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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 25, No. 1. 1962.

The Europeans

The Europeans

Jri Trnka in Czechoslovakia we already know well from his full length puppet film The Emperor's Nightingale and such similar shorts as The Song of the Prairie and The Lost Sentry. Most recently he has made A Midsummer Night's Dream the same way, a treatment which successfully creates a fantasy world to match the atmosphere of Shakespeare's play and Mendelssohn's music.

But just as the major festivals of the last few years have revealed important new features emerging from countries once neglected as nonentities in film production, the same thing is happening in the field of cartoons. There has been a surprising growth of new work in Poland and Yugoslavia, for example, where simplicity, biting satire and, above all, contemporary awareness have returned to animated film. This last quality is something that is usually neglected in cartoons; they seem to exist in a never-never land and distant time which insulates them effectively from any chance of involving the viewer. There has never been a cartoon, that is until recently, that raised any issues or put forward any controversial viewpoint.

A Polish study, Vladislav Nehrebecki's Mouse and Cat, is at present on release in New Zealand. It is the cat vs. mouse theme retold, but without the vulgarisation attendant on the Hollywood films. Halina Bielinska's The Changing of the Guard brilliantly parodies military display with its marching and manoeuvering animated matchboxes.

It is in Yugoslavia, however, that most innovation has taken place. After 1956 a united group of designers emerged as a school whose style, sometimes mannered or affected, always stemmed from originality and invention. Dusan Vukotic and Vatroslav Mimica are the leading artists in Zagreb Films, as the production company is called. Along with others in the group, their common platform is an intellectual and somewhat cynical attitude toward the world and characters they are projecting and towards the public to whom they address themselves. The best known of the Yugoslav cartoons in undoubtedly Concerto for Sub Machine Gun, with its satire directed especially at Rififi. Superbly angular music is allied with a daringly imaginative colour sense. In the same way. Cowboy Jimmy is directed at westerns, The Inspector Returns Home at thrillers and Piccolo is a pointed lesson in good neighbour policy.

All these are emphatically cartoons directed at an informed, intelligent, adult audience. They are the cartoon equivalent of Saturday Night and Sunday Morning or The Sweet Smell of Success, the world they inhabit is similar, their treatment hardboiled, bold and simple. The music is sometimes raucous, often jazzy and always vital—the direct opposite of the syrupy accompaniment to the routine cartoon.

Syrupy is a good word to use when describing the usual Soviet product. There, fairy tales and anthropomorphic sermons arc the staple fare. Wicked wolves, fairies, wise owls, pretty little girls, talking dolls and puppets are just as familiar in the most recent Russian cartoon as they were in the Hollywood ones of the Thirties and Forties. No doubt the first stylised, sophisticated one from Russia to be screened at a European festival in the next year or so will be greeted with shouts of joy as another breakthrough on the part of the Soviet New Wave.