fame and signiﬁcant ﬁnancial proﬁts for the state. Therefore, it certainly was, using a present-day concept, a competitive product. This chapter discusses the success story of the Little Mole from the angle of competition. In many countries of Western and Eastern Europe, as well as in Japan, the
Mole has maintained and even increased its popularity since 1989. Should success be deﬁned in terms of durability, the Little Mole has attested to its fame. The Mole ﬁlms won a signiﬁcant number of international ﬁlm prizes from the late 1950s. The animated ﬁlms were sold to many countries throughout the world during the Cold War. Most importantly, a large co-production between the West German broadcasting company WDR (Westdeutscher Rundfunk) and Czechoslovakia began in the 1970s. In 2012, among the greatest admirers outside the Czech Republic, Finnish and German children watch ‘Krtek’ ﬁlms and read books on the adventures of the Mole. Parents who introduce Zdeneˇk Miler’s Mole to their children may feel nostalgic because they used to watch the same animations in their own childhood. The success story of the Little Mole is unique because it does not reﬂect the
overall development of the Czech animated ﬁlm industry in post-socialist times. Czech animation witnessed exponential growth and became internationally recognised in the period between 1945 and 1989. After the collapse of communism and the introduction of the market economy, this rise was followed by an equally rapid fall, caused in particular by the lack of government funding. Thus, paradoxically, freedom of expression introduced after 1989 did not sustain the Czech animation industry. As Joschko and Morgan put it, ‘once considered the main rival to Disney, the Czech animation is now declining’.2 The Mole, however, survived these challenges and became even more popular. Thus, the Little Mole’s success was based on something other than just state funding. Internationally, the Mole has come to symbolise the Czech animated ﬁlm industry, even though in the Czech Republic itself,
Miler’s ﬁlms form only a small part of what the country has to oﬀer in the ﬁeld of animated ﬁlms. The story of the Mole shows how in certain ﬁelds of life innovative products were successfully transferred from East to West, not always the other way around. What is more, the Mole ﬁlms exemplify cooperation that penetrated the Iron Curtain. This chapter analyses factors that have made the Mole as popular as it still
is today. It further discusses diﬀerent forms of competition in the context of socialism and in the ﬁeld of animated ﬁlm. The argument here is that the Mole connected the two societal systems rather than divided them. It was created and distributed within the framework of what was allowed in socialism, yet it also proved to be creative, innovative and suﬃciently independent from various kinds of political and artistic inﬂuences. As a result, the ﬁlms were a shared cultural experience for children from both Eastern and Western Europe, aﬀecting their memories, taste and even values.