series

5) “Bob and Bobek – the Rabbits from a Hat” and other Czech cartoon classics for children

'Bob and Bobek', photo: Czech Television

Zdeněk Miler’s famous Krteček (Little Mole) is not the only cartoon character to come out of the country’s animated film studios. Bob and Bobek – the Rabbits from a Hat, The Tales of Moss and Fern, Maxipes Fík and The Oddsockeaters are cartoons classics that have delighted many generations of Czech children.  

“Get up and warm up!”, those words start off every episode of the show Bob and Bobek. It is about two rabbits that live in a magician’s hat, which they use to embark on grand adventures. The cartoon was created by illustrator Vladimír Jiránek and first came out in 1978. The rabbits featured in 91 episodes and were lucky enough to be the mascots of the Ice Hockey World Cup in 2015.

Vladimír Jiránek,  photo: Czech Television

But Vladimír Jiránek’s other films also received accolades around the world, as the director explained to Czechoslovak Radio in 1984.

“For instance, at the Berlin Film Festival in 1978, I got an award for the film ‘What have we done to the Hens?’. It tells the story of a hen that sacrifices her life on the altar of consumerist civilization. That topic meant a lot to me, and I was afraid that the film was not communicating it clearly. But audiences understood it.”

Jiránek actually studied journalism, and he drew caricatures for various magazines and newspapers. But he is best known for making the legendary Czech cartoons about Bob and Bobek or the clumsy handymen Pat and Mat. Illustrator Štěpán Mareš is a big fan of the famous rabbits.

“I loved his gorgeous drawings. They fascinated me, and I immediately wanted to draw like Jiránek. Bob and Bobek are beautiful characters. I’ve loved them since I was little.”

The rabbits were dubbed by actor Josef Dvořák. Dvořák is also the voice of another animated legend, Maxipes Fík. The Maxipes Fík series first came out in 1975. The script was written by Rudolf Čechura, and Jiří Šalamoun did the illustrations. The show is about an intelligent talking dog named Fík and his owner, a little girl called Ája. The two main characters live together in the town of Ahníkov, near Kadaň. Josef Dvořák recalls how he worked on the cartoon.

'Maxipes Fík',  photo: Czech Television

“We only started animating after we finished the voiceovers. Before every episode, the director would show me a script in picture form along with the text. And we would sit there and figure out how the voice should sound to match the character.”

Dvořák got the offer to voice Maxipes Fík from scriptwriter Josef Čechura. But, as luck would have it, he had been out celebrating with colleagues before the first studio recording.

"And that night – I don’t know what got into me – I decided to smoke a cigar. So I woke up the next morning and my voice was completely ruined and raspy. I planned on apologizing at the studio and thought that maybe my voice would return to normal eventually. I entered the studio and said hi to Mr. Bedřich, the director. His eyes lit up, and he said, ‘Mr. Dvořák, that’s how the dog should sound’.”

Adolf Born was another excellent artist who worked on animated films. In addition to illustrating over 350 books, he created the Mach and Šebestová series in collaboration with scriptwriter Miloš Macourek.

Mach and Šebestová are schoolchildren in the third grade who get hold of a magic telephone receiver. The series was produced in the second half of the 1970s, and its two main characters went on to be featured in books, films, and theatrical performances.

'Mach and Šebestová',  photo: Czech Television

Every episode begins with Mach sliding down a railing to the door of Šebestová’s flat, using his left ear to signal a change of direction. Adolf Born said they had a great time making the cartoon.

“Working with Miloš Macourek was great, and we became close friends in the process. We also worked on some of the films with Jaroslav Doubrava, who was the head animator. For example, we got the idea that Mach would slide down the railing, and Doubrava thought that he could use his ear as a turn signal. We went with that immediately. It was collective work,”

The Tales of Moss and Fern is another unforgettable animated classic. It is based on a book of the same name written by Václav Čtvrtek and illustrated by Zdeněk Smetana. The book tells the story of Křemílek and Vochomůrka, two goblins who live in a tree stump. Smetana says that figuring out how to draw the two main characters was not a simple task.

“It took me so much work that I must have been throwing out sketches for half a year before I got it right.”

Křemílek and Vochomůrka,  photo: Czech Television

Smetana’s work was admired by Jiří Kubíček, a colleague from Prague’s Film and TV School of the Academy of Performing Arts (FAMU).

“Zdeněk Smetana was, above all else, a great animator. He got his break in Czech animated film in 1958 when he made a perfect rock’n’roll scene in Eduard Hoffman’s film Creation of the World. Then in the 1960s, he started directing and went on to shoot around 200 animated films. Animated shorts were his speciality.”

Smetana also created the Rákosníček cartoon. Both Rákosníček and The Tales of Moss and Fern were voiced by known Czech actress Jiřina Bohdalová.

In one interview Bohdalová recalled with her characteristic humour how the cartoon characters got their intonations. It began with an argument Bohdalová had with colleague Jiří Sovák.

“I slapped him, and he grabbed me and sort of lightly choked me. Director Fryč came into the room in the middle of it and asked us what we were doing. According to Sovák, I replied in my half-choked voice, ‘Nothing, we’re just clearing something up’. And it turned out that was just the voice he wanted for Křemílek and Vochomůrka.”

'The Oddsockeaters',  photo: Czech Television

The Oddsockeaters is a more recent and extremely popular animated film. It was made by director and artist Galina Miklínová and is based on her and Pavel Šrut’s book of the same name. It is about small, invisible creatures that feed on socks and ensure that one half of every pair of socks goes missing.  Miklínova explains:

“I think that an Oddsockeater first appeared in the book Příšerky a příšeři. Mr. Šrut describes it there in a poem called ‘The Oddsockeater of my sister Bočka’. The first Oddsockeaters had no arms and legs and sort of resembled inside-out socks. Limbs and ears were written in later, so the illustrations had to be redone”.

The main character of the film is the Oddsockeater Hihlík. After his grandfather dies, Hihlík has to find his last remaining relative, uncle Padre, who is a gangster. According to Pavel Šrut, Hihlík owes his name to a real person who worked for Czech Radio.