Watch the films discussed in this article with English subtitles by viewing them on YouTube here!
…or, download copies for personal viewing here!
In the years since I initially spoke at length about the multi-talented animator Břetislav Pojar, and his important collaborations with artist Miroslav Štěpánek, I have learned some valuable things about them and their working relationship and how it regrettably deteriorated over time, not least because of disputes over who deserved more credit for the success of their works together—in particular, their beloved series of shorts featuring the two bears who met at Kolín, known as Pojďte pane, budeme si hrát (Hey Mister, Let’s Play) and Kdo to hodil, pánové? (Who Threw That, Gentlemen?). During this period, I also discovered that Pojar and Štěpánek actually made a TV series after The Garden ended, Dášeňka, based on Karel Čapek’s dog-rearing novel of the same name, and it was a treat to see more Pojar films that I had not known even existed at the time I wrote my original articles. And this past February, I discovered that Czech Television has made several episodes of their old multi-installment television anthology, Mistři českého animovaného filmu (Masters of Czech Animated Film), available for free viewing on their website; to my elation, they included four of the Hey Mister, Let’s Play shorts with original credits, and they even came with subtitles transcribing all the dialogue in the short films themselves.
Things progressed even further in March, when I somehow discovered that subtitles for all episodes of Mistři českého animovaného filmu, and all of the Hey Mister and Who Threw That shorts individually, were available online; even when the episodes themselves weren’t viewable, the subtitles for them were strangely buried within the HTML code of their individual pages on Czech Television’s website. Around this same time, I also realized that most of the narration in Dášeňka was taken straight from the original book; altogether, this meant that all three of the major Pojar-Štěpánek series (Hey Mister/Who Threw That, The Garden, Dášeňka) already had more-or-less complete written transcriptions in Czech, and were just waiting to translated by someone who had enough time and knowledge.
A transcript for “Princesses are Not to Be Sniffed At”…buried inside HTML code on Czech Television’s website!
I quickly realized this would be a great opportunity to do a huge service to those animation fans out there who love Pojar and his works, especially the Hey Mister series, but have been unable to fully appreciate them owing to the language barrier, as well as to further publicize what I have learned about his career and collaboration with Štěpánek; while I must openly admit to not being a Czech speaker, I have nevertheless made a painstaking attempt to translate these shorts using the subtitles provided by Czech Television, with the help of numerous online resources and pages (not least of which was this dictionary, aha). The results are not quite perfect, and I welcome corrections from any Czech speakers who notice any mistakes I may have made; still, it’s nice to finally be able to revisit these wonderful shorts with at least a little bit of extra knowledge and insight.
This planned series of articles, as it stands, would not be possible without the immense support of Marin Pažanin, whose Ajetology blog is a valuable resource on Czech animation in its own right; it was his interest in the artists behind Pat & Mat that led to him interviewing, among others, the great ex-Pojar animator Jan Klos, whose anecdotes were crucial to a further understanding of these series and the personalities behind them. Marin is also responsible for providing me with several of the images that will be used to illustrate these articles—either by pointing me to certain resources or by scanning them himself from his copy of the book Zlatý věk české loutkové animace—as well as correcting or suggesting changes to my translations of the shorts themselves, and most importantly he even pointed me to the existence of the Japanese DVD of The Garden, which featured those films in vastly superior quality to the versions that have circulated online for years. (You can watch these Japanese versions with my subtitles here!) I will always be grateful to him.
Setting the stage: Čiklovka, Pojar’s animators, and Štěpánek
By 1959, Břetislav Pojar had established himself not only as one of Czech animation legend Jiří Trnka’s finest animators, but also as a promising director in his own right with daring films like O skleničku víc (One Glass Too Many, 1953) and Paraplíčko (The Little Umbrella, 1957). That year, he and fellow Trnka alumnus Josef Kluge would officially begin heading their own stop-motion studio associated with Krátký Film, the Czechoslovak state company devoted to short film production which already owned Trnka’s studio and Bratři v triku (devoted to hand-drawn animation); this new branch was located at Čiklova 1706/13a, south of Trnka’s studio (known as Konvikt) at Bartolomějská 11 (which today houses the Czech National Film Archive’s Ponrepo Cinema). From an administrative standpoint, Krátký Film’s management no doubt desired the expansion of domestic animated film production; at the same time, however, the new establishment gave Pojar, in particular, a separate space for his own budding artistic ambitions, and indeed the studio may have been founded on his initiative.
Pojar on a farewell visit to his master Jiří Trnka’s original studio at Bartolomějská, or Konvikt, in 1982, just before it was shut down as Krátký Film was planning to relocate its animation operations to a larger studio complex in Barrandov; next to him is an even older photo of him working on his early opus O skleničku víc (One Glass Too Many, 1953), which, like his other earliest efforts, was filmed at Konvikt. Photo taken by Ivan Vít.
The location of Čiklovka, as the studio came to be called, had an interesting history. In 1924, the sculptor Karel Novák (born 8 October 1871) bought this plot of land, close to the Vyšehrad fort in Prague, to use as the location of his new sculpture studio, which would be spacious enough to include several technical workshops for him and his collaborators; his commissions from this point on were generally models for use by other sculptors in creating finished works, as well as copies of historical monuments. These creative activities unfortunately came to a halt once the new Communist government forbade all private business in the field of artistic creation in 1949, with the studio in turn being nationalized; Novák himself shortly afterwards succumbed to a serious eye disease that left him completely blind, and he would pass away on 5 May 1955 at the age of 83.
Around this time, Novák’s son worked as a driver at Krátký Film, and it was he who suggested that his father’s old studio, which at the time was left unused, could become the new center for Pojar’s and Kluge’s activities. In many respects, it was an ideal location for an animation studio: even besides the large workspaces present inside the building, the surrounding garden was decorated with sculptures and other extensive artifacts from when Novák and his collaborators were still around, creating a charming atmosphere of magic, wonder, and creativity. (For pictures of the garden, as well as photographs from the studio’s history, please take the time to explore this website.)
The entrance to Čiklovka, as pictured in the book Zlatý věk české loutkové animace. Photo courtesy of Marin Pažanin.
Auditions for new animators took place at a different animation studio on Wenzigova street at the end of November 1957, owing to modifications that were being made on the former sculpture studio at the time. By the following spring, new recruits Boris Masník, Stanislava Neumannová, and Pavel Procházka—the latter two would quickly marry each other, with Stanislava’s last name changing to Procházková—had begun animating under Josef Kluge’s direction on the very first film produced at Čiklovka, The Magic Skis (Čarovné lyže, 1959), and for the next decade they would serve as Břetislav Pojar’s main animation team as well. Also present from the start was the great cameraman Vladimír Malík, who would be responsible for shooting all of Čiklovka’s films—a nice little mini-documentary about him from 2011 can be seen here.
Boris Masník, in particular, would be highly regarded as the court animator at Čiklovka for the entire time the studio was in operation. He first went into animation in 1944, in the midst of the Nazi occupation—it was under the Nazis that what would become the Czech animation industry after World War II was founded—and indeed it was after him and his brothers Vojen and Ivan, both of whom also worked in animation (Vojen as a producer, and Ivan as a cameraman), that the studio Bratři v triku (which can be translated as “Brothers in Trick” or “Brothers in a T-Shirt”) was named in 1945. What made Masník particularly extraordinary as an animator was that he was deaf-mute, and could not rely on the soundtrack as a guide to animating; instead, Pojar would come in and demonstrate to him clearly how he imagined a scene and how a character would move (his own talent as an animator was undoubtedly helpful in conveying what he wanted), and Masník, in turn, had a remarkable gift for observing Pojar’s movements, feeling their rhythms, and determining exactly how many frames would be needed to animate them. Such an intimate working method, in tandem with the craftsmanship of the puppets and sets used to create the films, surely contributed to the impression that Čiklovka was itself a craft workshop worthy of succeeding Novák’s original studio.
Pojar’s first film at Čiklovka, The Lion and the Song (Lev a písnička, 1959), would prove to be a major success, winning the Grand Prix at the very first Annecy International Animation Film Festival in 1960 and raising Pojar’s profile internationally. It was the beginning of a string of brilliant and wide-ranging films that Pojar would direct at Čiklovka: he quickly followed up on this success with a trilogy of charming children’s films about two cutout-animated kittens and their live-action painter Honza (Kočičí slovo, Malování pro kočku, and Kočičí škola, 1960-61), followed by social satires made with unusual semi-relief puppets like Orator (Úvodní slovo pronese, 1962), Billiards (Biliár, 1962), and Ideal (Ideál, 1964). In all these films, Pojar’s authorial touch was evident in an underlying warmth and a penchant for humorously yet bitingly exploring human nature in all its inherent imperfections, combined with a willingness to utilize creative, at times poetic visual ideas and motifs in communicating such themes.
The kitten films, in particular, were notable as Pojar’s first collaboration with writer Ivan Urban and designer Miroslav Štěpánek, not to mention the latter’s own breakthrough in animation. Štěpánek, a well-established artist who began his professional career creating scenographic works for the National Theatre Ballet in Prague, as well as illustrating books, had already designed Václav Bedřich’s Modrý pondělek at Bratři v triku in 1958; this was, however, a thoroughly mediocre film, even design-wise. For this trilogy, Štěpánek designed the kittens and their playthings in a charmingly simple, geometric style, complete with bold colors and rich, inky outlines; he took this even further in Malování pro kočku, in which the various objects the cats paint into existence and mess with, ranging from vehicles and dinosaurs constructed of foodstuffs to beehives, were drawn and colored with pleasantly uneven brushes of paint. This latter style would eventually be expressed most brilliantly in 40 Grandfathers (40 dědečků, 1962), a modern take on an old folktale that was again directed by Václav Bedřich; thanks largely to Štěpánek’s painterly abstraction of the bizarre story, brought to even more delightful levels by the animators (including Zdeněk Smetana, regarded at the time as one of Bratři v triku’s best animators and soon to become a famed designer-director in his own right), it is perhaps the single most memorable cartoon that Bedřich directed in his long career.
Scenes from Malování pro kočku (Painting for the Cats), one of Pojar’s first collaborations with designer Miroslav Štěpánek.
Some time after the kitten films, Ivan Urban came up with the idea for a children’s series about two bear cubs who would literally play in the woods: over the course of their playtime, they would physically change their forms into whatever objects suited the games that they decided to play at a given moment. Such a simple concept held enormous potential for the creation of highly imaginative, freewheeling, fun animation mixed with satire, and must have appealed to everyone who worked at Čiklovka at the time—including, of course, Pojar himself, who around this time had begun seeking out a more pliable form of puppet animation that would allow the animation in his films to be more expressive. His 1964 satire Ideal, which he designed on his own, was a preliminary step for him in this respect, featuring semi-relief puppets with looser, more rubber-hose-like limbs than had been seen in his previous works.
Since they had already worked together on the kitten films, it was only natural that Pojar, Urban, and Štěpánek would collaborate again on this new series about bears. Indeed, it was Štěpánek who, as designer, overcame the limitations of the period and pioneered the technology that would allow textured semi-relief puppets to be animated just as freely as characters in hand-drawn cartoons, complete with smears, limb stretches, and even grotesque distortions of the pliable figures themselves for comic effect. He had innovated and tested it out as early as 1961-62 for Small, But Mine (Malé, ale moje), another children’s film by Čiklovka’s other director Josef Kluge; the stylized form of puppet animation that resulted now proved to be the perfect technique for the concept Urban had in mind, and Pojar’s gifted direction would surely utilize it to its full potential. “The bears are not semi-plastic puppets,” said Štěpánek in a later interview. “They are puppets, whose new kind of stylization only allows a new kind of movement of the head and limbs. The movement is not realistic, but grotesque. And it is my discovery.”
While Štěpánek was undoubtedly the genius who formulated the technology, the actual puppets and props seen in the films would be crafted by Čiklovka’s in-house team of artists responsible for “přípravy”, or preparation, led by Vítězslav Šafránek. He and the others grouped under a single “spolupráce” or collaboration credit in the films, including mechanic Emil Přeček, model-maker Elemír Topicer, costume designer Milena Nováková, and lighting technician Jan Švarc, deserve recognition as the unsung heroes who handled the more technical aspects of the films, ensuring that production went smoothly.
One of the most memorable elements of the kitten films was the kindly narration and voice acting by the great Rudolf Deyl Jr. It was no surprise, then, that Deyl was brought back to do the same for the Bears, who would ultimately prove to be his last and most beloved role. However, whereas the kittens were depicted as essentially abstract characters—they inhabited the easel of their painter, and the situations they found themselves in happened under his watch or encouragement—the bears would inhabit a vaguely-defined, variable woodland near the real-life town of Kolín in Central Bohemia. It is not known exactly why this location was chosen; perhaps the resemblance of its name to the German city of Cologne (which has the name Kolín nad Rýnem, or Kolín on the Rhine, in Czech) evoked a romantic, cosmopolitan feeling, which interestingly contrasted with the quaint, provincial, and typically Czech atmosphere of the town itself. In any case, both Urban and Štěpánek were close to Central Bohemia: Urban was born in the village of Kročehlavy (now in the city of Kladno), while Štěpánek was born in Libčice nad Vltavou and graduated from the Dvořák Grammar School in nearby Kralupy.
They Met Near Kolín / Potkali se u Kolína (1965)
The first three entries in the original Bears series, known as Pojďte pane, budeme si hrát (or Hey Mister, Let’s Play), are a milestone in animation history. By taking Urban’s stories and dialogue, mixing in his own creativity, humor, and social commentary, and guiding his animators on how to bring the Bears and their tricks to life using Štěpánek’s technological innovations, Pojar created the first—and arguably most well-rounded—films in a beloved children’s series that, with its daring new form of stop-motion animation in service to the Bears’ charming misadventures, would win the appreciation not only of animation fans abroad but also of general audiences at home.
Immediately after the credits scroll handled by the local rabbits (in a cute little add-on gag, the scroll reverts to and gets stuck in its compressed form at the end, such that they have a hard time tearing it open to begin the cartoon), accompanied by Wiliam Bukový’s catchy theme song for the series—these opening scrolls have, sadly, been edited out of all home video releases of the series and the numerous online copies derived from them—Pojar wastes no time in establishing the Little Bear’s clumsiness and how he is viewed as a laughing stock by just about everyone else. The rabbits jump into their hiding hole as the Little Bear approaches—in an interesting use of the space represented by the earthy red backgrounds, he does not simply walk across the screen, but takes a turn downward before continuing on jauntily, as though navigating some imaginary city streets to reach his destination—then watch from afar as he attempts to read the film billboard (letter-by-letter, to boot) only to be repeatedly interrupted by one of the butterflies.
Irritated after trying to swat it away, the Little Bear runs off-screen and sneaks back in with a makeshift net consisting of a stick and a pot, hoping to catch it for good; not only does his attempt fail, but the net snaps in half as a result, with the pot landing right on his head as the butterfly and its friends giggle from atop the billboard—the patterns on their wings are the onomatopoeic “HI”, such that even their flapping wings, opening and closing to reveal the word, become a form of derisive giggling in themselves. He then jumps up onto the billboard excitedly as the butterflies quickly flutter off (notice the smile on his face, indicating that he now sees it as a game), and—with the rabbits themselves swiftly jumping back into their hole in a split-second anticipation of what will happen next—throws the pot onto the butterflies; even this fails to contain them, however, as, in yet another example of the Little Bear’s comic haplessness, the bottom of the pot gets broken off from the crash-landing, allowing the butterflies to escape with ease.
With that matter settled, the Little Bear looks down, his lower body obscured by the billboard as he is about to climb down from it, and realizes that, as Rudolf Deyl Jr.’s narration intoned over the previous scene, such a curious thing has happened to him: in spite of not having climbed down, his feet already seem to be planted on the ground below! In a remarkable visual gag, the Little Bear decides to climb around the billboard’s perimeter, finding that the feet on the other side from him follow along—both in total defiance of gravity, yet made convincing by the curiosity that comes through in both the Little Bear’s movements and Deyl’s rather world-weary, Winnie the Pooh-like voice for him (mind you, this was a year before Disney’s first film with him was released) as he ponders his apparent growth—and, brilliantly, concludes that he’ll finally be allowed at films for adults only. In a way, this early scene, with its endearing and seemingly effortless combination of child-like wonder and clever, rather cynical humor, lays the foundation for the series at large: beneath the charm and creativity of the visuals in themselves is a sardonic worldview, particularly evident in what the Bears often say and do in response to the situations at hand.
Just as the supposedly grown-up Little Bear is walking out from behind the billboard in celebration, however, it turns out he has literally been standing on another bear all along; this bear quickly stumbles over from the weight of the Little Bear, sending the two of them falling such that—in an ironic reversal of their respective heights—the Little Bear flattens the other bear onto the ground while he himself is squashed vertically. (A nice touch is how both of them flail their arms circularly in mid-air right before the fall; in addition to illustrating their instinctive, desperate response to try avoiding the impact, it also brings an extra sense of weight to the actual fall.) This is our first major glimpse not only of the Big Bear, who will become the Little Bear’s companion from this point on, but also of the groundbreaking pliability of Štěpánek’s puppets; in a subtle way of punctuating both the Little Bear’s glance at what he initially believes is a dwarf (in Kolín, of all places) and his spoken exhortation for us to look at it, cameraman Vladimír Malík zooms in slightly on the scene.
Interestingly, it is the Little Bear who seems to do all the thinking in this first encounter. In a bit of understated fear and nervousness, he side-steps away from the supposed dwarf, at first slowly and gently while eyeing it (as though trying not to provoke it while still in close proximity), then much more rapidly; even so, however, he remains curious about it from a distance, wondering if it might not also be a “full-grown bear beneath a cupboard”. As the Little Bear handily squishes himself back down to his original form, so too does the Big Bear confusedly pop back up to his own height, convincing the Little Bear that he may be another bear after all: it is as though he has split in half, even though he knows this is untrue based on their different T-shirts. In his mild shock, he takes out a large tub of ice cream from his (smaller!) handbag and licks the spoon from it, as though literally giving himself comfort food for thought regarding the strange situation (he even uses the spoon as a head-scratcher).
In spite of his blank expression and lack of initiative, however, the Big Bear proves remarkably quick in establishing his superiority. The Little Bear comes up to him cautiously and, prodding him curiously with the spoon then immediately recoiling to lick it again (as though trying to prevent the Big Bear from grabbing it), asks if he is also a bear. Immediately, the Big Bear shakes his head “no” and, shuffling over, replies in his high-pitched, sped-up voice (also by Deyl) that he is Mr. Jackscrew, evidently building upon how he has just popped himself back up to normal after being squished; licking his lips covetously, he offers to demonstrate, his legs morphing accordingly into a single pole with a pedal at the bottom, if the Little Bear will let him lick the spoon. The Little Bear then hands the spoon to the Big Bear, but his genial dialogue and Deyl’s cheerful delivery of it convey a gullible willingness at odds with his character acting: the rather hesitant way in which he brings his arm with the spoon out and the tense posture he takes on as a result, combined with his blank expression, if anything indicate a sort of lingering fear mixed with curiosity. At this early stage in the series, the animation and Ivan Urban’s dialogue often seem to be almost aloof from each other, as though they were conceived separately, and indeed the bears never open their mouths to speak; perhaps the dialogue was not finalized, and Deyl’s voices recorded, until after the animation was already complete. In any case, not until later would there be a real effort to integrate the two more closely.
The Little Bear, letting his curiosity get the better of him, now comes over and begins stepping on the Big Bear’s feet-pedal; when he sees that (in a neat demonstration of the Bears’ ability to extend their limbs) the Big Bear is indeed cranked upward, he lets out a little smile of satisfaction, then continues cranking him up—only to be interrupted by the prodding of the Big Bear (in the first instance of his practicality, he does so using the very spoon he has just licked), who gestures his demand for the entire ice cream tub. Now willing to trust the Big Bear, the Little Bear obliges as he looks up and voices his own desire to play with him, punctuated by the placement of his hands on his heart; in a matter of just seconds, the Big Bear has already established a literal towering dominance over the subservient Little Bear, who has grown quite attached to this strange new friend.
As he contentedly sips the tub of melting ice cream, the Big Bear decides he would like to know more about the Little Bear, asking about his parents; in a cute moment, the Little Bear’s initial reply that his mommy is in Polárka (an ice cream brand) causes him to shake his head in disbelief and stare into the tub as though trying to make sure he hasn’t accidentally eaten her, accompanied by his query of whether she is actually in a small cup. When the Little Bear confirms that she does advertising, the Big Bear smiles and brings himself back down to his normal size (and to the Little Bear’s level), playfully jabbing the Little Bear and tapping the ice cream tub with the spoon as he giggles in his realization—in a close-up, we see that the tub indeed features a mother bear, and the Big Bear’s amused, seemingly condescending reaction is his way of conveying that his own mommy works in advertising.
In a great first example of his practical showmanship, the Big Bear begins bragging about his daddy, using the spoon and the tub as an imaginary pump to inflate himself to a large, plushy size just like him; a strange animation error, incidentally, is how the Little Bear is suddenly moved further away from the Big Bear towards the end of his inflation without actually stepping back, as though Boris Masník or one of the Procházkas realized too late that the next gag would not work with the Little Bear placed so close (now would be a good time to mention that animators at Čiklovka were deterred from redoing or fixing their scenes after they were shot, even if it meant mistakes would be present in the final film, as they had a studio-mandated production plan to fulfill which led to a time-and-cost-prohibitive production process—for as long as production took, the animators received only a minimal basic salary, “barely enough for food” as Jan Klos once remarked to Marin Pažanin, and only afterwards would they be paid extra based on the amount of footage they did that was in the final film; the first two frames pictured below are consecutive). He then jabs himself with the spoon as he imitates his daddy’s growls (he goes “brum”) to force all the air out and blow the Little Bear backwards, as though his daddy’s very growls are so powerful as to literally blow everyone away (if you look closely, the Big Bear’s snout as he growls has a slightly different structure from his normal snout, complete with his nose being painted or sketched much further up on it to accommodate his wide-open mouth, and an interesting touch is how said mouth is rendered rather roughly like the nose and not in a solid black color like his closed mouths; see the first two frames on the bottom row below for the comparison); in a funny shot that might have been added later, the Little Bear smiles in enjoyment right as he is blown over upside-down onto his head, in turn struggling like an insect to get back onto his feet by flailing his legs in the air as his body is rocked back and forth from the momentum.
This leads to an even more charismatic showcase of his uncle, a laureate of a circus rider, turning the tub over to use it as his wheel; young as he is, the Big Bear takes some time to balance himself properly as he drives himself left and right on the tub while nearly falling over, but when he finally does, he is able to spin himself around in a circle with full confidence as he imitates his uncle’s introductory fanfare. If the Big Bear’s performance as he circles around the Little Bear is to be believed, his uncle is capable not only of balancing himself and the spoon on one leg or arm while riding (eventually even juggling the spoon around) but also of merging his legs into the wheel—signifying his full command and mastery of his profession—and even of maintaining his balance as he himself, in the first truly bizarre transformation of the series, carefully rotates his appendages around his head like a four-spoked wheel spinning on top of the riding wheel (and while always keeping the spoon upright as it passes between the appendages, too)!
This complex display of talent, accompanied by appropriately fluttery, descending arpeggio-filled keyboard music by William Bukový, excites the Little Bear (although his expression does not really show it; evidently the animators were still getting used to actually moving the puppets), who begins blurting out details about his own family: not only does his daddy also go “brum” and his uncle ride with the circus, but his aunt runs in a zoo and—most intriguingly—his grandma lies flat as a rug, with the Little Bear pulling out a postcard showing her in a hotel and shaking it to grab the Big Bear’s attention. (In a rather dated throwaway gag, his grandma is initially defaced with stereotypical Native American iconography, causing the Big Bear to wonder if she is in America—as we shall see, an underlying fascination with the imagery of the American Wild West characterizes a sizable portion of Pojar’s oeuvre, and as a matter of fact he even animated a brief cutout insert designed by Jiří Trnka for the ending of Oldřich Lipský and Jiří Brdečka’s classic Western satire Lemonade Joe the previous year.) The Big Bear then reveals that his own poor grandma has become flat as well, stretching himself out on the ground into the form of a rug—as an amusing reminder of who is dominant in this budding dysfunctional friendship, he does not miss the opportunity to bite and pull the Little Bear’s foot, causing him quite a bit of pain—but qualifies that, even if she is flat as a rug, she is nevertheless still cunning.
So the film enters the postcard world, shifting to a special form of cutout animation, as it humorously depicts a typical night in the rugged, crafty grandma bear’s life (note that her design in close-up is quite different from how she looked on the postcard in previous shots). An inconsiderate hotel guest tramples on the grandma bear’s body, leaving his boots on her as he jumps into bed (another nice touch, design-wise, is how the word “HOTEL” also functions as the legs holding the bed up) and switches the lights off, the yellow postcard background turning dark blue. Now under the cover of the dark, the grandma bear proceeds to niftily compress and release her limp lower body like a spring, throwing the boots off, then turns her head towards the cake on the table; thanks to Štěpánek’s intricately fur-textured cutout designs and Pojar’s animation direction, these simple actions impressively occur as though they were actually animated in perspective. Further taking advantage of her less-than-ideal rug form, the grandma bear then quietly stretches herself up like an accordion, sniffs the cake, and (only now using her arm to pick it up) swallows it in one bite, awakening the hotel guest who, bellowing in fright at what he sees with his hair standing on end, flies out of the bed; his now-squared-off hair gives him the perfect landing to collapse flatly onto the ground, and the ultimate result is a delightfully ironic role reversal as the grandma bear springs into bed and sleeps very comfortably (minor as it may seem, her head being positioned to the side as she sleeps, giving us a full view of her relaxed expression and the impression that she is snuggled up, goes a long way towards conveying this feeling), whereas the guest now lies below her like a rug, too petrified and shivery with fear to do anything (and as an extra form of payback, his own boots are now placed upon him!).
This leads the Little Bear to discuss his grandpa, a collector of nimrods (hunters) and dogs, taking a black roll of paper (creating an interesting windshield-wiping effect across the screen) and unfurling it over the postcard to show his primitive sketch of how his grandpa has them (and a deer) mounted on his walls as he rests on his divan below (exuding a certain pride in his collection, but also the tiredness of experience and old age, as though he can hunt in his sleep at this point). At last, we return to the film’s world proper as the Little Bear rolls the papers up and uses them to try and show how big his grandpa is, leading to a brief argument as the Big Bear tries to show his grandpa is even bigger using the spoon; the Little Bear, in turn, does a very high jump (note how he winds himself up beforehand to build up more force for it) to show his grandpa is the biggest, and finally the Big Bear decides to just draw his grandpa out on the ground with the spoon, declaring him to be the biggest and wiliest bear in the world (the way that the Bears swat at the air before they each demonstrate, incidentally, is a very common gesture of scorn in Pojar’s character acting)—in yet another funny bit of abuse that conveys his enthusiastic haste (and his lack of regard for the Little Bear), the Big Bear bumps his rear end into the Little Bear as he draws his grandpa out, in turn back-kicking him away so he can finish the job.
Thus begins a series of increasingly absurd gags, conveyed via the Big Bear’s sketches (animated, I would guess, with another innovative form of cutout animation, in which the individual body parts were sketched on a transparent material which was then cut accordingly—notice how the contours of the sketches tend to remain constant even when the parts are moving) and fittingly underscored by different instrumental variations on a hunting-like theme by William Bukový, in which the Big Bear’s grandpa outwits the dogs and humans that come his way, and with each feat the Little Bear asserts that he is just like his grandpa; as with everything else about their families preceding it, it’s a charming portrayal of just how much children can look up to their elder family members, to where they’re willing to attribute all sorts of crazy, amazing things to them. First, the Big Bear sketches out a plucky little ant-legged dog (Bukový’s music is performed here with just a high-pitched oboe), the pliability of his limbs allowing him to do it with ease, and gently taps on its rear to set it off on its way as the Little Bear leans down to watch. (The Big Bear presses him down even more by using him briefly as an arm rest—perhaps unintentional in this case, but still further illustrative of how he views the Little Bear.) In a testament to his experience, the Big Bear’s sleeping grandpa simply yawns as he takes out a toy rabbit, winds it up, and goes back to sleep, with the toy in turn literally going over the dog’s head as it emerges from the bush between the two animals and then luring it away from the grandpa bear using his scent.
Next, the Big Bear draws and smacks off a longer, more vicious-looking dog (accompanied by a lower-pitched oboe duet), its thoroughness emphasized by how it presses its nose against the ground as it searches for a scent and even goes up and down in a square path (enabled by its blocky shape) to try and find one off the beaten path. Once again, his grandpa simply yawns as he effortlessly throws a beehive at this dog; the hive begins shaking violently in mid-air just as it bounces off the ground in front of the dog, conveying the enragement of the provoked bees as they flood out and begin attacking the dog—their initial affront on the dog’s rear end to grab its attention, too focused as it is on the scent to realize the situation has escalated, becomes a full-on assault, with Pojar further pushing the boundaries of cutout animation for expressive purposes by having the dog distort into all sorts of zig-zagged shapes and even bunches of splotches as it is attacked and runs off in panic. (In a similar vein, a nice detail is how the dog’s body cutout in the following shot has lines attached to it, adding to the impression of its speed as the bees chase it off. Perhaps now would be a good time to note that Pojar actually began his career as a hand-drawn animator: according to another interview by Marin Pažanin with animator František Váša, Pojar started in cartoons at Zlín, after which he worked on The Wedding in the Coral Sea (Svatba v korálovém moři, 1944) alongside many others who would help found Bratři v triku after the war, and he is said to have animated on some of the earliest Bratři v triku films like Springman and the SS (Pérák a SS, 1946) as well, albeit uncredited. This experience almost certainly informed his later drive, as seen here, to incorporate the stylization and pliability of cartoon animation into stop-motion.)
Thirdly, the Big Bear sketches a large and angry dog (its commitment to hunting evident in how the music is at last performed by a horn), setting it off simply by closing its huge mouth. Once more, his grandpa yawns as he casts a fishing rod with a sausage, the bush again obscuring him from the dog; his bait-and-switch with the sausage finally agitates the dog enough that it begins giving chase to it. Alas, it is only after the dog is already dangling from the rod that (as evidenced by its changed eye shape) it realizes something is wrong; in a blackly humorous twist executed with brevity, we hear a violent rattling sound as the fishing rod is thrown back towards the bush, and sure enough, the now-enthusiastic grandpa is sharpening his utensils on each other with gusto and licking his lips as he roasts the dog on a spit!
In a further escalation, a human hunter with a shotgun is sketched for the first time (the music now played by a slightly larger ensemble led by clarinet), his legs scrambling forth almost as soon as they are drawn. He fires at the Big Bear’s grandpa multiple times as the latter emerges from the bush, yet the grandpa does not flinch—as it quickly turns out, the grandpa was holding up a carbon copy of himself, and he proceeds to take advantage of the hunter’s bewilderment by making him hand over his gun (note the hunter’s frightful, trembling arm as he hands it off) so he can “fix” it by bending it carefully on his knee. He concludes this cunning, convincing fakery by offering his life outright, drawing a target on his chest, which the hasty and nervous hunter naturally falls for without much thought; things take an unexpectedly satiric turn as the hunter inadvertently guns down a fighter jet (!) above him with his curved-up shotgun, only realizing after the fact that he has been tricked as he takes a good look at the curvature of his gun, and he is chased away by the downed, infuriated pilot who, with his funny sped-up voice, tries to beat him with his absurdly long wrench! (A great detail is how the bears themselves scrunch their shoulders up and shake their arms enjoyably in a hammering motion, cheering on the pilot as he drives off their grandpa’s humiliated would-be murderer.)
As the music adds horns, the Big Bear finally sketches a modern hunter in a jeep who, like a tank, fires motionlessly at the grandpa with his shotgun even as his shaky, sputtering vehicle drives forth on its own; the again-unflinching grandpa now pulls the bush back to reveal he is wearing a knight’s suit of armor, and takes out a lance, shaking it threateningly at the (in)human tank while, in a testament to the fun he is clearly having, still wearing a smile on his face! Just as a particularly bloody outcome is about to transpire, however, the Little Bear bursts out that his own grandpa did this very same thing at Kopidlno—it is this specific location that finally causes the Big Bear to stop and think (and calm the jumping Little Bear by lowering his arm down on him so he can do so), as he recalls that what he has drawn for his grandpa also took place at Kopidlno (the two bears’ surprise at this revelation is nicely conveyed through some very brief squash-and-stretch of their respective heads).
Taking up the spoon and the tub again (note how he bounces the latter up onto his hand by stamping down on its edge—at once a captivating, playful, and practical method of getting it!), the Big Bear re-enacts a transformative summary of everything they have learned about each other’s families thus far, even making the Little Bear do the exact same things as him to drive home the point he is about to make—since their relatives all do the exact same things in the same locations, they are probably brothers! At first, the Little Bear is unable to comprehend or keep up with what the Big Bear is so quickly getting at, rather mindlessly going along with the Big Bear’s manhandling and even feeling somewhat jolted and bewildered when the Big Bear starts saying that it all means something; so slow is he that, as the Big Bear prods him excitedly and finally gives him a hard pat on the shoulder as he declares that they are brothers, he can only remain helpless as he is jostled and bounced off the ground like some limp, squishy, squeaky stuffed animal (kudos to whoever the sound designer was for the squeaking and even the vocal bouncing effects!).
Only when the Big Bear repeats that they are brothers, pointing at himself repeatedly and nodding affirmatively, does the hesitant Little Bear begin to think for himself (underscored by a questioning clarinet), finally deciding as well that they should be brothers (nodding and coyly pointing at both the Big Bear and himself as he does so). Coming up to the Big Bear shyly but insistently, he pleads with him to play, and with a bit more nodding on the Big Bear’s part, their friendship is at last sealed, much to their jubilation as they yell “hurrah”, kick each other, and start dancing to one of Bukový’s catchy tunes (stretching themselves up merrily as they do so). Yet, even here, the Big Bear remains in a clear position of superiority: while the Little Bear must suddenly kick the Big Bear up by his crotch to begin their celebration, he in return willingly offers his rear end for the Big Bear to kick him up even higher, to say nothing of how the most memorable parts of their dance are the Big Bear twice cartwheeling over to the other side of the Little Bear by literally crushing him beneath his head—almost foreshadowing what is to come in their relationship.
Now would be a good time to single out Štěpánek’s minimalist, impressionistic backgrounds for praise; they manage to beautifully convey the brushy, leafy woodland in which the Bears live without distracting us from what they do.
The two Bears’ dance ends with them bumping their bellies together, with the Little Bear being knocked back much further than the Big Bear—and right into a pot, revealing the green handbag that he wears behind him. As he tries to wriggle his way out, gravity does its work: a ton of candies come pouring out of the handbag, immediately drawing the Big Bear’s attention. The Little Bear then flips himself over, throws the pot off his head, and begins lovingly grabbing and hugging his colorful candies back into his handbag; it seems obvious he won’t give them up very easily.
But the Big Bear, evidently having already formulated his next trick, determinedly pushes his hat forward in a sort of “let’s do this” gesture as he licks his lips once again. Immediately, he comes up to the Little Bear and taps his shoulder to demonstrate to him how, if a candy is inserted into him (he twirls the one piece around as though the wrapper is magically flying towards him and releasing the candy it carries into his mouth), he will transform into an assortment of raucous big-band instruments. Mesmerized by this sight, the Little Bear hands him three candies to keep the flow of instruments going, but when the Big Bear oversteps his boundaries and starts trying to grab the candies himself, the Little Bear holds his hand back, remarking with a smile on his face (as though he is already well aware of his trickery) that he has a “sweet-toothed and crafty game” as he takes his candies back into his handbag. Offended by this remark against his trick to gain the Little Bear’s treats, the Big Bear struggles to retake his hand; in a more insidious and selfish form of manipulation, he tells the Little Bear to play on his own, angrily throwing the candies he still has back at the Little Bear, then slams the pot down in a distant location and sits on the edge in such a way as to shun the Little Bear, arms folded and poutful face pointed upwards.
Not wanting to be deprived of his new friendship, the disheartened Little Bear—notice how the lighting is much darker here, as though a large cloud now hangs over them (a very effective way of conveying the mood on Vladimír Malík’s and lighting electrician Jan Švarc’s part)—decides to pick up the thrown candies and gently shuffle forth, holding one of the candies out as though trying to make a very delicate peace offering to the angered Big Bear (Bukový underscores with a gentle mandolin version of the music from when they were dancing). Once he is close enough, he begins gently patting and rubbing the ignoring, motionless Big Bear on the back, reassuring him that he didn’t mean his earlier remark that way and that he would play from the morning all the way to the evening (and vice versa); but his attempt to show the candy directly to the Big Bear, who does nothing but peer an eyeball towards it, simply causes the Big Bear to scurry off, pot held tightly to his rear end, so he can continue sitting resentfully elsewhere. Only after some increasingly desperate insistence on the Little Bear’s part for them to play—including an offer for him to take half of the candies, which he initially turns away from—does get down from his metal pedestal and, swiping his “share” of the candies away into the pot, declare that the Little Bear should make up the game himself, dragging the pot with the candy away.
For a little while, the Big Bear keeps himself (and, at first, the Little Bear) entertained by sliding down the screen on the pot diagonally to a funny sound as he eats the candy, spitting out colorful wrapper confetti as he zooms past the Little Bear. After doing this twice and then savoring a third candy on his own (rubbing and patting his tummy as he digests it), this time preserving the wrapper, he confirms that the Little Bear is a little too dull to come up with a game on his own, as he continues to stand there scratching all over himself and grunting while trying to think. Hence, in another example of his (and Pojar’s) resourcefulness, the Big Bear turns the third candy’s wrapper into a bird-like paper airplane, flying it towards the Little Bear as he suggests they play locomotive and asks if he has steam for it.
With this sudden burst of inspiration, the two Bears quickly commence the most successful and brilliantly-animated transformations of this first film, namely their transformations into locomotives. The expansions of their bodies into the cabs, the twirling of their limbs into the wheels (the Big Bear being greatly assisted in this regard by his convenient position on the pot), and the huffing of their heads into the smokestacks are all executed with such deftness and grace, as though it were completely natural for the Bears to become trains, and it is a clear testament to how talented Pojar and Boris Masník were as animators that, as rough as certain other aspects of this first outing may be, they were already capable of pulling this off perfectly.
With the Little Bear’s transformation complete, the Big Bear decides he wants to be the accompanying railway carriage, exhorting the Little Bear to connect him. The bumping of their rear ends as they “connect” provides the force necessary for the Big Bear, still lying on the pot, to instantly deform as such while keeping his head sticking out of the cab; with that—his position already paradoxically proving to be another way for him to take advantage of the Little Bear, as will become especially clear later—the Big Bear declares they are going after their grandfather in Kopidlno, and the two-bear locomotive sets off, quickly drawing the attention of the rabbits and scaring off the letter-patterned butterflies from earlier as it travels under and over a log bridge and through the bushes, with the Big Bear waving goodbye to one of the rabbits as they go over the bridge (conveniently, the wheel that this particular arm is supposed to be spinning is hidden from view right at this moment).
As they approach a hollow log, a rabbit inside hears them approaching with his one particularly long ear and jumps out; this causes the Big Bear to halt the Little Bear, telling him the semaphore is down as they temporarily revert to their original forms. The Little Bear, in dealing with this situation, proves he has some imaginative resourcefulness of his own: he takes on the role of a railroad conductor, donning the pot that the Big Bear has carried with him as a railroad cap as he declares that here is train 0-1-810, and proceeds to stretch the rabbit’s leg out to a lever and push it down, turning the rabbit into a semaphore with its unevenly-elongated ears becoming the raised arm! With this rabbit forced out of the way in the most condoning fashion imaginable, the two-bear train proceeds through the log, much to the rabbit’s confusion as it reverts back to its real form and rushes over to its fellow rabbits on the other side.
This next quartet of rabbits is dealt with in a similarly eccentric yet practical way: the pot-donning Little Bear conductor pulls the first rabbit’s green beanie down over its head, turning it into a ringing alarm bell; he then pulls a crank out of one of the tall rabbits’ legs, using it to conveniently lower the two tall rabbits into boom gates; finally, he puts the smallest rabbit outside the space between the gates, and with this perfect railroad crossing set up, the Bears’ locomotive passes along and heads deeper into the woods. As the Big Bear once again waves goodbye to them, the rabbits realize they have a fun game on their hands—in a very Pojarian gesture, the one rabbit with the long ear (who, in another nice little practical gag, reverts the beanie-wearing-rabbit-turned-bell by pushing on it like an actual alarm clock) taps its head to show its realization to the two comprehending rabbits on its right, then taps on the beanie-wearing rabbit’s head to grab its attention, gesturing it to follow along with them as they scurry off ahead of the train. Fittingly, the mayhem that ensues from this point on is accompanied by an extended version of Bukový’s theme for the series.
This time, the rabbits force the Big Bear to halt the Little Bear by using their own imaginations to create a train station at Lhotka: one tall rabbit flattens its long ears into a platform on which the letter-patterned butterflies open their wings out to form the “LHOTKA” sign, and the other with the abnormally long ear again takes on the form of a semaphore signal. Snatching the pot from beneath the Big Bear and donning it for a third time, the Little Bear rushes over and, this time even gesturing like a conductor, announces, “Lhotka Station, boarding, departure”, his voice appropriately sounding muffled through an intercom; the one little rabbit, playfully performing an entrechat in excitement, then attempts to “board” the Big Bear, even jumping up and down on his stomach in the true manner of an hyperactive kid as the Big Bear declares they don’t take “earies”. Before he can come over and tell the Little Bear to end this, however, he stops and, looking back at the little rabbit, realizes this is his opportunity to take all of the Little Bear’s candies (in true Pojar fashion, the Big Bear taps his head as a thought bubble pops up above him, showing the green handbag of candies opening up to him as he licks his lips yet again); hence, he instead claims to the Little Bear that the rabbits are absolute foreigners, and as such they have to bring the dining car, asking if there is anything left in his handbag.
This scene, however, is also a particularly off-putting example of how the animation and the final spoken dialogue appear to have been conceived separately from each other. The Big Bear is sporadically animated whispering into the Little Bear’s ear, yet he speaks in a normal volume for the entire time. This is topped off by the Little Bear’s reaction as he silently and rather deliberately but nevertheless happily takes his handbag out and pulls out a candy, peering his eyes back and forth between it and the Big Bear as though wondering if it’s okay—it seems this was animated with the expectation that there would be some modest dialogue from the Little Bear.
In any case, the Little Bear willingly hands his bag over to the Big Bear without a second thought; taking this as a signal to go further, the Big Bear proceeds to snatch away the pot and even the one candy the Little Bear had reserved for himself as well, taking the smile off his face. He looks on worriedly as the Big Bear peers inside his bag covetously, but on the Big Bear’s command after he seemingly gives the one candy to the little rabbit as promised, he nevertheless finishes his job of raising the leporine semaphore signal and then reconnecting to him in his locomotive form. Just as the Little Bear is not looking, however, the Big Bear reveals his true colors: he takes the candy away from the rabbit and unravels it into his mouth, handing back only the wrapper and even smacking the rabbit gently (leaving it bewildered) in a contemptible show of affection for its service.
The train continues to move forth, and so do the rabbits; in some more subtle bits of characterization, the semaphore rabbit rubs his hands connivingly after reverting back, then also does an entrechat before taking off as the other tall rabbit drags in more kids to follow along. Before the Big Bear can continue savoring the Little Bear’s candies, the rabbits’ Lhotka Station appears once again, with the Little Bear this time halting on his own and conducting the next spate of little rabbits onto the Big Bear, who in turn pulls them all off by their ears and intimidates them away by sternly demanding to see their tickets. Realizing his plan is backfiring, the Big Bear decides to hightail it, kicking the Little Bear down into position as he is dealing with the semaphore and then pushing him forth in his locomotive form to escape the rabbits (who now have tickets in the form of leaves!) as he rants and raves against them, his haste such that the confused Little Bear does not even think to turn his head back into the smokestack at first (only doing so after the Big Bear forces the change himself).
When the rabbits get ahead and set up Lhotka Station once more, the Big Bear, no longer trusting the Little Bear to do his will, quickly reverts his own back wheels to legs to grind the train to a halt, and dons the conductor’s pot-hat himself as he, swatting scornfully at the rabbits and stepping over the prostrate Little Bear (yet more inconsiderate haste!), goes over and pushes a rabbit’s stuck-up foot down slightly, turning it into a railroad switch with its ears coming together to form a pointer; he then pushes this foot-lever all the way down, causing the rabbit’s head to point towards the alternate track that moves diagonally downward and in the opposite direction (note that Štěpánek’s backgrounds delineate this path even before it is taken). In this way does the Bears’ train rush away (“like the Orient Express”), with the Big Bear briefly reverting outright to his original form as he mockingly waves goodbye to the rabbits while lying on the pot (itself still being dragged by the Little Bear’s locomotive).
So it is that the rabbits begin chasing after the accelerating train; even what seems to be a glaring technical error that somehow passed unnoticed, namely the continued presence of a green “buttock” on the back of the Little Bear even though the Big Bear has already taken the handbag for himself, proves quite useful here as an outlet for the Big Bear to alert the Little Bear on what he is about to do, namely increase their distance from the mob of rabbits by briefly turning his own head into a smokestack. With this accomplished, he taunts the rabbits as, in what is surely the ultimate expression of his sweet-toothed thievery, his practicality, and his mockery all in one, he begins eating up the Little Bear’s candies and spitting wrapper confetti back at the rabbits while lying down on the pot in satisfaction, occasionally smacking the Little Bear on his rear or turning back into a locomotive himself in order to keep the train accelerating; at one point, he gets so caught up in smirking at the rabbits that he is bumped right into a hollow log that the Little Bear passes through, forcing him to scramble over the log to catch up even as he keeps staring backwards in his desperation to escape the rabbits—the log conveniently has holes for the Little Bear to continue huffing from his smokestack-head even from inside, and these holes also exploit the Big Bear’s persistent disregard for what lies ahead of him by making him fall in and nearly be overrun by the mob of rabbits in hot pursuit, such that he only barely makes it back onto the fast-moving train by latching onto the attached pot for dear life (it is amazing how Pojar is able to get this much out of a single log in only 3 seconds)—and it all reaches a height as, towards the end, the Big Bear rapidly takes in several candies at once, proceeding to vomit out a shower of rainbow confetti to stop the rabbits!
As the Big Bear consumes the last of the candies, the Little Bear tires out and, returning to his real form, collapses on the ground, saying that he would need to make fire in order to keep going as the rabbits’ enthusiasm visibly dissipates. This lack of steam, as the Big Bear puts it, leaves only one possible game: the laziest guy under the sun, who lies there and cries because he is too much of a lazybones to satiate his terrible craving for raspberries even as he lies right below a whole field of raspberry canes. It is even more nakedly exploitative and one-sided than what the train game devolved into—yet the Little Bear, in spite of already realizing from his emptied handbag that the Big Bear has stolen all his candies, still willingly accedes to this latest con, wiping the Big Bear’s tears from his eyes using his own handkerchief then shaking the canes so that the raspberries all rain down into the Big Bear’s mouth! And of course, when the Little Bear tries to take the few remaining raspberries for himself, the Big Bear breaks the charade and takes the cane away so he can have those as well, ensuring that the Little Bear remains completely subservient to him.
At last, the Little Bear gets fed up, asking if this is some end of the game as he shuffles threateningly towards the Big Bear with an angry expression on his face (accomplished by sticking yarn eyebrows above his eyes). Unfazed and yawning, the Big Bear remarks that it would still go until the alarm clock, in turn swiftly jabbing the Little Bear as though pressing a button to reset him to his usual happy, obliging self. Now that it is obvious just how much power the Big Bear’s manipulation can exert over the Little Bear in a given moment, the Little Bear gladly transforms into a ticking alarm clock, with the Big Bear “setting” the alarm on him affectionately then pushing him away with an order to wake him at four as he falls asleep.
Very briefly, the Little Bear shows his true irritation, glaring at the Big Bear with his real face and slightly moving his arms outward and inward in a gesture of exasperation, but initially continues ticking along—that is, until the rabbits, together with the onomatopoeic “HI”-patterned butterflies from earlier, start giggling and making fun of him for his insistence on indulging the Big Bear’s whims, causing his anger to return as he makes a threatening gesture on his heart towards the hecklers. Yet, as he looks down at the contentedly sleeping Big Bear, he knows that they are right; in one last effort to mitigate the situation as he takes on a sort of intermediate form between his true self and the alarm clock, he attempts to wake the Big Bear, first with a very gentle and fearful tap on his arm, then by actually ringing his alarm early, but the latter only causes the awakened Big Bear to slam him back into his alarm clock form and return to sleep.
Unable to find it in himself to leave the Big Bear outright, as any reasonable person would do after everything that has transpired at his expense, the Little Bear can only shrug and resign himself to his new servitude. Thus, in a final act of mockery against the Little Bear as they enjoy themselves, the rabbits and butterflies form a sign saying “PiTOMEC”, meaning “idiot”, then rearrange themselves once more to form “KONEC”—the end.
Brimming with imagination and personality, and in spite of its occasional technical shortcomings, They Met Near Kolín is a great introduction to the Bears and their novel form of stop-motion animation. The aforementioned František Váša, who began his career in animation working under Pojar, testified in the same interview with Pažanin that Pojar’s direction was something like a middle ground between the practicality of Pat & Mat director Lubomír Beneš and the thoughtful meticulousness of Jiří Barta (best known for his 1986 adaptation of The Pied Piper), and this paradoxical combination is plainly evident here as Pojar, with the help of Štěpánek’s innovative designs and technology, draws forth a variety of inventive visual ideas and situations using only the characters’ own forms and a handful of other objects (like the spoon or the candies’ wrappings), with even the most minor details like the Bears’ snouts or the rabbits’ ears serving as potential starting points for inspired changes and gags. At the same time, Pojar never loses sight of the Bears’ and even the side characters’ acting, of having these metamorphic, practical puppets and cutouts come across as compelling folks in themselves: their personalities are all the richer for the little things that they do, and the specific manners in which they carry out their actions, to convey their thoughts, intentions, emotional states, and even feelings about each other at a given juncture.
Jan Klos, who has fond memories of first learning Pojar’s name as a result of seeing They Met Near Kolín in theatres, and who would eventually animate under Pojar at Čiklovka beginning in 1973 (with the very last Bears entry, Hello Kohlrabi (Nazdar kedlubny), being one of his first involvements), has been particularly adamant about how hands-on Pojar was as director to achieve results like these, serving as the de facto lead animator (as we already saw with how he worked with Boris Masník) and even overseeing various technical aspects of the animation in that regard. He gave this detailed explanation to Marin Pažanin: “In the case of cooperation with Pojar, I would like not to talk about ANIMATION, but about PHASING. You work in this technology as a PHASOR. Everything you need to move in the shot was created by someone who is a more experienced and better ANIMATOR – here Pojar! The size of the figure and props, its transformations, artistic deformations and even some special movements, he delegates all this on pauses to the team, which is called preparation, and then with that perfect preparation you can only “move” – PHASE.”
When all is said and done, the film is a stingingly cynical satire on unbalanced relationships, and how they inevitably end in the craftier, more ambitious partner asserting his will entirely at the expense of the duller, more modest one. The one who is crushed may put up with this abuse out of a desire for companionship and play, even if it means suppressing his true feelings or serving as the laughing stock of others who refuse to do anything to help (and who, quite frankly, were already ostracizing him to begin with), and it is even worse when he feels obligated to submit to this relationship out of family ties, like how the Bears’ friendship is sealed by the realization that they are supposedly blood brothers.
In this light, even the freewheeling imagination of children’s playtime, as depicted by the Bears series in general, can quickly devolve into a particularly effective form of manipulation to captivate the lesser partner into being screwed over big-time. For the Big Bear, playtime is convenient insofar as it gives him the perfect excuses to take the Little Bear’s candies and make him his servant, and it helps that he is both practical and a charismatic showman (in a sense, he is the epitome of Pojar’s direction); he does not hesitate to subvert it whenever it starts getting in the way, like when the rabbits begin trying to board the Bears’ train.
How the Bears Went Swimming / Jak jeli k vodě (1965)
For the second Bears entry, Pojar and his team attempted to push the satiric element of the first film even further. By reversing the roles in the Bears’ train game—this time, the Big Bear is the car, and the Little Bear is supposedly the one controlling him—and showing how the Big Bear is able to exploit the Little Bear into pampering him even so, Pojar and Ivan Urban also try to poke fun at how owning a car was seen as a mark of social status in Czechoslovakia at the time, when in reality an automobile typically comes with many troubles of its own.
After the two rabbits use all their strength to deal with a particularly defective set of credits that keep slamming shut on their own—in a positive change from the previous entry, the credits scroll by at a slow, consistent speed, allowing all the staffers’ names to be properly seen instead of focusing only on Štěpánek and Pojar, and they use this time to take a little nap—they roll back into view and, swatting at the air scornfully in typical Pojar fashion as though saying “aw, screw that job”, lie down to continue their peaceable nap alongside their companions, setting the stage for the opening of the film proper as the butterflies flutter over the sleepy woodland. As they fly further up, they briefly awaken a blue bird snuggled in its nest, but this is a minor interruption that provokes no particular offense on the bird’s part.
Far more concerning, rather, are the unpleasant dreams that the bird begins to have in which a logger uses a series of three increasingly powerful tools to cut the bird’s tree down, as seen in some typically Pojarian thought bubbles (their contents rendered in the same form of cutout animation as the Big Bear’s sketches in the first entry); interestingly, although they were Pojar’s main way of showing his characters’ inner feelings in his other films, this would be the last Bears entry to use them. All three dreams turn out to be the result of the Big Bear’s increasingly intense saw-like snoring below the bird’s nest, with the resultant blowing of the blanket covering him conveying the snores’ power more effectively than simply showing him in the act would; fed up with these false alarms, the bird pecks at a nearby fruit on the tree to get a sense for how loose it is, then brings it down onto the Big Bear with its beak, instantly waking him up (the abruptness of it leaves his eyes quite disheveled, conveying a sense of confusion).
Satisfied, the bird snuggles back into sleep as the Big Bear, whose eyes remain slightly disheveled as though he is not yet fully awake, ponders his surroundings, briefly scratching his head before he suddenly hears a different snoring noise and quickly taps his head in realization; as he turns to the other side of the tree with a smile on his face, we see that the Little Bear has been sleeping next to him all along, his large hat shielding his eyes from the daylight. In a strange continuity error, the next shot suddenly has the Big Bear standing up and bent over (his eyes back to normal!), seemingly wondering why the Little Bear is sleeping, before he bends back, wags his finger teasingly (as though chiding the Little Bear amusedly for falling asleep in his presence—and leaving himself wide open to pranks!), and immediately sets off to have some fun at his expense: he sneaks back in with his now-soaked blanket in his hands, takes the giant hat off of the Little Bear (notice how he does it: at first he lifts it very gently so that the Little Bear is not woken up, then once it is off his head, he swiftly puts it on the ground in an evident rush to get to his prank), and wrings the water out of his blanket onto the Little Bear, jolting him awake (conveyed perfectly by his squashy-stretchy head).
At first, the Little Bear looks around in confusion, then looks upward, reaching his hand out to check if any rain is falling. Finally, he looks down to discover he is standing over what appears to be a lake—in reality, the Big Bear’s conveniently-patterned blanket, with the Big Bear himself acting as the Little Bear’s “reflection”! (The series’s ambiguous plane, which straddles both 2D and 3D like the Bears themselves, allows perspective-manipulating visual gags and tricks like this to be pulled off with ease.) As he shuffles from side to side and places his hand on his chin in a state of pondering, the Big Bear follows along perfectly like a mirror image; now convinced that what lies before him is indeed a lake, the Little Bear rubs his hands gleefully, pulls his shirt off, and prepares to dive in (the Big Bear continuing to copy him), but just as he jumps up, the Big Bear quickly jumps out and pulls the blanket (and his own shirt) out from under the Little Bear, causing him to dive snout-first into the ground—and violate the underground home and dignity of a mouse, as he discovers after squirming his way out.
The Little Bear, after realizing he has accidentally bitten down on the mouse’s tail, shudders in disgust; the mouse, meanwhile, begins angrily squeaking and jumping down onto the Little Bear’s squishy foot, much to his pain and the Big Bear’s amusement as he hides behind the tree, and its high-pitched ranting becomes so loud that the bird is woken up once more, this time angrily chirping as well. As the mouse climbs back down into its home, the bird fires tree fruits at both Bears—notice how, in the second shot in which this happens, the Big Bear is suddenly back to peering at the Little Bear’s pain amusedly even though his attention was already drawn to the bird at the end of the first shot, and the Little Bear has reverted to a neutral state only to make the same horrified reaction to being attacked as in the first shot, as though Pojar and editor Helena Lebdušková decided to extend the sequence by using two different takes of what may have originally been a single scene of the Bears getting fruit brought down on them—but their haste to retreat causes them to collide violently behind the tree, squishing them taller and thinner!
Fed up with this tomfoolery on their part, the bird launches a full-on assault against the Bears (fittingly to the same raucous music as when the Big Bear demonstrated his big-band instruments in the previous film), pecking them repeatedly as they run in circles around the tree (with the Big Bear hiding behind it at one point to let the Little Bear get the worst of it!) and even as they escape while shielding themselves beneath their respective covers. Once the rough-and-tumble job is done, it returns to its nest elegantly, twirling around as it flies back and carefully settling in, and looks around below to make sure the Bears are gone for good before it relaxes.
As Rudolf Deyl Jr. intones his (very late) opening narration, the two spooked Bears, hidden behind the bushes with plants over their heads as camouflage, each attempt to sneak over to the other side without knowing the other is there, their nerves already on high alert. They are overcome with great shock as they accidentally bump into each other, their entire bodies squashing-and-stretching upward this time, and retreat further up in panic, remaining hidden beneath their covers. Taken together, the first few minutes of this film are a good reintroduction to the Bears for those who may not have seen or remembered the first film: the Big Bear loves exploiting the Little Bear for his own gain, the Little Bear enjoys playing and is often too slow to realize he is being played himself, and both are viewed largely as nuisances by the animals around them. The scene with the fake lake, in particular, proves to be a nice bit of foreshadowing for the film’s main plotline, in which the Little Bear repeatedly has his swim time taken away from him by the Big Bear’s tricks.
It is only here, as they peek out to check if the danger has passed and see each other, that they start interacting properly for the first time in the film. This time, it is the Big Bear who implores the Little Bear to play with him: using his blanket and the plants on his head, he takes on the form of an exotic dancer and grooves towards him mesmerizingly (complete with suitably odd music by William Bukový), jabbing him and waving at him seductively to lure him into his games.
Very briefly, the Little Bear happily accedes, only to suddenly realize that this is the Big Bear and refuse vehemently; taking the blanket from the Big Bear and sprouting a pair of angry eyebrows as he examines it—perhaps figuring out that this was the “lake” he saw earlier—he flings it back in the Big Bear’s face, telling him to “play with this rag yourself” as he marches off. As the Big Bear protests, the Little Bear reveals that even he has become all too aware that the Big Bear’s games are crafty games, purely made to exploit him; in the meantime, he plucks the plants out of his large hat and throws it away, indicating he is done playing around, and then takes a giant spear-like lollipop out of his green bag to lick on his own (notice how it is so big that he has to turn himself around to get in the proper posture to take it out—though from a technical standpoint, the turn-around is also a good way of hiding just how physically impossible it is for such a lollipop to even fit in such a small bag, haha).
The practicality of such a lollipop first becomes evident as the Big Bear continues stammering in protest, whereupon the Little Bear uses the thin end to sketch out a cutout-animated reminder of what happened between them on Monday. To begin with, he thrashes his initial sketch of the Big Bear towards the real deal, the impact causing it to oscillate back and collide with a sketch of the Little Bear in a sure approximation of how he intruded upon the Little Bear that day. Then, the reenactment of how they played tram all the way into the evening begins: in swift order, the Big Bear squishes the Little Bear down and remolds him into the tram, then hops into him, squishes his hat down into a conductor’s hat, and begins repeatedly pulling at the Little Bear’s tail to force him to drive around a stump over and over again while shouting “cink-cink”, eventually making him go so fast that they become a smear of airbrushes speeding around the stump to increasingly sped-up “cink-cink” sounds! The end result of all this pulling: the Little Bear’s tail becomes extremely stretched-out (a nice touch is how the very last “cink” sound is significantly lower-pitched, the contrast emphasizing the Little Bear’s shock as he discovers what has happened to his tail), and he has no choice but to accept the Big Bear’s solution of trimming his tail with a pair of scissors, covering his eyes and then jumping up in pain as the deed is done.
As the Little Bear sticks his rear out and lifts his shirt to reveal the wound hasn’t healed, even the Big Bear is forced to admit it was “a bit of a one-sided game” as he gently rubs the wound, a nevertheless marginalizing remark that provokes the Little Bear to unleash his lollipop’s true purpose: he drives off the Big Bear by pointing the candy spear right at him, scoffing at the idea that it was just a bit one-sided! As he returns to licking it, he gives the ultimate condemnation of the Big Bear’s games as being “very and blushingly crafty games” (the actual term he uses which I have translated as “blushingly” is “do růžova”, literally meaning “into the pink”; it is used in the idiom “vyspat se do růžova”, which means to have a good night’s sleep, and a more detailed explanation can be found here), his anger such that he ends up biting the whole spear into his mouth and chewing it loudly to relieve some of his fury; just as he begins binge-eating his other candies to do so while lecturing the Big Bear on how he should play games like planting and watering, however, the Big Bear, having already taken note of the Little Bear’s candies, stretches his head out horizontally (his body already in a rectangular form), turning himself into a clunky robot that immediately captivates the Little Bear.
Stepping towards the Little Bear with its elongating legs, the Big Bear robot extends its mouth out to take his candy in, chewing it up and making alert noises before its left eye begins spinning like a cog as it “prints” out a spiral of orange wrapper paper. Enchanted by this, the Little Bear claps his hands in approval, whereupon the robot beckons with its elongated, biting mouth for more; slightly intimidated at first, the Little Bear nevertheless takes out a pink candy and dangles it playfully in front of the robot before tossing it into its mouth, with the robot in turn firing out a series of pink transforming strings that spiral and explode into confetti as it chews! For a moment, it seems the Big Bear has found a new way to trick the Little Bear out of his candies.
But as the extended version of the series’s theme song starts up, the Little Bear proves quite crafty himself as he begins milking as much enjoyment as he can from the game: he plays hard-to-get with his candy as he steps back gaily in the face of the robot’s advance, eventually even dancing along to the music as he does so! His excitement is such that at one point he accidentally stumbles and falls flat onto the ground, in turn tripping the robot over onto its head; the uncommon grace and sprightliness with which the Little Bear continues moving around afterwards, in particular the downright balletic way he scrambles his legs in mid-air as he jumps before taking off towards the billboard, beautifully conveys the fun he is having at the contrastingly mechanical Big Bear’s expense. As he jumps up onto the billboard, the Little Bear continues teasing the robot below with his candy, causing it to stretch its neck up so that its head is on the same level as the Little Bear; this proves ineffective, however, as the robot is unable to move its head further in to actually reach the Little Bear. Now in a position of relative safety, the Little Bear gleefully sticks his tongue out at the robot (another trademark scornful gesture of Pojar’s!) as it falls for his last tease even so.
Thus begins the Little Bear’s own unusually well-thought-out version of the game, in which he eats his candies and leaves only the wrappers themselves for the robot to create its stellar paper fireworks. With just a single light blue wrapper, the robot fires out a flowing river that splashes all over and eventually turns to mist; three wrappers at once, meanwhile, results in two jubilant bursts of multi-colored confetti, the first of which circles above the Little Bear for him to throw back at the robot and the second of which spews all over him as, in a final effort to get what it wants, the robot brings its head back down, steps back, and tries charging up the side of the billboard personally (in the brief pause between the latter two actions, its head slides forth as its mouth extends out and chomps repeatedly, as though revving itself up to attack the Little Bear and feast on his candies)—suffice to say, gravity brings it down for good, and to add insult to injury the Little Bear throws the second burst of confetti back at him as well! As Pojar conveys through this interlude, with a little bit of practicality and child-like wonder, even bizarre situations like being chased by a robot can be grand opportunities to have fun, and even superfluous objects like candy wrappers can be turned into something far more beautiful.
Fed up with how his robot form has failed to nab the Little Bear’s candies, the Big Bear reverts to his real form and springs up (in an impressive defiance of gravity after having been thwarted by it as a robot, he propels himself using only his arms and the force of his body) to drag the Little Bear down from the billboard; as with the Little Bear’s earlier performance, the sheer gracefulness with which the Big Bear rises up and takes the Little Bear into his arms makes for a dazzlingly balletic expression of the fun he is having, even if his motivations are decidedly more sordid. After the two Bears tumble all over each other for a bit, it is not long before, in the midst of a direct scuffle between their arms for a piece of candy, the Big Bear takes a conveniently-placed pot and shoves it over the Little Bear’s head—a blatant cheat that allows him to steal not only the candy in the Little Bear’s hand, but also most of the pieces in his green bag.
As the Big Bear backs away with his loot and stares at it delightfully, the Little Bear angrily declares that this game is yet craftier than all the ones before it, pulling the pot off only with great effort and throwing it away (in an interesting audio gaffe, the portion of his statement before he pulls it off is muffled, even though the pot is not covering his snout at all). But just as it seems the Big Bear is going to return the Little Bear’s previous teasing in kind, he instead reassures him that it was just fun, returning all the candies to the Little Bear’s bag as he declares he found a more clever game; as covetous as he is, the Big Bear would rather steal from the Little Bear using trickier, more underhanded and (literally) playful techniques than outright robbery, not least because it is easier to manipulate him into accepting his losses that way.
Cartwheeling over to the side and standing on his arms, the Big Bear suggests they play humans as they go to the water on Sunday; he taps on his head in a reference to our superior intelligence (aha), then propels himself back onto his two feet to take on a more civilized pose in that regard as he continues explaining, even nodding slightly to affirm how attractive his idea is. The Little Bear immediately nods his head “yes” and jumps forth, shouting that they’ll play that, but then moves into a thinking pose, turning towards the Big Bear and nodding his head again in a desire to know just how humans go to the water; in yet another example of how the dialogue must have been recorded separately from the animation early on in the series, he goes into his pensive mode even as the audio track still has him shouting joyfully. At this, the Big Bear simply shrugs, feeling that humans went with something; to demonstrate some possibilities, he stretches himself upwards like a rubber band and then releases himself such that he is squashed down into a weird saucer-like alien, which then gives way to a motor scooter that circles around the Little Bear.
At first, the Little Bear is not at all amused at the idea of more vehicles (even swatting scornfully at the motor scooter as it passes by), having already put up with more than enough abuse from the Big Bear in that regard. Today, however, is different: the Big Bear has decided he will be the vehicle, transforming into an old-fashioned car, and the Little Bear will be the human, to whom he tips his hat off in deference. To further entice the Little Bear, the Big Bear begins acting as a car showroom salesman, transforming into all kinds of vehicles—including a locomotive and even a singing camel!—as he continues circling around the Little Bear and shilling the models he supposedly has in stock.
As the Little Bear remains skeptical, the Big Bear finally becomes a unique, slightly flexible car with a pointy snout-bumper and drives up to him directly, pulling his windshield up and encouraging him to flick the starter so they’ll be off. This gesture, which allows the Little Bear to see the Big Bear’s vehicular willingness for himself and even caress his bumper up close, at last enthuses him in favor of the game again, such that he immediately rushes out to bring back his large hat and, continuing to jump excitedly, drag an entire bag of refreshments and bathing supplies and a swim ring in; in an entertaining time-saving measure, he swings the heavy load such that he throws himself and everything else into the vehicular Big Bear, who is shaken quite violently from the force of the landing! Once he settles down, the Little Bear rises up and takes hold of the Big Bear’s cap-wheel as the car starts up rattlingly, and they head off into the deep woods, with the Little Bear driving recklessly enough that he nearly runs over a family of rabbits (who, after jumping out of the way, become curious about what the Bears are up to this time and follow them). This marks the first major change in Miroslav Štěpánek’s scenery for the series, as the deep-red sponge textures of the rather deforested play area give way to the fuzzier, more vegetation-dense and flower-decorated teal-green forests (which also feature sporadic patches of red, adding to their beauty), and Bukový provides a peaceful little oboe-led waltz to go along with it; at the center of it all is a shimmering lake that reflects the sun from on high, and comes with a homemade wooden diving board on its left side.
(If I had to guess how the lake water was created, I would say that the reflections seen in the lake (of the grasses, the sun, and the diving board) were painted on the bottom sides of several different pieces of opaque blue glass, resulting in several different renderings of the water; at any given time, a single glass with the objects would always be placed beneath the rest of the set to serve as the lake, and Vladimír Malík would then switch the glass out every frame, creating the shimmering effect seen in the final film. A close analysis of the initial establishing shot of the lake reveals that specific renderings of the water can show up in at least two different frames at completely different times, with no cycle whatsoever (the renderings of the lake that precede and follow those frames are never identical)—and the water’s position relative to the set and even its lighting can be slightly different between the frames. Open the two screenshots below in different tabs and switch between them to see!)
But just as the Little Bear jumps down excitedly from the vehicular Big Bear, pulls his shirt off, runs over to the lake, and tries to jump in, the Big Bear pulls him back by his swim ring, asking if he has ever seen what humans do by the water on Sundays; in a testament how eager the Little Bear is to go swimming, he has to be reined in twice, and on the second time, the Big Bear has to stretch the ring so hard to drag the Little Bear back that, upon releasing it, the ring snaps right back to its original shape around the Little Bear’s neck, joggling his head forcefully and squashily-stretchily. Taking out an assortment of cleaning supplies, the Big Bear reveals the ugly side of his game as he forbids the Little Bear from swimming—the Little Bear, as the human car owner, is obligated to instead use the water to wash his vehicle, the Big Bear. It is the first of a number of attempted jabs at the ridiculousness of vehicular maintenance that the film will make as the Big Bear once again overwhelms the Little Bear into doing his bidding, this time with the justification that the problems he creates, and the coddling he gets out of it, are the kinds of things actual car owners have to deal with on a regular basis. Unable to hide his disappointment, the Little Bear shuffles backwards as he drags the bucket off towards the lake, staring at the Big Bear as he does so, and throws off his swim ring, which makes a sad, quiet whimpering sound as it bounces on the ground.
Back at the lake, the Little Bear cannot help but look on at a rabbit that enjoys itself carefreely on the other side, testing the waters with its feet and then jumping in (notice how the water/splashing effects are painted in contrast to the realistic-looking lake, how the rabbit leaves no reflection in the lake whatsoever, and how cleanly its animation cuts off where necessary to create the impression that it is actually interacting with the lake, as though they were all filmed separately and then carefully composited together; this also goes for later shots with the rabbits in the lake, and the fact that this multi-media compositing works is surely indicative of Pojar’s and Štěpánek’s ingenuity with regards to the visuals), only to be promptly interrupted by the Big Bear’s directions on how to wash him. He briefly glances at the bucket to make sure it is filled, then takes it up and tosses the water onto the Big Bear, after which he uses the two brushes to thoroughly scrub the Big Bear from left to right, covering the two of them in bubbles; whereas the Little Bear can only shake the bubbles off using his own body, the Big Bear gets to be rinsed off with another bucketful of water and meticulously dried with a towel rubdown, and in what is probably only a slight stretch from here, the Big Bear even flips himself over and makes the Little Bear rub down his underside as well (his vehicular body curving up in pleasure as he gets his stomach rubbed).
Rushing to get the job done, the Little Bear jumps and stomps down onto the tube of metal polish cream to squirt it at the Big Bear, then even sprays him with copious amounts of perfume as he glances back at the lake, noticing that the rabbit playing there has now been joined by a friend. With that, anxious to begin swimming as soon as possible, the Little Bear puts the perfume bottle down and kicks all the supplies away, then rubs his hands in excitement, niftily stomps his heel on the edge of his swim ring to flip it onto himself (raising his arms up right as it is about to land to insert himself through it instantly), and scrambles off towards the lake—only to be dragged back and given a head-joggling by the Big Bear once again as he tries to jump in, this time with a demand that he be taken into the shade lest all his tires crack from over-exposure to sunlight. But the Big Bear represents the ultimate outcome by way of a completely different cause: he over-inflates his tire to such a ridiculous extent that it becomes larger than the Little Bear, with the inevitable burst knocking him away!
As the Little Bear is seemingly bounced from something off-screen to twirl back in (his apathetic pose even as he flies in certainly does not look like he jumped in himself), the Big Bear takes out a hand pump and connects it to his flat tire, and the Little Bear obliges as he tries twice to re-inflate it—but to no avail. (The disconnect between the spoken dialogue and the visuals is particularly obvious here, as Deyl’s narration goes further ahead and has the Big Bear conclude that his tire needs to be patched up before he even takes the pump out in the first place.) The Big Bear then suggests he be given chewing gum, on the basis that it might be absorbed into the wheel to patch up any holes; at this, the Little Bear takes a stick of Clark’s Tendermint from the bag, pulls it out of the wrapper, and feeds it to the Big Bear. In what appears to be a particularly strange animation mistake, however, the Little Bear’s renewed inflation of the supposedly-strengthened tire has no effect whatsoever, even as he slows his pumping down towards the end as though trying to get the tire to just the right size; he then takes another look at the lake as he wipes his brow, finding not only a third, taller rabbit swimming in the water as the two smaller ones repeatedly take turns on the diving board—but also a subliminal pro-peace message that appears for a single frame! (“I vote for PEACE!”—at a time when tensions between the United States and the Soviet Union were quite high, and before the Prague Spring took place, to boot! For what it’s worth, Pojar himself was apparently surprised to discover years later that the message was there.)
After pushing the now fully-inflated vehicular Big Bear beneath a tree and, knowing it is rather barren, flinging his big hat onto the branch above him to provide some extra shade, the Little Bear attempts once more to rub his hands excitedly and march off to the lake, only to be promptly run over and flattened by the Big Bear—he has no parking brake! The Little Bear pulls him back from sinking into the lake just in time, and pushes him back to the tree as the rabbits come over and begin watching this latest spectacle; his attempt to enforce a brake by placing a stone in front of the Big Bear’s tire (note how he pats it to make sure it is tightly secured) does not prevent the Big Bear from simply going backwards instead, resulting in a veritable circus of humiliation (accompanied by some lively flute jazz) as he bounces to and fro between the trees, never missing an opportunity to flatten the Little Bear and bounce him like a ball using his swim ring (this is a blatant continuity error, incidentally, as he was not wearing it in the shots just prior to this!), eventually even felling a tree just to get to him and then using said tree as a platform to slide up the adjacent tree so that he can run into the lake again (and to add insult to injury, in doing so he knocks the Little Bear’s big hat off from where it had previously been placed for shade as well)!
At the last possible moment, the Little Bear prevents him from drowning by throwing his swim ring into the lake; as it flies in, it is already stretched out to accommodate the Big Bear. Predictably, the Big Bear now refuses to exit the water and give the ring back to the Little Bear, instead outright cackling as he mockingly tells him to come in too, causing him to shuffle away with more than a little unsettlement. With all the time and energy that has already been taken from the Little Bear in his attempts to care for his car, perhaps the logical conclusion is to just let his vehicle swim at his expense, especially now that he has nothing to protect himself from drowning if he tries to go against the situation.
For a while, the Little Bear just stands there, saddened—and also frustrated, as evidenced by the way he swats away a bee that goes near him—that he is unable to go swimming. Taking a look at the Big Bear and the rabbits splashing around in the water, he glances to his side and, realizing subtly that he still has some comfort in the sodas he brought along with him, takes a bottle from his bag, smiling a little as he opens it and prepares to drink it—only to unleash the dilemma faced by all picnic-goers who bring sugary liquids with them, as the bee returns to try and satiate its attraction to the soda (with Bukový bringing in a louder, brass-driven version of the earlier flute music to accompany the struggle that ensues from here). Surprisingly, the Little Bear displays quite a bit of know-how in dealing with this situation at first: after trying to shoo the bee away without actually hitting it lest it be provoked into stinging him, he goes out and grabs a flower, the nectar of which manages to draw the bee away, and he does the same for a second bee as well. Eventually, though, too many bees gather around the soda, forcing the Little Bear to reach out (taking advantage of how he can stretch his arm infinitely) for the bucket so he can trap the bees in it; he makes the mistake, however, of trying to sit on it afterwards, causing the combined force of the flying bees to carry him up into the air and then drop him as they continue flying up with the bucket. This makes way for the real kicker: just as the Little Bear thinks the bees are gone for good (swatting at the air in a “good riddance” gesture, of course), shakes his soda to make it extra-fizzy in anticipation of drinking it, and starts putting it to his mouth—the bucket is dropped right over his head, blocking him and riling him up just long enough for the Big Bear to return and take the soda away (immediately guzzling it all up) on the premise that he needs gasoline and oil!
At last, the Little Bear tries protesting, pointing out that soda is obviously not gasoline or oil, to which the vehicular Big Bear, no doubt taking it for granted now (after everything else he has gotten away with) that the Little Bear will ultimately have to accept anything he does, simply retorts that he runs on everything as he begins scarfing down all the drinks and snacks left in the bag, even taking the bucket away from the Little Bear so he can pour the rest of the soda out—leaving the Little Bear only his shirt as he places the emptied bag on his back, declaring it is time to go home lest they get caught in the Sunday evening traffic. And indeed, as the Little Bear goes to take another look at the lake, he is unpleasantly jolted by how the sun is already setting, with the rabbits finishing up their playtime—this beautiful sunset view of the lake, accompanied by some solemn, morose horn music that conveys the feeling of defeat the Little Bear must be feeling, seems to have been accomplished using some darker, orange-tinted lighting on Vladimír Malík’s and Jan Švarc’s part, as well as a different set of orange glass layers for the lake (which, assuming my theory on how the lake was created is correct, would have been necessary to show the sun setting anyhow; as a matter of fact, even the reflections of the tall grasses as presumably painted beneath the glass layers are different from those seen during the day, in spite of how the grasses themselves remain the same, and the diving board’s reflection is missing outright).
As Malík’s and Švarc’s atmospheric sunset lighting overtakes the rest of the forest, the Little Bear reluctantly hops onto the Big Bear car, regretful that he was unable to swim for even a second as he takes one last look at the lake and the rabbits getting up to leave, and puts his shirt back on in resignation before driving off. But the Big Bear, alas, is not quite done tormenting him with worst-case scenarios yet: in a perverse parallel to how the Little Bear ran out of steam in the first entry, as he is driven up a gentle slope, he repeatedly stops and sputters and ultimately refuses to go on, declaring he has probably broken down as he halts and throws the Little Bear off. In some particularly eccentric examples of his practicality, the Big Bear takes out a trumpet for the Little Bear to use as a faux-stethoscope to find out what is wrong with him, as he reverts his front right wheel to his arm to raise himself like a jack stand would.
Sure enough, the Little Bear realizes that the rabbits are watching this humiliating sight, and turns towards them angrily, his arms trembling as he does so. They scurry behind a tree, but then start giggling loudly and mockingly as they continue watching for a moment and then walk away coyly, much to the Little Bear’s rage as he shakes his fist at them. This scene may be one of the most stinging bits of social commentary in the Bears series: too often, society at large sees situations of manipulation and abuse merely as sources of cheap entertainment and gossip, and those who are victimized by them as fools or laughing stocks, without ever stopping to consider the potentially tragic and sordid reasons why they may be like that, much less trying to help in any way. The Little Bear, for his part, is unable to shake off what he feels is his obligation to play with the Big Bear to the very end once the game has begun, even knowing that doing so will only make things worse for him; but how can he, when the default response to his life being made miserable is to simply laugh at him and move on?
In the end, some consolation for the Little Bear comes from a rather unexpected source. Having spent the entire evening having to push the vehicular Big Bear back home with just one hand while holding his bag in the other (and having already gestured some clear exasperation when he was told to do so), it is already nighttime when they arrive back at the tree where they slept at the beginning of the film, with Malík and Švarc lighting the set only minimally to give the impression of moonlight shining down upon the dark, shadowy woodland; Bukový brings this denouement a peaceful, somewhat melancholic mandolin rendition of the series’s theme song backed by an organ. The Big Bear is already asleep as he is pushed up against what had previously been the Little Bear’s side of the tree to revert to his true form (it is the first side of the tree that they encounter upon their return home, making it the most convenient for the Little Bear to place him so he can finally end the game), after which the Little Bear, placing the bag next to him as he wipes his brow (evidently making sure everything is in order before he goes to sleep), stumbles off tiredly to what had been the Big Bear’s side of the tree and falls asleep himself, with one hand over his head as though suffering a headache from everything that has happened—and indeed, even in his sleep, he suffers and thrashes around from vivid cutout nightmares that repeat everything the Big Bear has done to him. Soon, these loud nightmare bubbles break free from the Little Bear and begin floating up, waking the sleeping blue bird once more.
Perhaps the bird sees something of its own nightmares caused by the Big Bear in this latest disturbance and realizes the Little Bear is, in truth, being severely disturbed himself; for, rather than retaliating against the Little Bear, it discovers that the nightmares can be popped into bubbles, and from there flies down to the Little Bear to pop the nightmares right at their source before they can break free. This brings peace of mind to the Little Bear, who is at last able to sleep happily and comfortably; with this matter settled in a way that benefits both of them, the bird itself returns to sleep as, in a beautiful sight, the bubbles from the popped nightmares continue to float up, finally coming together to form “KONEC”—a direly needed end.
In many ways a far more mean-spirited film than its predecessor, How They Went To the Water (to use a more literal translation of the title) is most interesting in its first half before the titular plot is set in motion. Not only do we get a closer look at the woodland society, but the Little Bear reveals he is fed up with the Big Bear’s exploitation, and proceeds to turn his robotic game on its head in a strangely balletic, even poetic manner. Alas, this newfound resistance dissipates once the Big Bear takes the supposedly subservient position for himself in the car game, this cosmetic difference winning the simple-minded Little Bear over long enough to pull him into what proves to be the craftiest game of them all.
In this respect, the second half of the film is a misfired experiment at using the Bears purely as vehicles (pun intended) for satire; it goes too far in simplifying their overall personalities in service to the gags, especially after the first half had already developed them even further, with the Big Bear being particularly contemptible here as he relentlessly prevents the Little Bear from enjoying himself by pulling out the most bizarre—and self-serving—automotive problems imaginable. The exclusive focus on the Big Bear’s vehicular form also puts a damper on the Bears’ most valuable asset as characters—namely, their unlimited ability to do anything their imaginations can come up with—and this sadly deprives the film of a large amount of the visual inventiveness and fun that its predecessor had in droves. Viewed today, what comes through most strongly now is not the automotive satire, but the Big Bear’s (and the rabbits’) exceeding unpleasantness towards the Little Bear, which the bird does at least try to mitigate in the end; as enjoyable as it may be, Pojar was wise to dial the Big Bear’s tricks back, or at least give them a more playful touch, in all his future entries for the Bears series.
Princesses are Not to Be Sniffed At / K princeznám se nečuchá (1965)
Having based the first two entries on the premise that the Bears’ activities were simply their games, with their respective personalities defining the roles they played, Pojar decided to pursue a more intricate character study in his third and final entry for the first Bears series. This time, he would eschew the framing device of the Bears consciously engaging in playtime, as well as the crutch of Rudolf Deyl Jr.’s storybook-like narration, allowing the Bears to act and speak for themselves; in this regard, Deyl’s voice for the Big Bear would be somewhat heavier and fuller-sounding from this point on, furthering the impression that he is older than the Little Bear. From there, he would take the Big Bear’s trickery far beyond mere crafty games: he would delude the Little Bear outright into believing that his fake fairy-tale view of the situation at hand, and the quest he puts the Little Bear on in an attempt to distract him, are reality. Hence, both the Big Bear’s blatant cynicism and the Little Bear’s naïveté would be placed in direct conflict with each other through a unceasing, spontaneous variety of well-timed gags, setpieces, and transformations, enabled by Pojar’s heightened attention to detail as director and his animators’ mastery of Štěpánek’s technology; the result is, perhaps, the pinnacle of the entire Bears canon.
Pojar’s ability to wring comedy out of any situation is evident right from the moment the rabbits tear open the last title card in the opening credits and get thrown off-screen, whereupon, in a fun gag that would never be seen again, they are bounced right back to crash into each other—Pojar uses the ambiguity of the earthy red backgrounds to brilliant effect here, as it goes from being the ground on which the rabbits stood as they dealt with the credits to merely the scenery behind them, leaving them to fall into the river below as they now collide high in mid-air. As the rabbits swim to the surface, we see the Bears fishing on the other side of the river, with the Little Bear standing enthusiastically and the Big Bear sitting in a more relaxed position; the Little Bear, upset by the rabbits’ disturbance of the water, lifts himself up and tells them to be quiet, shaking his fist as he does so, then brings himself back down to continue concentrating on his fishing. (The river looks to have been created similarly to the lake in the previous entry; this time, however, the shadows beneath the river seem to be placed on their own fixed layer beneath the opaque blue glass representing the water, as they appropriately remain constant even when the same glass is slid across the set with each frame to create the impression of a flowing river. Additionally, a “psst” sound is heard from the Little Bear as the rabbits begin swimming, which contradicts how the Little Bear only seems to notice after the film cuts to him and the Big Bear; given that, as we shall see, almost everything else about the animation has been perfectly honed by this time, the lingering moments in which it remains aloof from the actual soundtrack are all the more unusual.)
As the rabbits climb out of the water, they begin stepping away carefully while staring back at the Little Bear, as though trying to keep as quiet as possible and making sure he isn’t bothered enough to go after them; one of them has a string-attached hook caught in its shirt. What this could be immediately becomes obvious in the very next shot, as the bobber attached to the Little Bear’s fishing rod begins shaking; in his excitement, the Little Bear taps on the Big Bear to grab his attention (conveniently using his stretchable arm) as he believes he has caught a fat fish, only to yank on the one rabbit, pulling it back into the water (much to his confusion, and the Big Bear’s amusement). The other rabbit happily pulls its companion back out of the water, whereupon the soaked rabbit responds to the Little Bear in kind, yanking the string attached to the bobber to pull him (as he is still holding the fishing rod) into the river himself! (Note how the Big Bear quickly steps back to avoid the splash of water, a testament to his cunning reflexes.) This swift and funny reprisal meted out, the rabbits walk off contentedly as the Little Bear leaps out of the water and shakes his fist at them again, berating them as ragamuffins and earies, before turning back to himself in a thoughtful state, perhaps wondering what could have gone wrong. (Once again, the dialogue track does not quite match with the animation here, as the Little Bear’s loud insults are heard just as he begins transitioning from shaking his fist to becoming pensive, when it seems he is supposed to be shouting them right as he shakes his fist at the rabbits.)
The Big Bear, letting out a scornful chuckle, remarks sardonically that fishes aren’t long-eared and usually live underwater, all the while lifting his fishing rod up to check if his bait is gone and then recasting it—he certainly isn’t one to talk, as, in a more subtle visual gag, he uses a whole apple as his bait, taking the concept of using a worm as bait a little too far. In an unintentional reprisal of his own (and yet another excellent example of Pojar exploiting every possible opportunity for physical comedy), the Little Bear, shaking the water off of his body as he prepares to continue fishing, casts his rod such that the string moves back and hooks the Big Bear’s ear, causing him to howl in pain as his ear is stretched and repeatedly yanked by the Little Bear in his attempts to fling his line into the river! Immediately, the Little Bear notices and looks back with his hand on his mouth in surprise, then turns back slowly while maintaining that gesture, eyes peering at the Big Bear, as though realizing he is in trouble with him; the Big Bear, in turn, reiterates that they usually catch fish in water as he takes the hook off of his ear, angrily throws it on the ground, and beats on his chest, the latter two actions emphasizing his repeat of “in water” to make sure the Little Bear understands (though beating one’s own chest is a strange thing to do when trying to emphasize the water; it seems he was animated in the expectation that he would say “not ME!”).
Now getting the message, the Little Bear casts his rod much more carefully, swinging the line with the bobber and hook behind him a few times as he prepares to swing the rod forward—whereupon, as he does so, the hook gets caught in the bottom of his own shirt, lifting him up in apparent defiance of gravity (or a demonstration of what a light teddy bear he is!) as his own shirt gets pulled off and cast into the river as his bait! Surprisingly, this ends up being just what the Little Bear needs: a fish makes its way up from the bottom of the river, curious about the T-shirt that has just entered, and soon finds itself inside the shirt as it begins swimming gracefully in a circle. (It looks as though the shirt and the fish were animated on a layer just below the glass representing the surface of the water, but above the shadows.) As the Little Bear begins trying to pull the fish out, he attempts to ask the Big Bear if fish wear clothes and prods him in that regard (once again using his conveniently stretchable arm), a question which the Big Bear naturally scoffs off in the midst of his own unsuccessful attempts to fish using apple bait; when the Little Bear qualifies that the fish is “trying on my T-shirt”, pointing at it and then further prodding the Big Bear as he says so, the annoyed Big Bear decides to mock the Little Bear by making a circling gesture on his forehead (complete with a “bzz-bzz” sound) as though he has gone mad, then steps further away from him. Even before the titular plot has begun, the two Bears’ different worldviews are already in conflict with each other.
At last, the Little Bear successfully pulls the shirt-wrapped fish out of the water, and Pojar does not miss the opportunity for a manic, intricately choreographed chase (complete with very skittish music by Bukový) afterwards: as soon as it lands on solid ground, the fish jumps out of the T-shirt and bounces off of the Big Bear, squishing him as it does so, followed immediately by the Little Bear crashing through him in mad pursuit of the fish, causing him to twirl in the air! These violations of the Big Bear are then switched as the chase heads back in the opposite direction—this time, the fish twirls him around as it slips under him, and the Little Bear squishes him as he leaps after the fish on all fours! After they leap off of the Big Bear one more time (with the Little Bear this time proving himself much heavier than the fish), the Little Bear manages to grab ahold of the fish, whereupon it starts squirming madly to escape his grasp; its strength is felt by the Little Bear on a visceral level, as his head squashes-and-stretches frightfully with each squirm. Soon, the fish slips through the Little Bear’s hands onto the ground and jumps further away (with the Big Bear ducking and shielding his face so as not to be squished again!) as he attempts to leap after it again, and the Little Bear’s high-speed dash after it from there (the Big Bear also jumping so as not to be twirled again as he passes!) not only causes him to trip over his lingering T-shirt (remember that?) into the river but also sends the fish flying high up in the air, with the Big Bear peering up at it even as he has somehow quickly settled back into his own fishing (notice how he gets up tiredly from a lying position to look at it, too, in spite of never appearing in that position in any of the prior fishing scenes—perhaps this shot was an already-filmed leftover from a differently-conceived version of the chase, used because, in their need to fulfill the production plan, Pojar and his team could not use any more resources to film a more appropriate version?). Finally, the Little Bear scrambles out of the river, only to trip over his T-shirt such that it ties his feet together; luckily, just as he gets up and peers left and right wondering where the fish has gone, it falls right on his head (squishing him, of course) and bounces off to land right in his hands, stiff and lifeless. Realizing he has won as he stares down at the fish and blinks, he turns to the Big Bear with a look of quiet triumph and satisfaction on his face.
At first, the Big Bear angrily disparages the Little Bear’s fish for all the trouble it has caused, his arm shaking as he dismisses it as a small “fishie” and declares he’ll throw it back in the river, to which the Little Bear shakes his head “no” as he happily bakes it on a metal peel held over a newly-built campfire; to the Little Bear, all that matters is that he has some sustenance of his own. Just as the Big Bear makes a particularly nasty remark about how the Little Bear is pleased “to spit small bones all the time”, however, he finds himself sniffing two sketchily-rendered scent clouds emanating from the baked fish and enjoying them; as the Little Bear passes him with the baked fish, he attempts to take in a third scent cloud, only to have it deservedly sniffed away by the Little Bear in a nice extra gag at his expense.
The Little Bear continues to show his own practicality as he prepares to dine on his fish. He pulls a tablecloth out from behind a large stump and spreads it over the stump to form his table, placing the peel with the fish on top of it, then proceeds to set his faux-table: he takes some utensils from behind the stump and places them on the sides of the peel, then takes a roll of challah bread from his green bag and places it above the peel, and finally he runs off-screen and comes back in with a bouquet of flowers, his bag now serving as a convenient sort of vase to complete his table.
The envious Big Bear, looking back down at his bobber and realizing what a waste of time his fishing has been, decides to give it up: he pulls his apple bait back up, takes a chomp out of it so that it can have some use in the end (notice how sharp his teeth are, as a bear’s should be!), then angrily throws it onto the ground and leaves his rod behind as he moves in closer to the Little Bear’s table. Unsurprisingly, he grins as he stares down at the fish, licking his lips hungrily and covetously with his hand placed beneath his snout as though pondering how delicious it must be, then looks up at the Little Bear, who rubs his hands in anticipation as he sits down at the table, takes his utensils, and sharpens them on each other with relish as he prepares to dig in.
Suffice to say, before the Little Bear can get in so much as a single slice, he is immediately stopped by the Big Bear and his swatting, scolding arm; to his confusion, he is told to look at how beautifully the fish stares with its sad little eye. This seemingly inconsequential close-up of the Big Bear, as he points emphatically at the fish’s eye, marks a significant step forward in the development of the series’s visuals: for the first time, the Bears’ mouths actually move as their dialogue is spoken. To be sure, the effect is still imperfect, as Pojar and his animators have not yet gone as far as to actually synchronize the mouth movements to the spoken dialogue; indeed, as seen here and elsewhere in this entry, the mouths were animated as though they are speaking pure gibberish, with not the slightest attempt at lip-sync (notice, for one, how the Big Bear’s mouth keeps moving even after the dialogue stops).
In any case, the absurdity of the Big Bear’s proposition is such that even the fish itself comes back alive for a moment, grinning and giggling as it points out (its mouth also animated) how it could have a “sad little eye” when it is already baked. Armed with this reassuring factoid, the Little Bear, too, happily questions the Big Bear’s latest nonsensical attempt at tricking him, then immediately returns to sharpening his utensils to dig in; hastily, the Big Bear swats his utensils away once more, blurting out “because” to stall for time as he tries coming up with why a baked fish would have such an eye. Sure enough, within a few seconds, he smiles and nods his head in realization, and points at the fish’s eye with newfound authority as he declares it’s because the fish is enchanted; once more, the fish giggles and grins, questioning how it could be enchanted when it is, of course, baked, and the Little Bear, ever slow to realize the obvious, reacts to this common sense with fascination as though it were some major revelation, repeating it happily to the Big Bear as he did with the fish’s previous statement.
It is then, however, that the Big Bear declares that the fish is baked only for fifth-rank, failing students, dramatically pausing and banging on the stump-table with a pair of glasses to punctuate his point—all of a sudden, he has become an arrogant schoolteacher, donning said glasses and stretching his beanie into a bowtie on his neck to get the impression across! (5 is the lowest grade one can get in the Czech and Slovak school systems, equivalent to an F in the American school system.) Putting his foot forth, he stretches his body diagonally towards the increasingly intimidated Little Bear in the true fashion of an authoritarian teacher, wagging his finger as he denounces him for not paying attention as they were supposedly learning: “a fish, that has a sad little eye, is no fish, but an enchanted princess.” In a further step towards the refinement of the Bears’ animation, we see that, in a major first for the series, as the Big Bear recites his fake lesson and ensures the Little Bear gets it for good, his character acting actually corresponds with the emphatic rhythm of the dialogue: he takes the Little Bear’s fork away as he says “a fish”, recedes back to his original height as he starts to say “a sad little eye”, zips over to the Little Bear’s side right as he says “není” (the form of “is” used for negative connotations in Czech), then begins stretching his body up such that he outright towers over the cowed Little Bear (again, much like a real teacher with whom a kid has gotten in serious trouble!) as he says “no fish”, raises his fist with the fork up in anticipation of abusively bashing the lesson into the Little Bear’s head as he says “but”, and finally not only does so twice but even takes up the peel with the fish and bangs it on the Little Bear’s head for good measure—these last few actions all in synchrony with, and perfectly accentuating, his concluding “an enchanted princess”! He makes sure to add “Be it live…” as he hands the peel back to the Little Bear while lowering his height, walks off silently and pensively with his hands behind his back—and rapidly turns around to further add “…or baked!”, raising his finger shakingly as though stressing an important scientific principle. With this impressive performance finished—perhaps Pojar had begun pre-recording the dialogue for pivotal scenes like this, using it in his demonstrations to Boris Masník or one of the Procházkas to come up with richer, more specific and effective character acting for them to translate to the animation (remember, the talented Masník was deaf-mute, with his animation typically being based on close observation of Pojar’s movements as he acted out a scene)—the Big Bear reverts to normal; he blinks and smiles at first as he playfully maintains a thinking pose, but his face quickly takes on a look of concern as he nervously scratches his cheek, uncertain as to whether he has actually fooled the Little Bear.
As Bukový starts up an eerie, supernatural-sounding drone, the Little Bear nods and slowly turns back towards the fish, standing up as he tries to look at it differently while Vladimír Malík zooms in on it. Sure enough, in a reflection of the Little Bear’s own developing view, the fish begins fading back and forth between its real form and a more beautiful, princess-like form, underscored by an elegant fairy-tale-like theme played by a flute (specifically its lower notes) and harp; on its second appearance, the fish-like princess even fades its eyes open beckoningly towards the Little Bear, with the fade effect creating a sense of ethereal wonder that would have been missing had it simply been animated opening its eyes.
Convinced by this long look that the fish is indeed a princess, the Little Bear enthusiastically takes it up and brings it over to the once-again professorial Big Bear, who, briefly giggling to himself over the Little Bear’s newfound delusion, feigns a cold, scientific indifference as the Little Bear excitedly tries to convince him to come along so they can perform heroism and rescue the princess, jumping and prodding him and even pulling at his arms left and right. Keeping the act up for a bit longer, the Big Bear scratches his head and chin as he wonders how they could perform heroism near Kolín, finally returning to his regular form and playfully jabbing the Little Bear with his glasses (in yet more charismatic showmanship, he takes them off by bobbing his head such that they twirl around in the air a little before falling into his hand) as he declares they must set out for a dragon; in another fine example of his practicality, he reaches out for the peel and slams it on his head, turning it into a protective metal hat as he nods in affirmation of their cause.
Similar to the previous entry, the Little Bear jumps up excitedly and shouts “yes”, nodding energetically, only to stop and waver in some remarkably subtle character acting (another scene created using pre-recorded dialogue?) after remembering how their previous games went. He figures that, in keeping with the established pattern, the Big Bear will be the knight, slowly shaking his head “no” as he thinks of this, and from there he himself will be his horse, raising his hand up and then swatting it towards the Big Bear out of distaste for the idea as he begins shuffling away.
Of course, the Big Bear immediately reassures the Little Bear that the opposite will be the case, waving his hand “no” to his guesses as he pulls him back, and commences a grand, resourceful beknighting to stroke the Little Bear’s ego and make him comfortable with this latest game—his goal, after all, is to distract him long enough to get the fish. He runs out to whisk the tablecloth from the stump and repurpose it as the Little Bear’s tunic, declaring that he will be the knight as he places the metal peel-hat on his head as well; from there, he rushes to repurpose the utensils as the Little Bear’s weapons, all the while proclaiming that heroism and glory await him, and then applauds with flair at the sight of the fully-dressed-and-armed Little Bear. Finally, he takes the fish delicately from the Little Bear’s arm, saying he’ll just look after “this…golden-baked one” as he walks back to the stump once more; unable to help himself, he quickly moves to finally smell the fish to his heart’s content, warming himself up for the eventual meal as he licks his lips, then takes the bouquet from the bag-vase and places it on his head in preparation for his next transformation, which also frees him up to put the fish and the challah bread in the bag. In another nice detail, the fish does not quite fit inside, so the Big Bear simply leaves the lower half protruding out as he ties an invisible string around the bag to ensure nothing falls out.
With everything from the stump-table now exalted to a supposedly higher purpose, the Big Bear, proclaiming that they will head for the dragon briskly as it is a mile away, jumps up excitedly and scrambles over to the Little Bear on all fours for the coup de grace: he takes a loose flap of his shirt and stretches it high over his head in such a folded form that, upon releasing it, it snaps down and bounces him into the form of a horse with striped armor, with the bouquet of flowers he had previously placed on his head resprouting as a sort of majestic decoration! In the true fashion of a horse, he turns back to the Little Bear and whinnies, brushing his front hoof against the ground in readiness as the Little Bear jumps in jubilation and (in another nice bit of Pojarian ingenuity) uses his giant fork to pole-vault himself onto the equine Big Bear; with that, they set off on their quixotic journey to slay the dragon as Bukový starts up a militant-sounding woodwind march.
After trotting along through Štěpánek’s beautiful, minimalistic grassy woodlands for some time, the Bears come upon a rich-looking estate guarded by a giant, vicious-looking brown dog that lies asleep just beyond the open gate—this notably marks one of the few times in the series that the Bears come in direct contact with human civilization. The Big Bear forces the Little Bear to dismount twirlingly by bumping the lower half of his body up (note how he bends his legs down and then lifts them off the ground to give the bump that extra necessary force); uncertain as to what to do next, the Little Bear turns back to the Big Bear, pointing at the estate and nodding his head as though asking if that is where the dragon lies, whereupon the Big Bear sits down on his hind legs and prods the Little Bear twice with his front hoof to march forth.
As the Little Bear draws closer to the gate, he briefly stops to bring his hat up and down and think, as though preparing himself mentally to enter the supposed dragon’s lair while wondering one last time if this is the right place, then continues marching onward with renewed confidence; the now-alone Big Bear, meanwhile, does a conniving Pojarian hand-rub and pops out from his head armor, reverting to his true form, then takes out the bag with the fish, sniffing it with great relish and licking his lips as he prepares to eat it. Sure enough, the Little Bear’s drive dissipates almost as soon as he arrives and finds himself facing the dog directly, his march (and the music) slowing to a halt, and he begins trembling in fear; this awakens the dog, who growls as the Little Bear starts backing out, tipping his hat amicably so as not to provoke it—only for two smaller dogs to emerge from the two towers on the sides of the gate and chase after the Little Bear, eventually tearing off the bottom of his tunic forcefully as they try to tug him back for a direct assault (in another moment of odd yet convincing animation that is difficult to explain, his sudden release from the dogs’ jaws, after having run desperately in place to resist their pull, causes his sheer momentum to overpower him—in the span of a few frames, he is sent running into the air before getting squished to a halt, ultimately being left tumbling over backwards)!
As the Little Bear scrambles to retreat in the face of the two dogs’ renewed pursuit, the Big Bear is happily seasoning the fish, with the incoming dogs proving fortuitous in preventing him from eating it just yet. As Bukový leads off a jazzy, trumpet (with harmon mute)-led version of the march theme with a twinkly piano, he turns his head slowly at the sound of their barks, as though he already has a bad feeling as to what approaches him and is afraid to even look, then reacts with horror at the dogs as the Little Bear runs past him, his speed such that he is once again twirled around in the air; although a fun gag in itself, this time it also serves to release the fish and the Little Bear’s bag from his clutches, with the Little Bear briefly returning to grab them as they fall to the ground! Once he is settled back on his feet, the Big Bear promptly shoves the protruding part of his shirt back onto his head to revert to his horse form, giving him more power to scramble away from the dogs at a high speed.
With both Bears now being pursued, the equine Big Bear climbs onto the Little Bear’s back as he in turn climbs a tree, the dogs once again holding him back by pulling on his tunic with their teeth as he desperately tries to climb; this time, the entire tunic is pulled off as the two Bears are sent ricocheting to the top of the tree, the sheer momentum being such that the Big Bear gets thrown up above the Little Bear (briefly hovering over him before falling back onto him, in turn causing both of them to nearly fall from the tree), and they have no choice but to throw the other objects down as well in an attempt to stave off the mad dogs. In the end, the dogs settle for humiliating the Bears: the white poodle tears off a piece of the tunic as a personal trophy for herself, while the black dog thrashes the fork around and urinates on the tree, after which they return to the estate as the Bears peek out from the top of the tree to see if the bottom is safe (their fright causing the entire tree to tremble, with the black dog looking back to give them one last bark of scorn).
After peeking out from below the foliage to make sure the dogs are gone from the vicinity, the Bears come down from the tree slowly and cautiously to a quiet, bass-plucked version of the march theme, using the tree’s large branches to hide themselves in their paranoia as they step down the left side in defiance of gravity. Upon reaching the ground, the Little Bear reaches his arm out slowly and tremblingly to reclaim his knightly apparel, ultimately snatching it all away in a rush as, still hidden behind their camouflages, he and the Big Bear scurry away from the tree; only as they look back once more to ensure the dogs are not following them do they slow down and, leaving their camouflages behind, finally stop for a breather.
As the Big Bear staggers off exhaustedly, the Little Bear states that they must devise another heroism for “our princess”, putting his apparel aside and sitting down to check on his bag with the fish (which he strokes gently in his evident care for the “princess”) as he does so; the Big Bear, who clearly has different priorities as he tries taking in another whiff of the fish from far away and licks his lips, agrees, lying down unhappily with his head on his hand as he tries to come up with something (a feeling accentuated by the patting he does with his hand). At first, the Little Bear’s own proposal is unsurprisingly simplistic: he wonders what would happen if he ate an ugly beetle in front of the fish, sketching the giant beetle out on the ground with his fork and then jumping up to feign the shivering, stomping hysteria others would surely feel at the beetle as he shoves it along (again, with his very practical fork). The Big Bear, naturally, swats his arm towards the Little Bear as he remarks with disdain that this is not heroism, only the Little Bear having a good stomach; his willful indifference to what goes on behind him results in another good gag at his expense as the sketched cutout beetle crawls into his shirt, causing him to violently bounce up in surprise and scratch himself all over the place (the beetle’s skittering inside him conveyed by the sound of mad giggling!) before finally shaking the beetle out of his shirt, in turn kicking it away unamusedly as he lies down again (this time also turning his head towards the Little Bear to keep an eye on what he does next).
The Little Bear’s next proposal, however, as conveyed through a sketchy cutout-animated interlude similar to those in the previous two entries, proves far more hilariously disturbing. Here, he walks in with some boards and places them on the screen one-by-one to construct a house, taking advantage of their minimalistic pliability (in the sense that, vaguely defined as they are, they can be used as something else entirely) in a way unseen in the previous cutout interludes; he then opens the door and runs out to push an old, decrepit grandma into the house, seemingly giving her a good place to live. But then comes the twist as he rubs his hands connivingly: he proceeds to take out a lit torch to set the inside of the house on fire, with the grandma crying for help from the window and the roof as she is nearly engulfed in flames! As it turns out, the Little Bear has deliberately created this situation so he can “save” the grandma in a show of his supposed heroism, blowing a horn as he rushes in to carry the happy grandma out of the burning home, with his ego in turn literally inflating as he awards a giant medal to himself; it is a testament to the Little Bear’s childish and warped worldview that, for all his high-minded devotion to chivalric ideals, he would sincerely consider this bleakly cynical, arsonistic scheme, let alone believe that anyone would actually put up with it—a reality that the Big Bear drives home as he gets his policeman sketch to set the literal long arm of the law on the Little Bear’s self-sketch, pulling him by his ear like the child he is and throwing him violently into the awaiting police truck, which then drives off once the policeman hops onto the platform at the back (in another nice bit of attention to detail, the truck gets shaken from the policeman’s weight and only then starts running, as though the rocking caused by his portly figure is what starts it up).
As the Big Bear looks on at the police truck, he slowly raises his arm as though contemplating an idea of his own, then swiftly taps his head as he realizes he’s got it: turning towards the Little Bear again, he suggests he could fly himself to the Moon, in turn rushing over and taking the fork from him as he begins another charismatic, ingeniously practical demonstration of what he has in mind. Using the lingering house fire as a starting point, he draws a large rocket above the fire so that it can start building up energy (notice how it rattles sporadically) as he then sketches out a detailed-looking moon; from there, he gently bumps it down with his head so that, as it starts to fall, he can kick it high into the sky where it belongs! As the moon settles into its place in the sky, it rotates for a little bit, as though it has to be in just the right position relative to the Bears viewing it from below; indeed, all through this scene, the Big Bear exhorts the Little Bear to take a look at how, next to “the sea of calm”, there also exists on the moon “a sea of…something more reasonable”.
At last, the rocket is fueled enough by the fire to blast off, and Pojar makes the bold decision to convey this flat cutout rocket’s journey to the flat cutout moon cinematically, simulating three-dimensional space as we follow the rocket to the moon to create a far stronger impression of a ride through outer space than if the rocket was simply shown flying up to the moon. This naturally required an interesting technical feat on Vladimír Malík’s part: it seems he has the layers of the set with the moon and the background move closer to the camera at slightly different speeds over time, making effective use of a shallow depth of field such that the moon becomes clearer as it draws closer, whereas the layer with the rocket remains at a constant distance from the camera.
The impact of the rocket onto the moon is conveyed through an explosion of white paper. This leads to a stellar artistic change on Štěpánek’s part: to depict the otherworldliness of the moon, he inverts the colors such that the moon’s environment is almost pure solid white, and everything else like the landforms and even the Little Bear himself is the deep red of the Bears’ environment on Earth. From out of the rocket, as we hear some evocative, outer-space-like electronica from Bukový, a claw crane emerges to release an ursine astronaut into the low-gravity environs, with the rocket’s right leg kicking him further in as he bounces idly; he twirls and lands on the edge of the crater containing the aforementioned “sea of calm”, continuing to bounce and bob floatily as he looks down at the crater next to him, but then stops as he realizes that, indeed, this other crater contains a very unusual sea—as seen in a close-up, through it travel not waves or ripples, but bottles of some mysterious potion. (The streams of bottles, incidentally, appear to have been placed on their own layers above the crater’s interior.) Thus, using the moon’s low gravity, the astronaut jumps and swoops in gracefully to grab one of these potions, then keeps on bouncing as he drinks out of it, in the end turning to the camera with a satisfied smile.
With both of them having looked up with fascination at this sight, the Big Bear asks the Little Bear for his approval of this next mission as he jabs him playfully again, taking his bag and the fish once again (notice how, whereas he takes the bag with his usual ruthless efficiency, he handles the fish delicately, clearly trying to keep his meal in perfect shape while also tricking the Little Bear into thinking he actually cares about the princess) as he both rubs his hands and licks his lips in his readiness to eat, then starts repeatedly running out and coming back in to assemble the Little Bear’s spacesuit piece-by-piece: he puts the metal hat back on the Little Bear’s head, covers his head entirely with plastic wrap to serve as his astronaut’s helmet, and finally twirls the tablecloth-tunic into his spacesuit proper, saluting him as he bestows this upon him. (Adding to the believability of this fakery, the Little Bear jumps into the cloth as though it were a real suit, whereupon it wraps around him perfectly!) With that, the Big Bear rushes over to an area with a seesaw (consisting of a large wooden board on a stump) and a metal barrel with a large hole inside, turning himself into a large claw crane (the entire way he does this transformation, raising himself up to squish himself down such that he is able to reshape and harden himself as the crane as he bounces himself back up (and rattles from the energy of doing so), grounds it somewhat in reality, making it all the more convincing), then uses his new form to lift the barrel with ease, placing it on the lower end of the seesaw as the Little Bear walks in jauntily. He then lifts the Little Bear and tosses him into the barrel through the hole, and finally he retracts his claw as he raises himself and jumps up in one flow of action to pound down on the other side of the seesaw, sending the “rocket” with the Little Bear flying high into the sky as he quickly bounces back to his real form.
But in true slapstick fashion, this backfires as, just as the Big Bear is preparing to eat the fish again, the barrel lands on the now-raised side of the seesaw, launching the Big Bear and the fish and bag into the air! The Little Bear, aware that he has returned, steps out and takes off his metal-plastic helmet, though he innocently concludes that his rocket simply changed course as he catches his possessions and begins stroking the fish gently and lovingly again, holding it close to himself as he adds that they must come up with something new to save her; the Big Bear, meanwhile, crash-lands into the barrel and gets stuck in it, obligating the Little Bear to turn the barrel on its side so he can swing at it using the seesaw’s wooden board to force the Big Bear out! (Note how, to get as much force as he can out of the board, the Little Bears swings it around himself clockwise, allowing the board to speed up on its own as it falls.) The Big Bear is sent flying into a tree, his squishiness in turn causing him to bounce right off of it as his head gets jammed into his body (in a continuity error, we see that the top of the barrel got stuck around his neck and supposedly went flying with him as he was banged out, but this did not happen in the previous shot—the way it is left falling and bouncing on the ground after the Big Bear is bounced back certainly adds to the fun, to be sure), and he ends up flying all the way to the river bank, scaring off a seagull that leaves two of its feathers behind as he comes to a bumpy landing that causes his beanie to fall onto the ground—setting the stage for the next sequence.
The Little Bear comes in and, initially oblivious to the headless-looking creature before him, starts searching around for the Big Bear, even looking under his beanie to see if he is there, before finally noticing as the Big Bear points at himself; he comes over and, taking a look to see just how lodged the Big Bear’s head is, climbs onto his shoulders to pull it out, doing so only with such immense effort and force that the head is stretched and rattles violently as a result, throwing him off. As the Big Bear reacts with delayed pain from having been smashed into the tree and looks up at the bump that finally pops out from his head as a result, he launches right into his next idea, taking some wet red soil from the river and placing it on his bump—while at first he does this seemingly to mitigate his pain, it becomes obvious he has something else in mind as he declares the Little Bear to be a “pale face” with treasure in his bag, the soil dripping down his own face to turn him into a stereotypical Native American! Proclaiming himself to be the Little Bear’s enemy Red Knot, the Big Bear proceeds to take this to extreme levels: he takes the two feathers on the ground and sticks them in his bump, grabs the utensils from off-screen and assembles them into a tomahawk, kicks his beanie up such that it becomes his round shield, and finally jumps out of his shirt in his nude savagery as he throws his faux-tomahawk at the Little Bear! To top it all off, he bellows out an Indian war cry as he begins rubbing another handful of soil from the river all over himself—now, he is a literal redskin, to the point of blending in with the background! (What an ingeniously racist visual idea…)
As the Big Bear sneaks closer to the sound of tribal war percussion, his eyes, feathers, and shield remain visible, such that the Little Bear takes the tomahawk and attempts to mallet him with the force of his entire body (interestingly, he uses the blunt end, as though trying to avoid killing the Big Bear outright), only for the Big Bear to move swiftly to the other side, letting out another war cry as he uses the opening in the Little Bear’s next attack to unravel his tablecloth-turned-spacesuit, twirling him around. This cloth then proves further useful in ensnaring the Little Bear as he attempts to attack for a third time, with the Big Bear in turn slamming his shield down on him as he escapes such that it reverts to a giant beanie covering the Little Bear’s head, distracting him long enough for his shirt to be pulled up so that the fish and bag can be taken from him once more. (In a strange occurrence, the Little Bear’s shirt shrinks and disappears as he pulls it back down, leaving him naked for the time being—this contrivance proves necessary for the next gag.)
From here, the Big Bear begins mocking the Little Bear, making yum sounds as he licks his lips, dangles the objects in front of him, and runs backwards for the Little Bear to give chase, his invisibility allowing him to send the Little Bear tumbling over at will whenever he gets too close. But his attempt to bring the Little Bear to his knees by baiting him to jump for his belongings backfires: without realizing it, they have reached a muddy area, into which the Little Bear ends up diving. Thus, the red-skinned Big Bear becomes all too visible amidst the mud as he searches for the Little Bear, whereas now the Little Bear is the one who, naked and covered in mud, becomes invisible against the background, in turn delivering the Big Bear’s comeuppance as he beats him left and right and into the ground and chases him with the fork into the river (I love how the Big Bear is so desperate to get away that he ends up scrambling on all fours)!
With their skin colors washed off by the river, the Little Bear peers out from behind the bushes to search for the Big Bear, using the fork as an oar to row himself further out into the river, whereupon we see he is standing right on the Big Bear’s head as he hides underwater; upon realizing this (thanks to the Big Bear hiccuping), the Little Bear happily uses him as a springboard to get back on land (smashing him entirely underwater for a moment!), prancing in celebration and declaring his glory and heroism as the Big Bear decides to give up. As he climbs back onto land, we see he has ballooned in size from staying underwater for so long, such that he has to squeeze himself to squirt all the water out through his ears; nodding his head, he concedes with a certain amount of self-derision that, with the Little Bear’s fish, it “won’t even move”, causing the Little Bear to stop, put the fork down, and move the fish away from the Big Bear and stare at it as he realizes something about his attitude has unsettlingly changed, and at last, the Big Bear tries to pull the mask off of his deception and state upfront his desire to eat the baked fish, proposing that they split it fifty-fifty as he scoffs at the supposed heroism he has made the Little Bear engage in, licks his lips, and nods rapidly in the hope that the Little Bear will accept.
What the Big Bear does not realize, however, is that, simple-minded as he is, the Little Bear now sincerely believes that the fish before them is truly an enchanted princess. Briefly turning towards the Big Bear with horror, he immediately recoils, jabbing the Big Bear with his elbow as he steps away from him rapidly and angrily asks how he could even consider eating the fish; stroking the fish gently once again, he nearly breaks down in tears as he reaffirms that it is a princess, and in the throes of his emotional passion, he furiously jabs at the Big Bear with the fork to get him away as he decides to take up the dragon-slaying mission once more, in turn using the fork to fling the Big Bear’s clothes and the bouquet towards him as he retakes his own knightly apparel, all the while declaring he’ll rescue the princess even if he had to ruffle the dragon’s bangs to do so! With this preparation finished, he scurries over to the Big Bear while sticking his fork out again, using it to jab him on his rear end to bounce him into his equine form and in turn to pole-vault himself onto the horse once more as he declares he will pick the dragon’s almonds up yet (a Czech expression meaning he’ll give him what for), adding that he will give the dragon’s bum a good chase as they trot off towards the estate; the dogs are already waiting for them as Bukový starts the woodwind march from earlier back up.
The poodle is the first to trudge forth against the Bears, with the Little Bear lowering his fork to her level as a precaution as he prods the equine Big Bear to step cautiously backwards; this becomes a full-on backwards run as the poodle rushes into the frame and chases them, causing the Bears to slam into a tree and in turn down onto the poodle! The poodle’s attempt to pull herself out from beneath the weight of the Bears stretches her out to a ridiculous wiener dog-like extent, which her black companion remedies by yanking her tail and releasing it such that she is snapped back to her original size like a spring; the black dog then barks as it joins the attack, scaring the equine Big Bear back onto his feet and causing him to dash right out of his shirt-armor in self-serving cowardice (returning to his true form as he does so) as he leaves the Little Bear behind to the dogs. His left-behind shirt proves quite useful in staving off the dogs’ assault, however, as it causes them to be rolled up in a messy ball from which the Little Bear is able to escape by hiding beneath his metal hat; he then fights back by prodding the ball of cloth and dogs with his knife (notice how at first he does it while staying hidden beneath his hat and trembling, as though testing to see whether it works, then does it again with much more confidence after finding that it does), sending the ball flying back towards the estate in pain and bouncing off the ground such that the dogs are tightly bound together vertically by the shirt as they keep springing around from the lingering momentum, ultimately being outright distorted vertically as they tilt over onto their sides and, as a result, spring into the estate walls heads-first, the impact in turn causing them to be squeezed through the shirt! (I assume all this required some sound knowledge of physics on Pojar’s part, haha…)
The big dog, at last, decides to join the fight, barking at the two smaller dogs to get out of its way (whereupon they twirl around in fear and kneel to the side in deference) as it rushes in and walks towards the Little Bear, who readjusts his hat as he puts himself on guard: pointing his knife out, he trembles and slowly backs away as the big dog approaches, with the dog in turn being so strong that he simply bites down on the edge of his knife, using it to thrash the Little Bear back at such a speed that he flies right through the tree that the retreating Big Bear has been hiding behind (sending its top half crashing down)! The Little Bear is left bouncing on the ground such that he rolls right into the Big Bear (who has been trying to hide behind a bush); in a particularly splendid moment of cynicism, the frightened Big Bear proceeds to successfully hide by transforming into signs pointing in the direction of the chase as the Little Bear and all three dogs run back and forth, and this is compounded by the black dog stopping and coming over to the Big Bear for a break, urinating on him! Unamused as he reverts the sign proper to his head to see what is going on and shake it in disgust, the Big Bear returns entirely to normal so he can kick the dog away, only to be jolted with terror as he now finds himself at the front of the chase, in turn rushing up a tree in the woods.
But the Little Bear, having tripped on the way, stops short of climbing as he looks back, discovering to his fright that the dogs are now sniffing and licking their lips at his beloved princess who lies helplessly on the ground. As Vladimír Malík zooms in on the fish surrounded by the dogs, we gain a brief glimpse of how the Little Bear sees the situation: once again, Bukový provides a heart-achingly beautiful flute melody as the film fades to the fish’s beautiful princess-like form, which blinks her eyes in a plea for help. Unable to run away or stand by any longer, the Little Bear bravely rushes over to the scene, in turn stepping back a little so he can give the big dog and the smaller black dog some good kicks (notice how his mouth is moving here, as though he was supposed to have some dialogue) as Bukový starts up a more upbeat version of the woodwind march, then snatches away the fish, holding it tightly to himself and stroking it lovingly once more before putting it safely back in his pocket as he shakes his fist angrily at the big dog.
The big dog now shows it means business: using a file to sharpen its teeth as the Little Bear points his knife out at it nervously again, it comes over, bites the knife away, and chews it up, reducing it to a pile of nails shaped like the knife! It then pulls the Little Bear back as he tries to retreat, in turn tearing off yet another piece of his tunic, and from there the Little Bear tries jumping into the metal barrel from earlier (notice how it has no top lid, in a nod to how the Big Bear was supposed to have torn it off as he was bashed out of it a while back), using it as his armor as he points his fork out, only for the big dog to once again simply lift him up by the fork (albeit not without great effort this time, owing to the added weight of the barrel) and thrash him away; he crashes on the ground such that he is thrown out of the barrel and starts running from it as the momentum causes it to keep rolling after him, eventually climbing up a small tree such that the barrel bounces back and flattens the big dog instead (much to its surprise)!
Popping itself back up, the big dog comes over to the tree—forcing the Little Bear (who, in another continuity error, now has his fork again in spite of having dropped it as he was thrown out of the barrel; surely it’s a testament to how fast-paced and exciting the action is that ordinary viewers would not notice these flubs, I certainly didn’t!) to climb back up hastily just as he tries sliding down from it—and chomps down on it to uproot the whole thing, shaking it violently so that the Little Bear gets thrown off once more; this time, however, as he bounces along the ground, he plants his fork in it, using his momentum and the malleability of the fork to catapult himself back towards the dogs (holding onto the fork as he flies off so he can take it with him)! The two smaller dogs stop and retreat at the sight of the oncoming Little Bear, scurrying right under the big dog such that its legs get knocked over to bring it to the ground, putting it in the perfect position for the Little Bear to land fork-first on its rear end; needless to say, it jumps up and runs around in pain, eventually throwing the Little Bear off (though the fork itself remains attached!) by repeatedly swinging its lower half up like a rodeo horse.
Landing in front of the smaller dogs, the Little Bear hops up right as they advance on him to pin them down by their rear ends, causing them to stretch themselves such that they snap back and fly into the big dog just as it approaches the Little Bear! As the dogs quickly recover and pursue the Little Bear as a group once more, he bumps right into the open end of the metal barrel, whereupon he jumps up so that all the dogs run into the barrel, tipping it over such that they are unable to escape; realizing that this is his opportunity to vanquish them for good, he comes over and takes the wooden board (which, as evidenced by the stump, is the same one that had been the seesaw) to hammer the big dog further in so that it is stuck protruding from the previously-closed end of the barrel (with the two smaller dogs getting stuck in the two holes on the sides of the barrel), and at last he takes his tablecloth-tunic off to wrap it over the open end of the barrel, giving the drum of dogs a good shove as he bends forth and nods at them scoldingly (as though saying “serves you right”). With that, the dogs are flipped into the river as Bukový’s march theme slows to a triumphant conclusion, and the last we see of them is their helpless humiliation as their drum repeatedly sucks in the water and squirts it all out. (It seems the effect of the receding and rising water was accomplished by placing another layer of artwork (representing the river’s interior) beneath the land layer and sliding it down and up over the water layer; notice how the water keeps rippling as usual, how the texture of the interior follows along with the water level, and how the actual shape of the water level remains constant even as it falls and rises.)
With one final reminder to the dogs that, as the title says, “princesses are not to be sniffed at”, the Little Bear turns towards his fish-princess, stroking her delicately for what will prove to be the final time as he gently encourages and shakes her to wake up, with Bukový reprising the music from their first encounter. As the flute portion of the music starts up, a hand taps on the Little Bear’s shoulder: sure enough, it is the Big Bear disguised as an old, long-bearded, creaky wizard, urging him to hand the fish over so he can transform her back. Alas, the excited Little Bear falls for the trick, handing the fish off as he is made to turn around and close his eyes; soon, his curiosity gets the better of him, and he turns around to find to his great horror (his utter failure emphasized aurally by a loud, falling trombone stinger that comes like a terrible wake-up call after the gentle flute music) that the Big Bear has eaten the fish down to its skeleton!
Trembling in shock as he takes the skeleton away from the Big Bear, the Little Bear asks what he has done to him as Bukový starts up a slow, tragic, minor-key version of the series’s theme song played by a single oboe, breaking down in sobs as he points out that the Big Bear has eaten the princess completely (Rudolf Deyl Jr. does a great job conveying the traumatized horror in his initial sobs, and in a particularly effective artistic change, his tears are rendered realistically); the Big Bear, meanwhile, has shuffled back in fright behind a bush expecting that things will get ugly for him, but as he peers out to find the Little Bear sobbing, he is overcome with shame and guilt, rubbing his foot on the ground shyly. Whenever he stole from the Little Bear in the past, the Little Bear would typically have no choice but to accept it as part of the game; at most, he might get angry and denounce his games as crafty. This time, however, having convinced him that the fish really was a princess, the Little Bear now sees the Big Bear’s robbery as an act of outright murder, with all the trauma it causes to those who loved the victim; it is precisely this emotional pain that causes the Big Bear to realize he has gone too far in his tricks.
Taking his paper wizard cap off, the Big Bear shuffles towards the Little Bear (doing so rather hesitantly at first), trying to comfort him as, touching him lightly first to make sure he doesn’t react violently, he pats and rubs him gently on the head, with Bukový switching the theme back to its normal major key to punctuate the the gradual uplifting of the mood; when he tries telling the Little Bear that he is too old for fairy tales, however, even swatting with derision at the idea that he still believes in them, the Little Bear quickly recoils, trying to elbow the Big Bear away as he turns his back on him to keep crying while affirming he is still little. Moving over to the other side of the Little Bear, the Big Bear takes his own handkerchief out to wipe his tears, reassuring him that there are fish in the world and that he’ll catch himself another one as he begins pulling and pushing him into the now-unguarded estate (with the Little Bear visibly resisting in his displeasure towards him); soon, they arrive at an artificial pond in the estate, the Little Bear still wiping his tears as the Big Bear hands him a fishing rod to toss in the pond (to show how emotionally incapacitated he still is, he does not even bother to properly cast it), whereupon the bobber immediately begins shaking. Pointing out this phenomenon enthusiastically to the Little Bear and clapping his hands in excitement as he tries to get back in his good graces, the Big Bear uses his own strength to help him pull the supposed fish out of the water, declaring it’s a whale—only for it to turn out to be a baby carriage!
Both Bears are flabbergasted, and for a brief moment it seems as though the Big Bear has inadvertently made the situation worse, with the Big Bear himself clearly realizing as much in his anxiety as the Little Bear turns to him sadly (as though he has been lied to once again)—but this sad look quickly turns to happiness as the Little Bear, realizing they now have something they can use a boat, rejoices, declaring they’re off as he finishes fishing the carriage out so that the two of them can spring right in, the Big Bear’s momentum in turn allowing them to ride the carriage downhill and over the estate walls (once again taking advantage of the series’s ambiguous 2D-and-3D-stradding plane) into the river! In a heartwarming departure from the previous two entries, as the two Bears glide along the water together in their carriage-boat while Bukový plays the film out with a faster version of the series’s theme, the Big Bear is the one who transforms and raises himself up into a sail (consisting of his shirt) with a flag (his beanie) on top, clearly enjoying himself as much as the Little Bear as they finally play with each other as equals—and, for a perfect conclusion, we see a fish jump up from the water as the Bears depart, affirming that there are fish in this world after all.
A tour-de-force in almost every way, Princesses are Not to Be Sniffed At fleshes the Bears out more fully than the previous two entries had, and could have easily been a satisfying conclusion to the series. The Big Bear, after cynically trying to manipulate the Little Bear’s entire worldview to satiate his own hunger, at last realizes that trickery is not the right way to get what he wants from the Little Bear, least of all playtime: everything he does here ends up giving him far more trouble and abuse than it is worth, and it all culminates in him nearly traumatizing the Little Bear when he finally succeeds, such that he decides to start being a kinder and more equal friend from this point on. The Little Bear, meanwhile, may be too naïve and trusting for his own good, but with this naïveté comes an innate curiosity and a kind, caring nature, and in turn an ability to overcome his fears and spring heroically into action when the time calls for it. With all the long-winded descriptions I have written above, I hope I have at least managed to convey the extraordinary richness of these two Bears’ character animation, for, when all is said and done, Pojar’s acting is the one true element that brings them to life as real children with interesting personalities.
Indeed, this film is perhaps the ultimate expression of what Pojar likely sought to convey through his entries in the Bears series. By depicting the Bears so strongly here as such clever, inventive young lads—always repurposing the same objects for all the different games they play or the battles they wage, and coming up with new games based on leftovers from previous games and whatever else becomes available for them to use in the different places they find themselves in—Pojar encourages us, as viewers, to take a deeper interest in the world around us, and to use our own imaginations in doing so. Whether we realize it or not, everything we see before us as we look around ourselves and explore our locales can be a valuable starting point for our own creativity; in this light, even the most minor, insignificant trifles can prove to be far more useful and important than they seem. In the end, even if fairy tales and enchanted princesses are not real, the imagination that gave rise to them, and the things in this world that said imagination can use to bring them to life for those who have just a little bit of wonder in their hearts, absolutely are.
Even taken as pure entertainment for kids and adults alike, though, Princesses is easily one of the best children’s films of its kind, and certainly one of the finest expressions of Pojar’s sense of humor. One thing that might not come through in the descriptions above is just how perfectly timed and built-up all the gags and situations packed into the film are, how they all proceed at a fast, tight pace and play out with just the right rhythm and context to be as surprising, absurd, and funny as possible; in this way, even the relatively banal sight gags, like the Little Bear being pulled into the river by the rabbits, the numerous times the Big Bear is twirled around, the Little Bear suddenly awarding himself a medal after saving the old lady from his arson, and the big dog getting surprisingly flattened by the rolling metal barrel, are made hilarious simply by how they are led into and executed.
The efforts of Pojar and his team did not go unrecognized at the time: Princesses would earn Pojar, designer Miroslav Štěpánek, and storyman Ivan Urban a prestigious Trilobit Award for 1966, one of the very first to be awarded, for their rendering of a children’s film. At the beginning of the Bears series’s production, they, along with Boris Masník and Rudolf Deyl Jr., had some sort of agreement that they would present the Bears as a joint collaborative work by a trio of authors, hence the award being given to all three of them; around this time, however, Pojar began to go against this arrangement, having his Trilobit awarded separately from those of Štěpánek’s and Urban’s in a bid to assert his role as director. This was the beginning of the unfortunate tensions between Pojar and Štěpánek that would gradually erode their working relationship, eventually leading to a total falling-out over a decade later.
Pojar’s stance is understandable when one considers that he had already established himself as an internationally-recognized auteur in his films prior to the Bears series. He had shown that he had interesting ideas of his own to communicate, and was willing to experiment with different mediums to convey them effectively—as far back as 1955, he had even directed a live-action feature, The Adventure in the Golden Bay (Dobrodružství na Zlaté zátoce), at the same time as he was still working in animation—and in this regard his stint with the Bears was no different. More importantly, as director, Pojar was the one responsible for actually overseeing his animators and the other artists at Čiklovka and deciding what they should do, and he had proven himself to be more than hands-on in this regard: as demonstrated by his working method with Boris Masník, and especially as evidenced by Jan Klos’s explanation far above, he essentially had total control over what would be animated in the films, and how it would be animated. In the end, everything that happens in the first three Bears entries is filtered through his vision, regardless of Urban’s and Štěpánek’s own contributions to them.
Where things become more muddled, rather, are the next three entries in the first Bears series. Having achieved near-perfection with the Bears in Princesses, it seems unlikely that Pojar, in his constant search for new ways of expressing himself in animation, had any interest in directing more Bears episodes; indeed, his previous series with Urban and Štěpánek featuring the kittens had come to an end after only three entries, and perhaps he had little desire for the Bears to be any different in that respect. Thus, in 1966, Pojar would emigrate to begin working at the venerable National Film Board of Canada, having made contact with them in his trips to international film festivals where animated works were screened; by this time, though, the Bears were proving to be a huge success amongst Czech audiences, such that there may have been no choice but to keep going with the series even in Pojar’s absence (assuming it had not already been planned beforehand that the series would last six entries), and Štěpánek, as the Bears’ designer, was the natural person to take charge as de facto director. The films that resulted under his watch are very different from Pojar’s entries, but nevertheless quite fascinating in their own right; we will explore them in the next part of this series, whenever it comes out.
To be continued…