Břetislav Pojar and Miroslav Štěpánek #2: The largely Štěpánek-directed “Hey Mister, Let’s Play!” entries (1966-67)

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Watch the films discussed in this article with English subtitles by viewing them on YouTube here!

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When we left off in my last article, Břetislav Pojar had just emigrated to Canada, where he would spend most of his time creating films over the next several years, leaving screenwriter Ivan Urban and designer Miroslav Štěpánek to come up with the next three Bears films largely on their own. (It appears Pojar was in Canada as early as late 1965, as he would make a special guest appearance in the September 16, 1965 episode of the classic Québécois children’s series Bobino, in which his third kitten film Kočičí škola and his 1951 directorial debut Perníková chaloupka were screened as well.) Pojar, for his part, would continue to be credited as co-writer alongside Urban, and he would also be billed with Štěpánek as director; what exactly his continued credits on his series entailed, however, remains ambiguous, with the two sides offering rather different accounts of how the direction in these particular entries was handled.

Pojar claimed that Štěpánek simply represented him as director: he prepared storyboards for these entries in advance, according to which Štěpánek would process the films through production, hence his co-direction credit with Pojar. Štěpánek, meanwhile, countered that he himself “decided what to do and how to do it” on the sets, and that Pojar’s role upon returning from Canada was simply to connect the filmed shots, finish the editing, and mix the film. “It happened that way by our mutual agreement and by it we were both introduced as directors on the titles. It was not written on them ‘directed by Břetislav Pojar, co-directed by Miroslav Štěpánek.’ It is therefore impossible to speak only of Pojar’s Bears. This would also damage screenwriter Ivan Urban.”

A look at the films themselves would seem to corroborate Štěpánek’s point-of-view. Whereas Pojar’s entries from 1965 mainly used the Bears and their dynamic as ways of commenting more generally on social issues and human nature, these entries go in a very different, character-driven direction, focusing much more on the Bears as unique personalities in themselves and the strains that have developed as a result of keeping their troubled relationship going for far too long; in this regard, ironically, the Bears’ remarkable transformations are largely muted in these entries, and even when they do occur, only rarely do they play practical roles as they did in Pojar’s entries. Perhaps this increased focus on the Bears as actual characters can be traced back to Štěpánek’s and Ivan Urban’s shared Central Bohemian kinship, and thus their being much closer, in a sense, to these two Bears from Kolín than Pojar could ever truly be; in any case, it seems doubtful that they would have had the opportunity to explore this grittier side of the Bears, starting from the foundation laid by Pojar’s entries and helped significantly by his animators Boris Masník, Stanislava Procházková, and Pavel Procházka and the preparation team at Čiklovka—all of whom were now evidently so skilled at bringing the Bears to life that they could deliver great results even without Pojar’s direct guidance—if Pojar were still overseeing them directly.

In this respect, Štěpánek made one very major change to the Bears’ appearance from this point onwards: he redesigned their snouts, often dividing them into two parts so that their mouths could more easily be animated. Henceforth, the animators would start linking the character acting much more closely to Ivan Urban’s dialogue, and even make a concerted effort at syncing the mouth animation and body gestures with Rudolf Deyl Jr.’s voice acting—all of which would go towards more vividly portraying the Bears as real children who can move and gesture wildly to emphasize what they are saying, and often get into heated arguments and even fights when things are not going their way.


How They Ate Witty Porridge / Jak jedli vtipnou kaši (1966)

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With the new production year and his own newfound freedom, Štěpánek decided to revamp the Bears’ art direction: besides the changes to the Bears’ snouts, most of the action in these later efforts would take place against lighter-colored backgrounds that are rather more pleasing to the eye (if also much grimier-looking) than the earthy-red backgrounds that dominated Pojar’s entries. This change in direction is evident right from the opening titles, where, besides the sandy background, the friendly-looking rabbits who previously handled the opening titles have been replaced by a more frightful, demented-looking pink duo. With swift efficiency, they recompress and tear apart the title card to reveal the credits scroll, but it takes them a few seconds to notice that the credits are not scrolling up on their own the way they should, whereupon they have to give the scroll a little pull up with quite a bit of exertion (as though it is stuck in place) to get it going; to make up for the lost time, while the scroll does continue to linger on each set of credits, it also speeds up very noticeably when moving between two different sets of credits. Finally, the pink rabbits recompress the scroll only to struggle very noticeably to tear it apart afterwards (its natural tendency to remain compressed overpowering them the first time), ultimately having to use the strengths of their entire bodies (even standing on the sides of the scroll to generate some bizarre action-reaction forces with the added exertions of their legs) to do so; they are rebounded from off-screen and roll back in, shielding their heads with their hands (or, at least, trying to—one of them has mistakenly placed its hands on its cheeks!) as they land in a crouching position in the center (but not without bumping into each other as they do so, conveying their lingering momentum from rolling). Once they find themselves firmly settled, as indicated by their drooped ears being raised up, they immediately stand up and turn their attentions to a curious sight to their left, pondering as they do so.

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Thus the film cuts to our two Bears holding cue sticks at a billiard table, with the Big Bear clearly in position to plan his next move while the Little Bear stands by waiting for his turn. This opening shot in itself already marks a drastic departure from Pojar’s entries: whereas the Bears’ previous games were all parodies of human society based on their own selves and whatever settings or equipment were available for them to use, here we see, for the first time, the Bears engaged in an actual human game with something resembling the proper equipment. The Big Bear prepares meticulously for his shot: he uses his right hand as a cue tip greaser, curving his arm over the stick precisely so he can rub it properly at the very top while leaning his head back in a way that makes it a little easier for his arm to work at the stick’s tilted angle, then, in a demonstration of the Bears’ newly-redesigned mouths, he takes the peppermint stick lodged in his mouth out with his left hand and licks it twice (the second lick being much slower and more relishing) to give himself a little extra boost before putting it back in his mouth. In an interesting variance of the timing, he moves his left arm back towards the stick with a measured pace, then quickly gets into his firing position, all while wearing a smile on his face; it feels as though he is trying to exude a sort of assured, pretentious mastery of the sport to himself and the Little Bear. Finally, after sliding his stick back and forth a little to ensure he is aiming in his desired direction, he fires his shot with graceful ease, immediately settling back into a confident wise-guy posture and declaring jubilantly that he has earned 100 points as Vladímir Malík pans the camera to the right to reveal that the Bears are playing a version of bar billiards; the table itself proves to be technologically-advanced as, once two balls roll into its holes, it begins gauging the score using its built-in point card system, ultimately raising up two 50-point cards as the balls come out to the collection compartment.

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The Little Bear, slightly surprised at the Big Bear’s accurate prediction as he leans in slightly closer to the point cards (a move unintentionally emphasized by how the screen suddenly gets brighter for a single frame—perhaps Malík, lighting technician Jan Švarc, or the animator accidentally changed the camera exposure for that first frame and then quickly switched back), repeats the Big Bear’s exclamation with a much more subdued admiration as the Big Bear marches to the left (switching the cue stick from his right hand to his left as well—apparently he writes left-handed), crosses out his previous score of 40 written on the ground using the thicker end of his stick (proper maintenance of the firing tip itself, after all), and, twisting himself around to a rather condescending and teacherly pose in such a manner that his arms remain in the same place while “switching” positions relative to the rest of his body (his left arm is now his right arm, and vice versa! just look at the second and third screenshots below—it is just one testament to the skill of Pojar’s animators that this weird turn-around is executed so naturally, and it also seems to indicate how easy it was to change out the Bears’ torsos while keeping their apparently-detachable limbs in roughly the same area), writes his new score of 140 without even looking (such confidence!) as he tells the Little Bear to play; even before the Little Bear has done anything, it is obvious that the Big Bear is the one in control of this game. The Little Bear, nervous at first, steps slowly down to his firing position, keeping his hands sliding on the table as though it was a handrail in a nice expression of his insecurity (the diagonal, almost uphill placement of the table, and in turn the way the Little Bear seems to be going down some stairs, helps sell this little scene), but then finds enough of a stable footing that he rushes to his position, swiftly places the balls on the table (with the screen again getting brighter for a single frame as he starts grabbing them), and hurriedly slides his cue stick back-and-forth, with only his final attempt at aiming being slow and careful; it appears this early shot in particular was not animated with audiovisual synchronization in mind, as the Little Bear is heard reciting an “enyky benyky” (eenie meenie) spell in hopes of gaining at least 20 points, but the voice acting has no relation to the Little Bear’s unique movement. Of course, it is all for naught, as the Little Bear, in spite of how swiftly he tries firing his shot with all his strength, somehow proves so weak against the red ball that the cue stick merely bends and launches him back like a spring, causing him to bounce off the ground headfirst to a rather painful, realistic body-crunching sound (its incongruity only further magnified by the overt squash-and-stretch on the Little Bear’s head as he lands) as the Big Bear already prepares once again for his next move (note how, this time, he is using a proper cue tip greaser and not just his bare hand—continuity error on the animators’ part?).

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After landing squashily-stretchily on his rear, the Little Bear immediately gets up and starts shouting that his attempted shot was an invalid move while waving his left hand “no”, clearly desperate to redo his turn; interestingly, the Little Bear’s lip-sync here is conveyed using the earlier painted mouths from Princesses Are Not to Be Sniffed At. The Big Bear, perhaps confident that the Little Bear will go nowhere no matter how much he tries, graciously obliges as the Little Bear steps back to the table (looking at the Big Bear as he passes by to make sure he has his approval), happily twirls his cue stick in preparation for his next move, and even quickly flips it around when he sees he is about to fire a shot using the stick’s thicker end. This time, his hold on the cue stick is much shakier as he tries meticulously pulling it back in just the right way for a stronger shot, and there comes the first brief moment in which his character acting and dialogue seem to be linked: he starts to recite his “enyky benyky” spell again right as he is about to fire, but then turns away from the table and rests his head on the stick as he briefly pauses, seemingly remembering suddenly how to make his shot even better—whereupon he steps further to the end of his cue stick as he finishes his recitation, and winds up firing a shot so hard that (in some fairly quick cutting and panning) the ball flies right off the other side of the table and starts bouncing on the ground.

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Briefly, the Little Bear treats the situation playfully as, upon catching up to the bouncing ball, he starts stepping in time with its bouncing, his whole body even jolting along to it—only for the ball to land in a hole occupied by what turns out to be an unusually savage hare. Even before we see what it is, the pair of confused eyes that emerges from the dark is already enough to get the Little Bear backing away nervously, with his realization that the eyes are now staring right at him causing him to jolt even further away in fright while simultaneously freezing up, and Štěpánek’s backgrounds here are decorated with bloody red splotches that add to the sense of danger; he then rushes off almost as soon as the enraged hare emerges and tosses the ball in his direction with its obscenely long right arm, but then the overall gravity of this situation does not quite match the Little Bear’s rather skittish running, yelping, and crawling under the billiard table as the ball returns to the billiard table at a fairly normal speed. (Given that even the Big Bear decides to duck under the table as the ball seems to head in his direction, perhaps it shows how overly panicky the two Bears are.) In any case, the two Bears peer out from under the table (with the Little Bear clinging onto the Big Bear in fright) to find the red ball reflecting off of the yellow ball—and rolling right into the center hole, which should technically give the rejoicing Little Bear (who, in his excitement, walks right over the table to the other side where he can see his score more clearly) 100 points. With this seeming triumph, the Little Bear rushes further to the right and, nearly stumbling over from the weight of his cue stick, uses its tip (unlike how the Big Bear had prudently used the thicker end earlier) to bring his score from 0 to 100; but alas, the Big Bear decides to bring out the rules at this point, using the tip of his own stick to tap on the Little Bear’s shoulder and then swiftly cross out the added “10”, arguing that since the hare threw it, it does not count.

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In palpable disappointment, the Little Bear steps over to his score slowly and wipes away the crossed-out numbers with his foot, then returns to the table as the Big Bear starts lecturing him on how he should go at it with technique, initially demonstrating how to grease the tip of the cue properly, and then launching into an interesting bit of character acting as he demonstrates how to position oneself properly: he tilts his head in the other direction so as to bring his peppermint stick to the other side of his mouth, then takes the candy out as he steps to the left, bringing his head back to its original configuration, then puts the candy back where it had been in his mouth before taking a step back with his left foot and highlighting the unique posture that has resulted—the seemingly gratuitous position shifts he makes with his head and the peppermint stick show that even these elements are important in determining the fitness of one’s posture when playing billiards, and are a particularly astonishing example of the attention to detail that seems to have been second-nature to Boris Masník and the Procházkas at this point—and finally bends down over the cue stick as he begins to aim his shot, with his thought process being conveyed nicely through a bit of smacking on his peppermint stick that moves it to the other side of his mouth once more. This time, the Big Bear’s shot is weaker and less flamboyant, as he tries using the deflections of the red and white balls to bring at least one of them straight into the center hole; but this fails as the white ball stops just short of the hole. (Incidentally, the weird idiom the Big Bear uses here to describe the balls’ supposed speeding is “se práší za kočárem”, which, in its literal meaning of “it’s dusty behind the carriage”, basically conveys that the balls are leaving everything behind them in the dust.)

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It is here, though, that the Big Bear’s own disregard for the rules—and their usefulness only insofar as he can use them to keep the Little Bear from scoring anything—becomes blatantly obvious: watching the Little Bear closely the entire time to ensure his gaze remains fixated on the balls themselves, the Big Bear raises his leg carefully and then gives the table a swift kick in the leg, the jolt ultimately bringing the red ball into the center hole, then proceeds to creep his way up to his hat and lift it up such that a ton of other balls start dropping onto the table, allowing him to pitch them all like bowling balls into the holes to bring his score up to an impressive, ridiculous high! Alas, the Little Bear does not bother looking back at the Big Bear until just after it is too late for him to witness the cheating in action, with the Big Bear self-satisfyingly tallying up his score to 1000 as a near-pyramid of point cards emerges from the table (never mind that the numbers on the cards only add up to 740!). It is now clear that Urban and Štěpánek have pressed a reset button on the equitable resolution that the Bears’ relationship had reached at the end of Princesses Are Not to Be Sniffed At, with this scene in particular showing the Big Bear’s manipulative tactics towards the Little Bear have shifted: in Pojar’s entries, the Big Bear used his games to gain foods or other such material pleasures from the Little Bear, whereas now he uses the games to boost his own personal vanity at the expense of the Little Bear’s self-esteem. In his oblivious naïveté, the Little Bear now serves as a useful punching bag for underhanded, dishonest “victories” won by crafty tactics like double standards and outright cheating.

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But while the Little Bear does look awe-stricken as the Big Bear marches over to the left triumphantly and replaces his previous score with the false 1000, his breaking point is near. Upon further condescending encouragement from the Big Bear, he hesitantly steps up to the front of the billiard table and misguidedly attempts to recite and follow the Big Bear’s “teachings”, positioning himself awkwardly (with the Big Bear rapidly tapping on his leg to “correct” him) and then even trying to imitate the Big Bear’s casual, confident wise-guy manner as he fires his shot while turned away with his eyes closed; unsurprisingly, this attempt fails in a downright humiliating manner as the red ball bounces left and right before somehow flying up and circling back into the Little Bear’s mouth as he recites the dusty idiom, with a splash sound and his eyes’ joggling, followed by his convulsive, confused attempts to upchuck the ball, perfectly conveying that the ball has fallen into his stomach. It takes a good smack on his back from the Big Bear to dislodge the ball through his mouth—and when he looks at the Big Bear angrily, all the Big Bear does is wag his head amusedly with a patronizing smile on his face, with the peppermint stick moving around in his mouth further conveying a sort of “how do you like that, mister?” attitude on his part. (This whole sequence works in large part because of the Bears’ redesigned mouths, which allow these visual gags to take place with relative ease.)

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Thus, we get the Little Bear’s first and most impressive outburst of rage against the Big Bear, an explosion of intense (and presumably long-simmering) displeasure with their relationship that, in its overt rebellion against the Big Bear’s ways, marks a further departure from Pojar’s earlier entries. Jumping up, the Little Bear declares he won’t play with him anymore as he stabs at the red ball with his cue stick and then uses it to pole-vault and slam himself right onto the table (notice how he spins in the air right before pounding down violently to the point of briefly flattening himself, with the table itself bouncing a little from the impact!), causing the point cards to go wild, then he gets up and kicks the balls on the table away (there’s a great bit of follow-through with how the Little Bear gets up so forcefully that he briefly keeps himself grounded with just one leg as his entire body seems to nearly fly off the table, then he raises that same leg back in anticipation of giving the red ball a particularly strong kick—and in a continuous flow of action, this kick in itself becomes the anticipation for the kick he gives the yellow ball on the other side of him!) as he calls out how the Big Bear deliberately gives bad advice. He then runs off of the table to jump on his infuriating score of zero and kick the dirt on which it was written away (raising his leg back to kick the dirt the first time as he is coming down from his last jump, with this first kick again serving as the anticipation for the second kick pointing in the opposite direction), then makes his way over to the left to do the same to the Big Bear’s “scores” as he declares the Big Bear is a phony bear (the specific term he uses is “šidítko”, which literally means a baby pacifier—it is known to be used idiomatically to refer to ersatz things, in reference to how baby pacifiers are essentially artificial nipples), and finally clarifies that he is “first-class” in that regard as he emphatically breaks the cue stick over his head (that prolonged anticipation of him raising it above his skull, not to mention how he crouches and winces to absorb the impact as it happens), throws the pieces on the ground, and breaks down in agonized tears. (Perhaps in a testament to the strain of the production plan, the lip-sync on the Little Bear’s mouth is completely absent from this final shot; more interestingly, though, the Little Bear’s mouth switches from the redesigned two-piece mouth to the earlier painted mouth as he begins bawling, which could have been an attempt to match the inflections in Rudolf Deyl Jr.’s wailing.)

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What further makes this sequence of character development a pivotal change from Pojar’s interpretations of the Bears, however—underlining Štěpánek and Urban’s more overtly slimy, insidious portrayal of the Big Bear in these later entries, but also their more petulant and actively discontented depiction of the Little Bear—is the Big Bear’s completely unfazed reaction to the Little Bear’s emotional breakdown, which itself ends up passing fairly quickly. Smiling callously throughout the Little Bear’s rampage, the Big Bear proceeds to casually brush off his accusations while pointing at him mockingly as he cries, telling him not to use the Big Bear as an excuse for his incompetence (reminder: the Big Bear’s own “advice” only “worked” for him on his own last turn when it was supplemented with cheating!) as he continues showing off to himself by tossing one of the yellow balls up, bouncing it onto the table with his head, and carefully firing a 50-point shot from a much higher angle than usual; the Little Bear, in turn, begins sorrowfully mocking the idea that his mistake lies anywhere but the Big Bear, wiping his eyes and nodding (and repeating “yeah”) with bitter sarcasm before turning to the Big Bear with a sob-chuckle and asking with a scornful smile where else the mistake could be. When the Little Bear broke down in tears in Princesses, it was because he was genuinely traumatized, and the Big Bear, for his part, was able to realize he had gone too far and feel bad about it; here, by contrast, the Little Bear’s outburst proves to be a passing tantrum driven by an underlying resentment, which could somewhat justify the Big Bear’s dismissive response (maybe, in this largely Pojar-untouched universe, the Little Bear did this multiple times prior to this instance and the Big Bear has just gotten used to it?) were it not for his near-sociopathic gaslighting on the issue at the same time.

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The scummy show-off Big Bear now tosses three balls back and kicks them into a triangular arrangement on the table with the back of his heel, then fires them all into the holes with a single trickily-positioned shot (he wraps his arm with the cue stick under his raised leg); in the meantime, he begins roundaboutly insulting the Little Bear’s intelligence, suggesting that he has more skills because he ate more “witty porridge” than the Little Bear when they were little. (Note, however, that his lip-sync is completely absent here.) For a brief moment, the Little Bear stares wide-eyedly at the screen and blinks repeatedly, as though the Big Bear’s veiled insult has provoked something in his mind, but Rudolf Deyl Jr. contrarily has the Little Bear’s voice scoffing “hmph” at it, and his visual acting ultimately continues in that vein as he turns back towards the Big Bear and remarks that he did, in fact, eat a little porridge, swatting his hand scornfully to himself as he does so. By now, the Big Bear seems satisfied enough with his billiards tricks that he turns back to the Little Bear directly and nods his head in agreement, but also takes the peppermint stick out of his mouth matter-of-factly to clarify (with his mouth now speaking relatively in-sync, and his head even nodding emphatically to Deyl’s delivery of the dialogue) that this eating was “long ago, mister, very long ago.”

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This last reminder is what really gets the Little Bear to turn inward and start thinking deeply, his snout wrinkling as he does so; realizing that he has not eaten porridge in a long time, and now fed up enough to try doing something without the Big Bear, he hops up and makes his way to the right of the area with an annoyed grimace as the Big Bear, now standing on the billiard table, fires some more shots between his legs and while standing on his head, then walks back leftward with a sack of rice and a giant pot. Initially, the Big Bear looks on with amusement, but as the Little Bear goes even further off to the left—Wiliam Bukový underscores these next several scenes with a quirky, puny-sounding a cappella march sung by a scratchy trumpet imitator, emphasizing the strange curiosity of this scrappy, pipsqueaky Little Bear trying to go off and do things on his own—the Big Bear begins wondering where he could be going, finally tapping on his head as he hits upon the idea of asking him. Throwing his peppermint stick away while smacking his lips for the lingering aftertaste, he asks the Little Bear with near-perfect lip-sync and head-bobbing where he is going with the pot, in turn using his cue stick on the table to quickly pole-vault his way over to the Little Bear (notice how he makes a brief false start to test the pole before he actually vaults over), and in the next shot we find that they are entering a beautiful marker-drawn, teal-hued forest with swirly multi-colored foliage as the Big Bear lands on his feet (crouching down to absorb the impact), scrambles to the middle of the forest, and stretches his right arm out to grab onto the pot and use it to yank the Little Bear himself back (with the Little Bear falling over backwards from the forceful pull); the latter is made even more intricate as a piece of animation by how the Big Bear begins chattering and bobbing his head about how they should play “fakir” at the same time, and the forest itself, beyond its eye-candy value, proves particularly well-designed on Štěpánek’s part in its stage-like composition as the Big Bear begins putting on a few interesting performances to try winning the Little Bear back.

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Slamming the pot down on the ground enthusiastically to where it bounces, the Big Bear starts by using his cue stick as a ramp to roll his spare balls into the pot, and then begins blowing on his cue stick like a snake charmer (with Bukový providing the suitable oboe music), whereupon it inflates into a pungi and the Big Bear’s beanie suddenly becomes a turban; as the snake-charmer Big Bear plays his “pungi” and swings it back and forth, so too do the balls in the pot emerge curvingly as a “snake”! However, the Little Bear pays no heed to it, and indeed will have none of it; he spends most of the time brushing himself down, and upon beholding the snaking balls, he simply slams them down into the pot and pours them all out (much to the Big Bear’s unamusement) before continuing to try moving on from the Big Bear, pot in hand. This game having failed, the Big Bear throws out the cue stick-pungi (with the turban reverting back to his beanie) and reaches out to yank the pot back again while suggesting they play magician, this time doing it so swiftly that it gets pulled from the hand of the Little Bear who once again falls over as a result—unfortunately, the animation of him getting up in turn is rather sloppily-executed, as he suddenly pops from his body curving back up to a stiff standing/looking pose (on top of which his position even shifts slightly further to the right), effectively destroying any sense of momentum. (It goes by fast enough that ordinary viewers would not notice at all, but as with the other mistakes present in this film, it is nevertheless a testament to how the dreaded production plan generally gave the animators only one try to get their scenes right if they wanted to be paid well for their work, with no leeway for fixes or improvements afterwards.)

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After pulling the pot to his side, the Big Bear takes out a magician’s wand and takes on all the mannerisms of a stage magician. He starts by holding the wand out horizontally, with its “magic” end capped by his other hand to prevent it from accidentally touching anything, then raises it gracefully and prolongedly as he prepares to tap on the pot with it (notice how he lifts his entire upper body and then just his head in synchrony with his wand-holding hand as he does so, very grandiose movements that would make the dramatic wand-raising more easily witnessed by an audience in a large auditorium); he then taps on the side of the pot rapidly and repeatedly, underscored nicely by the sound of a twinkling piano, and begins stirring inside the pot with his wand as he declaratively tries to remember the Little Bear’s “enyky benyky” spell (even glancing towards the side in a sort of mock-thinking posture) while some enchanting woodwind music begins playing, ultimately reciting a different version with “three bare bellies” as he takes a giant metal magician’s hat out of the pot and flings it onto his head with a “boom!” Now something of a full-fledged magician, he continues stirring the pot with his wand, then somehow pushes it further down into the pot (lifting it up slightly beforehand as though aiming to insert it in a specific position) as he begins reciting more nonsensical magic words, whereupon he pulls it out to reveal it has apparently been transformed into an umbrella; in a brilliantly understated example of both the Big Bear’s showmanship and the knowledge of physics that Pojar’s animators had at this point, he turns the umbrella upward and forces it open by bringing his arm down as he holds it, causing air resistance to act against the thin canopy, then brings his arm back up in a single bouncy flow of action to bounce the umbrella over to his other hand, subtly lowering his upper body as it lands in a way that subtly emphasizes the masterful delicacy with which he is able to carry out his craft. He follows up on this by twirling his now-free right hand a little before he reaches into the pot to dig around for his next objects—namely, the two demented pink rabbits from the opening sequence!

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Upon being forcefully tossed by their ears to the right (just look at how the Big Bear does almost a running toss here, emphasized by the blurring of Malík’s camera as it pans to the right), the two rabbits quickly pull out electric guitars and launch into some rockin’ 60s music, dancing and spontaneously shouting “jej!” with their fittingly savage-looking mouths as the Big Bear himself begins slowly winding up to dance. At first, the Little Bear simply stares at the fourth wall with an utterly incredulous look, his occasional subtle glances towards the right making his reaction even more hilarious as though he has absolutely no idea what to make of this extremely uncomfortable situation; as he sees the Big Bear now dancing with the wild rabbits, he decides to continue dragging his pot along far away from them—but not before noticing the hole from which the Big Bear “magically” pulled everything out, whereupon he goes over and, wanting to distance himself far from anything to do with the Big Bear at this point, pulls out a third pink rabbit and tosses it towards the Big Bear! (Unfortunately, the tossing itself is weakly-animated; it barely even registers as a forceful toss, yet somehow the rabbit ends up all the way at the Big Bear, who actually rocks back and forth a little from the rabbit’s momentum as it lands in his left arm.) This third rabbit shouts “jej-jej!” excitedly as it pulls out a two-necked guitar and starts performing excitedly even in the bewildered Big Bear’s arm (just look how it scrunches up and expands its body to the rhythm of the music); as the Little Bear walks off with his pot for good, the Big Bear takes notice, placing the rabbit down with its buddies to get it out of the way as he steps further to the left to confirm the Little Bear’s departure. Realizing that this spectacle has probably turned off the Little Bear even more, he turns back swiftly towards the rabbits and, having no further use for them, stamps his foot down angrily and tries nudging them away with the pointy end of his umbrella; when they do not step away fast enough as they end their song, he furiously tosses his magician’s hat away and outright jabs at them with the umbrella, causing them to be blown away like the wind!

Turning back towards the Little Bear as the scratchy a cappella march starts up again, the Big Bear unamusedly shakes his head “no” in disgust over his ordeal with the rabbits and makes his way over to the left as a repetitive squeaking sound combined with crackling starts to be heard; as it turns out, the Little Bear is busy trying to strike up a flame for his pot by sliding a bow back and forth on a giant match to easily rub it against the stone on which it is stood. Watching curiously while still holding his umbrella, the Big Bear comes to the conclusion that the Little Bear must want to play “castaway on a deserted island”; accordingly, he throws the umbrella into the ground such that it breaks up into a palm tree, and, satisfied with this result (notice that his mouth continues flapping even after he stops actually speaking—maybe a bit of dialogue was deemed unnecessary in the mixing process and scrapped?), hastily takes one of the Little Bear’s matches to begin drawing a vast, whirlpooling sea around the small pocket of greenery on which the Little Bear is working! (A great touch is how, as the sea gets bigger, the Big Bear’s drawing gets increasingly faster, as though he’s really gotten into the job and cannot wait to get into the game itself; the reuse of the twinkly piano and woodwind music from the earlier magician skit also works well here in respectively conveying the umbrella breaking up and a sense of marine relaxation.) Perhaps it is no surprise that, as director, Štěpánek took a more design-oriented approach to this film’s comedy than Pojar did, using his backgrounds as essential components of the gags themselves; as with the earlier stage-like forest, the lovely setting here, with its grassy green island surrounded mostly by light bluish dirt (and occasional patches of different colors), proves a valuable canvas for the Big Bear’s next attempt to win over the Little Bear.

It is only here, after so many important things have already taken place, that we finally see the Big Bear transform for the first time in this film, and even then only minimally: in his excitement, he blasts off high above the screen and lands atop the artificial palm tree as a monkey, bobbing up and down on the springy tree and bouncing before trying to grab the Little Bear’s attention by smacking a ball-as-coconut (which just magically shows up) onto his head, all while Bukový provides some Hawaiian-sounding steel guitar music. However, for this entire sequence, the Little Bear has completely ignored the Big Bear, focusing instead on creating the stone flame, placing it under his pot, and kindling the fire with his matches: he now tops it off by merely patting his head after the ball bounces off of it into the drawn ocean before adding another match piece to the fire. Faced with a true conundrum, the monkey-like Big Bear scratches his head, then springs off of the palm tree (spinning as he reaches his highest point for playful measure) into his drawn ocean, whereupon, in a clear reprise of the car demonstration from the second Bears film (How the Bears Went Swimming), he begins circling around the Little Bear while transforming into a variety of boats—none of which prove effective in distracting the Little Bear from kindling his fire. Once the fire has flared up for good, the Little Bear begins stumbling off to fill his pot (with the Big Bear sinking and watching, as represented by his becoming a submarine eye), briefly pausing a bit to better his hold on the pot, and when he begins walking right over the water, the alarmed Big Bear attempts to stop him from this violation, becoming a shark and biting him back by his leg—only for the Little Bear to pull his leg out and, before departing, kick the Big Bear with his other leg so hard that he spins around in the air before falling back into the ocean. Here, we see in the Big Bear’s behavior how Štěpánek, in spite of designing the puppet technology that allowed the Bears to transform freely, does not seem to have much use for the transformations himself, apparently seeing in them mostly just a tool for emotional purposes: a way to emphasize the Bears’ emotions and states of mind at a given moment, and also a way for the Bears to try captivating each other (or other characters) in some way, most typically as a form of manipulation.

In any case, the Big Bear finds it strange that the Little Bear is no longer captivated by anything of his, as the Little Bear fills his pot with water from a faucet connected to an oddly-thin pipe. Soon enough, though, the Big Bear jumps out of the drawn ocean onto the grassy island with another exciting idea reinforced by more strong character acting and well-synced mouth animation: pointing at the Little Bear to show how he wants him involved and then gesturing towards the sky (with his entire body leaning towards it in turn) while nodding his head, he suggests that they take a holiday in a balloon, after which, while addressing him more directly and affectionately with “Wouldn’t you like to try that, mister?”, he again leans towards the Little Bear and points at him more swiftly while nodding before holding his hands together over his heart as he leans back in a desirous manner (notice how, coinciding with the camera being jolted to a slightly different position for a few frames, his left hand is suddenly moved to the front of his right hand as he starts leaning back). From there, he promptly turns around and reaches to pull the palm tree down to its original umbrella form (a nice touch that emphasizes how high he has to reach up is the way he raises his right leg in the process), then walks off-screen to slide back in within the metal magician’s hat from earlier, conveniently stopping right below the umbrella; hence, the hat now serves as his basket as he begins using an imaginary pump to inflate his umbrella into a hot-air balloon, and he waves goodbye to the shunning Little Bear carrying his pot back to the fire as he begins floating off (Bukový comes up with a very pleasant lifting-off theme for this scene), with the whole apparatus starting to swing back and forth in the wind as he gets higher.

As the Little Bear remains hyper-fixated on his pot, the Big Bear continues swinging along in his balloon and ascending higher and higher, with a slower, more lackadaisical version of the lift-off theme playing here. At first, he observes amusedly that the Little Bear has once again reacted with nothing, but then quickly takes on some overly horrified theatrics as he realizes the situation is worse than he thought; as he blows along in a nice, partly cloudy sky that appears to have been painted with a large brush, he begins scratching his head over how the Little Bear really does not want to play with him anymore. This distractive pondering proves detrimental to him, however, as the balloon proceeds to ram right into a beautifully-textured-and-decorated tree, which rocks back-and-forth as the Big Bear is thrown up spinningly by the tilted angle at which his hot-air balloon crashes and left hanging for what appears to be dear life on the edge of his metal hat; when his initial cry for help goes unheeded after a long pause of about two seconds, he begins flailing frustratedly and yelling that “you don’t leave a friend hanging here”, but then demands something that does not quite make sense with how he is apparently about to fall and die, namely for the Little Bear to pierce the balloon—which, given the hat is hanging by the balloon, would essentially have the same result as if he just let go right at that moment. (Maybe, like the earlier scene with the demented hare and the ball, it’s supposed to convey what a senselessly panicky kid the Big Bear is? Or perhaps the Big Bear figures that landing with the hat as a kind of shield might soften the impact somewhat?)

This strange lapse in judgement is compounded by two bizarre continuity errors in the same shot. The Little Bear, smiling with satisfaction at how his fire is going, looks up as he finally notices the Big Bear’s ranting, and from there swiftly picks up his bow and a match, aims for the balloon (as represented very well by his squinting eye), and fires—and in the very next shot, as the projectile rather predictably lands on the Big Bear’s rear end, we see not only that the tree has apparently shrunk, as the background has changed completely from the high skies to the deep forest, but also that the match has, in the interim between the Little Bear firing it and its gluteal landing, apparently transformed into an actual arrow! (If nothing else, the forest background itself is beautifully crafted in its abstract arrangements of dots and scribbles and lines, to say nothing of its marvelous mixture of various hues of green with some specks and blotches of red and white for good measure—it is obvious that, even in scenes like this where the backgrounds are not that important, Štěpánek used his newfound freedom as de facto director to indulge in his artworks.) Justifiably annoyed, the now-off-screen Big Bear (it seems evident that Pojar, who found himself editing this film towards the end of production, did not want to linger on the previous shot for obvious reasons) yells that he said “balloon”, leading to a blank spot in which, with no matches left, the Little Bear simply shrugs and scratches his head for almost four whole seconds; eventually, the Big Bear’s insistence on him doing something leads to him rushing over to the tree in the beautiful forest with his bow—and we see the tree has somehow gotten even lower to where the Big Bear could easily just jump down without any trouble, yet even so the Little Bear decides to use his bow as a saw to chop the tree down anyways, leading to a mildly amusing (if visually interesting) gag in which the fallen tree rolls over and flattens the Big Bear like a steamroller.

Now would be a good time to mention that, as a visionary of any kind, Štěpánek came to have a reputation for being very troublesome and indecisive, and this sequence seems to be a perfect example of that, with its bizarrely-conveyed shifts from the Big Bear appearing to be in serious danger to simply panicking for no reason whatsoever, to say nothing of the stick changing into an arrow or the interruptions of the urgency with odd pauses. It is almost as though Štěpánek had scenes animated and filmed based on whatever whims he felt at any given moment, with the iron fist of the production plan essentially setting them in stone regardless of whether or not they actually fit together as a whole. Perhaps it is a testament, then, to Pojar’s skillful editing after the animation was complete that the sequence nevertheless plays out quickly enough for most viewers not to notice these flaws; still, the fact that they exist in the final cartoon would seem to indicate some serious behind-the-scenes directorial troubles. (There is much more to be said about Štěpánek’s indecisiveness, but I will get to that later in this piece…)

Anyways, the Little Bear gasps and nudges his head forward with shock at seeing his estranged buddy flattened (note that his mouth here reverts to the earlier one-piece form), and hurries right over the stump to the Big Bear’s side (placing his bow in his pocket on his way, as established by the shot after this—not another continuity error, thankfully); looking down at him worriedly, the Little Bear stands him up like a cardboard cutout as he says “mister” to see if he is responsive, only for him to nearly fall over. In a neat visual trick, the Little Bear then turns the flattened Big Bear around to where he can face him directly while repeating “mister”, such that he is seen only as a patterned wobbly line; when this also threatens to simply droop over, the Little Bear pushes him back up while telling him to wake up and then jumps to begin bouncing on him repeatedly, squishing him dazedly back to his normal size and shape. With this done, the Little Bear begins to scurry off to his own affairs again, but not without stopping and turning around (revealing he has taken his bow out again) for a moment to take one last look at the wobbling Big Bear, perhaps checking to see if he’s okay.

Sure enough, the Big Bear starts staggering back and forth confusedly as he begins calling for the Little Bear to wait (though there is no attempt at animating his mouth in sync here, alas), before pulling his flattened hat out from beneath the tree, giving it a good punch to bring it back to its original form, and smacking it back on his head. It is here, after over half of the runtime has passed, that the film inexplicably starts to improve somewhat (maybe Štěpánek was in an ambitious mood when this section was filmed?), beginning with one of the single most brilliant sequences of character acting in the Bears canon: now in full showman mode, the Big Bear runs excitedly towards the Little Bear and pulls him back to begin a fast-talking interrogation, his head-nodding and mouth-flapping almost perfectly synced with every question he asks, with the annoyed Little Bear in turn repeatedly trying to leave as he responds curtly with the tersest possible answers for each question, often swatting at the Big Bear as he does so. As the Big Bear asks what he is doing on his own, he pokes the Little Bear to where he bounces slightly, clearly wanting in on his personal space; when the Big Bear, upon pulling him back after his answer of “heating”, asks why, the Little Bear’s mouth as he clarifies “cooking” opens more widely in tandem with how he says it in a much louder and more irritated voice than his previous answer. When the Little Bear tries to leave once more, the now-slightly flustered Big Bear (look how he loses his smile for a bit at this point) proceeds to take some of the Little Bear’s giant matches from off-screen—conveniently using the pulling-back of his own arm to push the Little Bear back at the same time!—and hammer them down rapidly like a fence around the Little Bear (whom he holds in place in the meantime with his other hand) to try and prevent any further departures, in turn pointing at him enthusiastically (causing him to actually flinch a little!) as he asks what the result will be; only now does the Little Bear, jutting his head out over the fence and nodding while also holding out the sack of rice to assert himself in the face of the bullying Big Bear, reveal that he plans to create his own witty porridge so he can become smart, after which he tears open the fence and, with a small smile of satisfaction on his face, recollects his matches before walking off for good.

The Big Bear, whose curiosity turned to a questionable look upon hearing the Little Bear’s response (with his body then even sinking in dissatisfaction as the Little Bear tears his fence open), now engages in some rich, impeccably-animated acting histrionics that are perfectly matched to the dialogue to boot. When he says “Yeah, yeah, porridge!” in a dismissive manner, he initially sweeps his arms out while turning towards the Little Bear as though trying to get him to halt, then starts stepping forth with his arm stretched out to stop the Little Bear only to suddenly stop himself, pull his arm back, and start thinking, as though saying “porridge” has made him quickly realize something; all of a sudden, he shifts to nodding and asking the Little Bear if “you know the trick of how to make porridge”, pointing at him appropriately as he says “you” and then circling his arms upwards to emphasize the “trick”, then hurrying towards him with his pointed hand stretched out before, now wearing an excited smile on his face with even his voice getting sweeter in tone as the Little Bear breaks his matches in half to add them to the fire, additionally qualifying, “…and not just swill, ‘brrrr’, for piglets?”, which comes with some extra emphatic nodding and pointing and even a swatting-away for the “brrrr” sound before he finally settles into a satisfied, knowledgeable-looking pose.

The Little Bear’s response, of course, is far simpler: he takes his one remaining match and rapidly sketches out a schematic of his recipe, consisting of rice, water, salt, bay leaves, and a fire hazard sign meaning no burning (amusingly enough, as he recites his recipe at the same time, he switches no-burning and the bay leaves around); this incidentally marks the only time that these kinds of sketches appear in Štěpánek’s entries, even though they had characterized several memorable interludes in Pojar’s, as Štěpánek unsurprisingly seemed to prefer working with the Bears themselves. The Big Bear outstretches his palm to agree with salting, and raises both his arms with outstretched palms for no burning, but then curves his palms in and out to point out that the Little Bear does not have the “main” and “most important” thing; using his conveniently raised arms, he draws attention to the thing in question by slowly placing his hands onto the edges of his metal hat, eventually making it fly off of his head by applying enough pressure to where it slips out of his hands, resulting in a brief wondrous moment in which the hat spins around and floats in the air—before, true to its metal nature, falling right back onto the Big Bear’s head, much to his brief confusion.

Somewhat aggravatedly thrashing his hat up to a more comfy position, the Big Bear continues with more exuberant character acting and speaking: he begins briskly walking back-and-forth as he loudly points out that the Little Bear has a pot and rice (even spreading his arms out repeatedly to emphasize as much), perhaps thinking out loud to himself in a way that the Little Bear can understand, then stops and stands with arms akimbo as he proclaims, head nodding, that he himself has a pot lid. He then builds on this with a similar complementarity, namely that the Little Bear knows the recipe (which he emphasizes by swatting at the Little Bear) while he himself is the chef (thrusting his arms with outstretched palms up as he says so), and finally steps closer to the Little Bear and swings his arm out (as though presenting something good) as he suggests that they put their elements together (thrusting his arms up once again to pitch as much) and start the porridge up jointly, raising his left arm with an outstretched palm and making his way over to the Little Bear as he says the latter (unfortunately, in what may be a good indication of the production troubles that this extensive meticulous acting caused, there is no properly-animated transition between these last two actions, with the Big Bear essentially cutting between two different positions and even poses—as he abruptly begins going further to the right, even his outstretched arm suddenly switches from being his left arm to his right).

Now maniacally exploiting this golden opportunity to force the Little Bear back into his fold—the Little Bear himself, undoubtedly fearful that the Big Bear will once again try to steal his livelihood, guards his sack of rice tightly by his side—the Big Bear places both his hands on the Little Bear’s shoulders as he begins pitching how he’ll cook two or three spoons of porridge for the Little Bear, who in turn attempts to back away only for the Big Bear to lean in and then zip over to his other side (while he himself begins looking away as though trying to plan an escape route) as he continues hawking about how he’ll be the smartest bear near Kolín. The Big Bear then rushes back to the left of the Little Bear and begins actively violating his boundaries once more as he tries to step away for real, all while the Big Bear crucially proposes that they should return to their supposed “fifty-fifty” relationship again since they’re “still friends”; unable to deal with his overwhelming, overbearing demeanor at this point, the Little Bear can only stand silently and unwillingly as the Big Bear proceeds to literally force his hand into the agreement, even prying it from him a second time when he tries pulling it away from the Big Bear at first.

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With this unscrupulous deal sealed, the Big Bear takes the sack of rice from the Little Bear and triumphantly marches over to the pot, shaking the sack to pour the rice in (nice detail there) and delicately covering the pot with his metal magician’s hat as a foreboding, rising series of keyboard strikes backed by warbling flutes starts up; these become more abrupt, clearly about to lead into a more substantial musical piece, as the Big Bear slams the empty sack on his head to make it his toque and rubs his hands gleefully in anticipation of the cooking process. Now ready to cook, the music briefly goes silent as he voices his first demand for the stirring spoon, with the Little Bear in turn, jolted by this order, rushing out to bring the spoon in—and thus Bukový’s theme song for the film, which conveys a nice feeling of build-up and progression in keeping with the cooking theme but is performed in this initial scene mostly by woodwinds at a moderate tempo, starts up as the Little Bear returns with the spoon and raises it up for the Big Bear to take it, with the Big Bear in turn almost dancing as he carefully takes his hat off of the pot and does a few tricks with the spoon before actually stirring the pot. Next, the Big Bear demands salt and pepper, which the Little Bear obliges by rushing out and coming back in with only a canister of salt; evidently the pepper was simply an unnecessary slip of the tongue, as the Big Bear proceeds to carelessly dump the entire salt canister into the pot (high blood pressure much!?) before throwing it out without any further regard for its companion. Next come the bay leaves, which provide a good opportunity for an ironic contrast: in spite of the Little Bear bringing in an entire wreath of leaves, the Big Bear, after what appears to be some careful deliberation, ends up picking just one leaf to throw in the pot, tossing the rest of it out casually.

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The Big Bear now demands more firewood: in a good indication of what little respect he has for the Little Bear even after everything that has transpired, he drags him along by his ear to go fetch some wood (notice how elegantly he does it too, almost gracefully easing his hand above the Little Bear’s ear as he turns around before grabbing it as though it’s an essential part of the cooking process), shouting various commands and emphatically raising his arms further up with each one as the Little Bear goes over to a long log, saws a chunk of wood off with his bow, and carries it back to the Big Bear. As the Little Bear tries sawing his second chunk, however, the Big Bear finds that he goes too slow for his tastes and makes his way over to do all the sawing himself, grabbing the bow-wielding Little Bear by his legs and using him to rapidly saw out five chunks of wood; these magically multiply into eight chunks as the Big Bear begins running on them like a treadmill to bring them all back at once, eventually merging into them to become a tank in a good representation of his hasty efficiency with the bulky load! As he arrives back at the cooking station (now with not eight, but nine chunks of wood as his wheels!), he settles down and returns to his normal form, allowing him to kick all the chunks into the fire in two groups.

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The Little Bear, seeing the Big Bear hard at work, continues sawing wood on his own as the Big Bear kicks a stray chunk into the fire and starts chanting “heating” while stamping his foot and swinging his arms back and forth like a conductor (with such excitement that his whole body bobs up and down each time); he is interrupted by the Little Bear who side-steps in as a pile of wood chunks with legs (evidently he has learned to saw faster than before), trying to point out with a nervous, shaky arm slithering out from within the chunks that the pot is already bubbling enough—and indeed, as the Big Bear turns to look, a giant bubble as wide as the pot begins rising up from beneath the metal hat-cover and threatens to burst, causing the Big Bear to cower into the wood pile so fast that it briefly scrambles and swirls around in mid-air before dropping to the ground! As the Big Bear looks out from within the pile, the bubble finally explodes, whereupon, as the Little Bear pops out, the Big Bear laughs heartily as he swats at the pot and concludes it’s alright.

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Thus begins an escalation as he extends his arms out to roll the entire pile of wood chunks into the fire (giving it a good kick with his right leg as it rolls off for good measure) while encouraging things to keep going on in this way, resulting in a ridiculously large fire bigger than the actual pot, causing a massive bubble to rise that eventually explodes so forcefully that the hat-cover blasts off like a rocket and, as the Big Bear’s toque is blown off spinningly, the shockwave throws the Bears over onto their heads! (The flames appear to be made of orange construction paper painted red at the bottom, and white paper is used for the bubble exploding.) As the hat blasts off higher into the sky, the Big Bear cheers, with the porridge pot now creating large bubbles even without the cover such that chunks of porridge (which look like wet, doughy napkins) explode into the Bears’ faces; they are soon forced to duck as, in one of the finest moments in the series, the pot begins releasing an amazing fireworks show of explosive patterns of porridge (they appear to have been animated with flour or a similar powdery substance on the animation table?), which finally culminates in a bubble that releases a swarm of birds and—as the jaw-dropping climax—a nuclear-style mushroom cloud arising from within the pot!

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As the pot sputters its final bursts of fireworks, the clouds of porridge high in the sky that have resulted from all this begin gathering together, all while the Big Bear is heard continuing to cheer; the Little Bear, meanwhile, questions this, as just about all their porridge is now in the sky (with a weaker spurt of porridge splattering on him to add insult to injury). Indeed, by now it is increasingly obvious that, as anyone could have expected, any activity the Big Bear is allowed to hijack will inevitably end in his favor, while the Little Bear will always, without fail, end up getting the worst of it—as the two of them crawl over to the pot when it appears to have ceased, the contents suddenly explode right in the Little Bear’s face (with a nice lighting effect, to be sure), knocking him and the Big Bear behind him backwards, and from there the pot is pulled high into the sky by a tiny fountain of porridge (a nice touch is how the splashing top almost seems to be flapping its wings, as though it is actively carrying the pot up), whereupon it gets caught in the giant porridge cloud and launched back like a slingshot into the Little Bear’s foot!

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The Little Bear himself seems to have realized as much: in yet another first for the series, as he settles down after the usual jumping-around-with-foot-in-pain routine, he becomes overtaken with such a genuinely annoyed, grumpy anger that it becomes the default expression on his face from this point on. The Big Bear, as usual, does not give so much as a fuk (not exactly a Czech cognate for a certain four-letter word, haha); clasping his hands romantically, he begins squealing and jumping with childlike joy over the snow that has begun raining down from the porridge cloud in the wake of the hole created by the pot, with the Little Bear in turn giving him his angry look as he digs around in the pot to find that not even a trace of porridge is left. His barely-concealed rage is expressed very subtly by an otherwise-inconsequential moment in which the Big Bear taps on his shoulder: he turns around with such an abrupt swiftness (he does so in only three frames!), his head even bobbing forth very briefly, that one can tell he has zero interest in dealing with any more of the Big Bear’s exploitative nonsense.

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Jumping excitedly, the Big Bear drags the pot (and the resentful Little Bear with it) over to his side and takes hold of it as he offers to give the Little Bear a sleigh ride, only to go right off on his own anyways to play with the pot. From a purely aesthetic standpoint, this is easily the most beautifully designed and poetic sequence in the Bears series up to this point: to a catchy up-tempo version of the earlier cooking song with the main melody played by a Hammond organ and the middle melody played by a trumpet, the Big Bear creates two musical staffs as he slides back and forth on Štěpánek’s wonderful snowy background, leaving musical notes on the top staff with his footprints as he dances with the pot and large craters on the bottom staff as he bounces on his rear end (though there is one clear downside to using such white backgrounds, namely that it is very easy to see the shadows left behind by the puppets, props, or even unknown objects or people hovering over the animation table and how they—or even the camera’s exposure settings themselves, as seen right as the Big Bear starts dancing on the top staff—fluctuate based on different sections of this single shot clearly being filmed at different times), then begins sliding below and above the Little Bear with his head-covered-with-pot and feet (note the attention to detail as the pot leaves a thicker, deeper trail than the feet…and also the extra crater that appears to the right of the Little Bear as the Big Bear begins sliding above him, the tiny trails that appear below the Big Bear one-by-one as he reaches the left side of the screen, and how those trails and the big bump at the bottom of the screen get smudged as he exits!), and finally transforms into a horse driving the pot around like a sleigh! And yet, precisely because this sequence is so beautiful, the context in which it is clearly placed—namely, the Big Bear having just completely sabotaged the Little Bear’s plans for his own ends, with his companion now standing in visible anger over the affair for us viewers to see—is all the more jarring, adding an unpleasant layer of sadism that spoils the sequence’s appeal. Perhaps that feeling was precisely what Štěpánek and Urban were trying to convey here—the unfortunate irony, say, of how even the loveliest spectacles and performances that bring joy to people are often only possible by making others miserable and depriving them of what they want—but it comes off rather heavy-handed at best.

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Building upon this unpleasant theme, the Big Bear once again demonstrates how he ultimately cares for no one’s enjoyment but his own—with others only mattering insofar as they either enhance or put a damper on his enjoyment—as, after whinnying, he transforms back to his regular form, kicking the pot at the Little Bear such that he is twirled in the air as he asks sternly why he looks like a “kakabus” (which usually these days means a sourpuss or a grouch—but it’s actually also an archaic term for “cooking pot”, derived from the Latin cācabus, so I wonder if Ivan Urban didn’t deliberately choose this particular term to fit with this film); when the Little Bear responds by swatting towards him angrily and retorting that he’s waiting here for “his” porridge before slamming the pot down on him (note that the Big Bear has returned to smiling right as the pot goes down on him), the Big Bear begins mocking his desires as he jumps around in the pot before inflating himself to pop it off of him, in turn going over to ridicule him bemusedly as though he were little more than an ungrateful brat (“I’m banging for him, I thunder for him, I do wonders of nature for him, and he waits just and just for the stupid porridge!”). When the Little Bear is then heard retorting “witty” (this appears to have been edited into the soundtrack after the fact—perhaps by Pojar?—so that the Big Bear’s next actions would make a little more sense, as the Little Bear is not even animated here), the Big Bear, having walked off a certain distance by this time, reveals his true ugly colors as he reverts to a stern demeanor and nastily insults the Little Bear outright as a “purely earthbound bear” before kicking a ball of snow at him, which, in a very quick escalation showing that he has had enough, the Little Bear angrily catches (even if he is thrown back by how big it is) and then throws right back at the Big Bear (who manages to playfully dodge by jumping) while insulting him back as a fraudster “like a skyscraper” before going forth to give him a good shove and topple him over!

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Thus begins, as the culmination of everything that has happened up to this point, the first all-out brawl between the Bears, which Štěpánek thankfully exploits as a marvelous opportunity to go wild with the Bears’ transformations, magnifying the intense emotions they feel against each other at this juncture; it’s all underscored, to boot, by a rapid version of the cooking song that incorporates a brass section in the middle, and preceded by some ominous, rising bass-plucking as the Little Bear shoves the Big Bear. After forcing each other to turn into bizarre objects like a plane propeller and assaulting each other accordingly (note that when the Big Bear goes over to smash the Little Bear into a wagon, the exact same background is used in both shots, except with an extra layer of cracks and holes and smudges added), the Big Bear begins firing giant snowballs at the Little Bear, first by becoming an arrow and then by using his leg as a sort of catapult to bang against the pot on his head (firing it like a snow cannon)—but this backfires when all the snowballs end up stacking onto the Little Bear’s head, allowing him to use them as a sort of curvy battering ram that throws the Big Bear up into the air! As the snowballs come crashing down into a pile, with the Big Bear tumbling down the pile and then being left dazed by the pot (it is briefly sent upwards by the landing impact, even spinning as it does so, before crashing back onto his head), the Little Bear takes the opportunity to kick him up so hard (almost by the crotch!) that he goes all the way up to the porridge cloud in the pot, which, as with last time, is caught and launched back down by the top of the cloud while leaving a gaping hole in its wake; this proves to be the end of the cloud, as all the porridge in it begins spilling out in droves.

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As the two Bears start to be buried in the giant drops of porridge that rain down upon them, they begin bickering with each other (albeit their conversation is drowned out by the brilliant gloppy bubbling sounds—if only we knew who Pojar’s sound designer was!), with the Big Bear ultimately seeming to insult the Little Bear’s intelligence (as if this wasn’t all his fault to begin with!) before using him as a stepping-stone to the top of the remaining snowball pile in a last-ditch effort to avoid the deluge: after initially clawing on the snowballs desperately, he uses the pot to cling onto the top of the pile and successfully fling himself over. The Little Bear in turn stretches the Big Bear’s left leg out to climb on at the Big Bear’s expense, and finally the Big Bear retaliates by stretching both of the Little Bear’s legs out into a ladder, which ultimately causes the two of them (followed by the tumbling snowballs themselves) to sink down into the porridge together due to the unstable nature of the pile combined with their weight! (Incidentally, the Bears being cut off beneath the porridge appears to have been achieved by filming the puppets separately and compositing them onto the set later, as had been the case with the lake in How the Bears Went Swimming; the fact that the ripples in the porridge are perfectly timed with the Bears’ animation makes it all the more impressive.)

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Things start to wind down as the Little Bear emerges from the porridge, happily realizing that the “snow” is, in fact, the porridge they cooked; a nice visual touch is how he is so covered in porridge (his coating is made of plaster, I assume?) that his speaking is initially conveyed through porridge bubbles blowing up from his mouth before he licks it off from there, and then he has to wipe the porridge off from his right eye to even be able to see, all while it continues dripping from the rest of his upper body (creating constant ripples around him) and even splatters around when he quickly moves his head back and forth in search of the Big Bear. The Big Bear turns out to be right next to the Little Bear, his presence signified by some bubbles from within the porridge as he unamusedly proclaims he’s “messy like kohlrabi” before emerging himself and wiping the porridge from his own mouth and right eye; clearly peeved at what has become of the situation, he hostilely reminds the Little Bear that he was the one who wanted to be smart, then flings the wiped porridge at him in a very violent manner (leaving what appears to be a giant porridge explosion in the Little Bear’s face!) as he hands him a spoon and tells him to eat until he can think of a way out of the porridge (incidentally, there’s another camera exposure error on the animator’s or Malík’s or Švarc’s part as he begins saying the latter—the lighting gets visibly darker for two frames), ultimately taking up another load of porridge just to fling it back down such that it splashes once more onto the Little Bear’s eyes (which he had just wiped off after the Big Bear’s previous porridge attack!).

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At first, the Little Bear takes up very small scoops of the porridge and licks them, as though he is uncertain whether the porridge will really work out for him; indeed, when the Big Bear begins impatiently exhorting, “More!”, he pauses for a little while before shaking his head “no”, wondering if he really has to eat it all. Once the Big Bear pops into the frame briefly with a simple command of “eat”, the Little Bear starts to warm up to the porridge as the Big Bear keeps repeating “More!”, eventually taking up large scoops and ultimately clearing the area around him as some very satisfied-sounding music by Bukový (led by a bassoon) starts up; soon, the Little Bear revels in how he can step with his legs again, while the jealous Big Bear, upon futilely and bitterly exhorting “More!” one last time (note that his speaking mouth here is back to the original painted version from the earlier films), takes some porridge from the side of his head and flings it into the deluge, angry that the Little Bear has managed to overcome this conundrum in his own way while he remains stuck. To add injury to insult—and perhaps as sweet revenge for how the Big Bear had used the Little Bear as a stepping-stone just earlier as the porridge was flooding down—the Little Bear nicely asks the Big Bear to hold the spoon for a moment, which he rather hesitantly obliges as though it seems the Little Bear is being a little too congenial for the moment, and sure enough, now freed and with the Big Bear disarmed by his apparent friendliness, the Little Bear proceeds to use him as a platform to look out for the end of the porridge and then jump all the way back to solid ground, with all the remaining porridge on his body falling off as an added bonus! And to top it all off, when the Big Bear worriedly asks what will become of him, the Little Bear dishes his own advice of eating the porridge right back out at him, waving his arm at him and shaking his head as he shouts, “You have a spoon, so bon appetit!”—leaving the humiliated Big Bear shaking his arms in rage as the Little Bear hurries off!

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Alas, after everything that has happened, Štěpánek and Urban ultimately make the mistake of giving the Big Bear the last laugh. The Little Bear, now back at the billiard table (with Štěpánek putting a streak of flour or whatever the porridge is made of near the top of the screen as a reminder how things have changed since the beginning of the film), takes a red ball, polishes it on his shirt, and places carefully it on the table; then, with his newfound confidence and (purportedly) wits, he takes the cue stick and twirls it around to begin aiming as he enthusiastically shouts out the “enyky benyky” spell with higher hopes for a score of at least 100, along the way twirling the stick again to correct the end with which he is firing and then looking down to ensure he is in the correct position and shifting his feet accordingly. Unfortunately, right as he fires, two giant glops of porridge come flying in, covering the top side of the table and completely sabotaging his shot as the Big Bear is heard shouting “Here!”—suffice to say, this was what he decided to do with the spoon in the end, and the film closes on a shot of him sticking his tongue out at the Little Bear and settling back into a satisfied arms-crossed pose. Quite frankly, even besides being a strongly unlikable and unfunny moment in itself, it’s just an incredibly annoying way to end the film, and Štěpánek missed the opportunity for what could have been a funnier, more satisfying, and possibly even more stinging conclusion: if the Little Bear had gone ahead with his shot only to misfire and, say, end up swallowing the ball again, it could have been a brilliant way to show how, in the end, no amount of “witty porridge” can cure the Little Bear’s—or anyone’s—lack of smarts. As it stands, all this final scene does is convey that, no matter how many victories the Little Bear manages to win over him, in the end the Big Bear will always be the one who dominates and finds ways to screw him over even in his most triumphant moments—thus ending the film on a remarkably sour note.

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A very uneven entry, How They Ate Witty Porridge is admirable in its attempts to do something unusual and arguably more interesting with the Bears’ relationship than what Pojar had done in his entries. Certainly, when it came to fulfilling their already-designated roles, Štěpánek and Urban excelled here: the art design is overall far richer than in the previous entries, with a number of truly beautiful innovations like the snowy porridge scenes, and Urban clearly had fun coming up with quirky lines of dialogue for the Bears here, with the Big Bear especially rattling off many odd, difficult-to-translate sayings and idioms over the course of the film; their banter in these later entries has a unique provincial flavor that Pojar, in his more globally-oriented worldview, seems to have mostly discouraged when he was in charge. For that matter, Boris Masník and the Procházkas showed here that they were now more than capable of handling complex acting and dialogue scenes even without Pojar’s meticulous direction, and that the Bears could be carried as compelling characters even while eschewing their transformations for the most part. Amidst the film’s shining moments, however, there are many instances in which the direction and animation clearly falter, likely due to Štěpánek’s own erratic decision-making combined with the deadlines and budget constraints of the production plan, and the Big Bear himself is too excessively pushed to irredeemable, almost sociopathic levels of trickery, indifference, and manipulation against the poor Little Bear, giving the promising story an unpleasant and mean-spirited flavor. Nevertheless, it manages to be entertaining enough as an introduction to this intriguing take on the Bears as actual quarrelsome boys who somehow remain friends, one that Štěpánek and Urban would improve upon somewhat over the next two entries.


Hold Your Hat / Držte si klobouk (1966)

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This entry, the longest in the original Bears series, is perhaps even more aimless and disjointed than the previous one, moving between several different tangents for almost half of the cartoon—mostly linked by the Big Bear’s desire to win back the Little Bear after another argument—before finally settling, thanks to the whimsical logic of the film’s world, on the titular plot involving a newborn baby hat, which itself goes in some odd, almost improvised directions as both Bears take to this third companion before the film rather abruptly concludes on a bittersweet note. Yet, precisely thanks to this purer, more modest focus on nonsensical visual ideas and situations that allow the Bears to do some fun things, it is more enjoyable as a children’s film than Witty Porridge.

To begin with, we see that the pink rabbits in charge of handling the opening credits have been tamed somewhat, their eyes moved closer together and eyeballs more focused on the task at hand. As they compress the opening Central Film Distribution card to transform it into the film’s title, they struggle to open it back up, eventually almost falling over from the sheer amount of pulling back the job has taken as they do so; only their single feet implanted on the ground keep them standing, in turn allowing them to sort of bounce back. From there, they manage to gracefully recompress the title card and tear it open to reveal the credits scroll, whereupon, in a final significant change from the previous entries, they handle the scroll manually, leaving it stationary on each set of credits before swiftly pulling the scroll up themselves to the next set; it seems that the auto-scrolling function, which had already begun having problems in the last entry, has broken down altogether, though the silver lining is that it is much easier to read the credits than before. Throughout the opening, we see the rabbits are rather bored and anxious to move on to a more worthwhile activity, as their eyeballs sporadically peer back and forth between the credits and whatever things wait for them off-screen; as they finally tear the scroll apart and spin back into the screen (and each other), however, we hear the Big Bear calling out from the right, “Goal, that was a goal!”, immediately grabbing the rabbits’ attention as soon as they stop rattling from their mutual collision.

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Thus the film begins in medias res: the two Bears are busy arguing over whether the Big Bear scored a goal, while fighting over the ball itself. The Little Bear backs away onto a large stump, his right arm holding the giant beach ball and left arm waving his hand “no”, as the covetous Big Bear closes in and begins trying to pull the ball away from him; after a tug-of-war between the two of them as they keep shouting “was” and “wasn’t”, Big resorts to just kicking the ball up as he triumphantly sticks his tongue out and declares “was” (taking advantage of how “byl”, or “was” in Czech, sounds like a tongue-teasing sound in itself), with Little in turn sticking his tongue out “blah” only for the ball to bounce right off of his head. Fed up, Little looks around to see where the ball has landed before finding it right in front of him, and then curvedly kicks it behind him, declaring “that’s it” as he goes off to the far side of the stump to sit and shun Big; the ball in turn flies right into the two rabbits (for some reason they now look even friendlier than before, their savage teeth replaced with cute smiles and frowns), who decide to play with it now that the Bears are no longer using it. Once again, the Little Bear is actively dissatisfied with the Big Bear’s unscrupulousness; rather than exploding in a tantrum, however, this time he internalizes his anger and just stops bothering altogether.

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As the playing rabbits speed past the two oppositely-positioned, stump-sitting Bears (in a nice distinction, one simply runs and the other jumps along), Big, briefly pondering, attempts to convince Little to play with him again: he flings a red cue ball onto Little’s head, only for it to land on the ground below to be kicked away by Little, and then takes out a sheet of paper and quickly folds it into a paper hat before tossing it for the wind to blow it swirlingly onto Little’s head, only for Little, in a much more sudden and impressive display of his pent-up rage, to swiftly crumple it up and throw it on the ground to kick away! Now faced with a true dilemma, the no-longer-smiling Big Bear takes out a hair comb to help himself scratch his head—and hits upon a brilliant idea, as illustrated nicely by how he suddenly smiles and blinks and then taps his head with the comb (as though thinking, “Wait…I’ve GOT it!”): he begins blowing into the comb to create a buzzing sound like a fly as he slowly stretches his arm towards the now-smiling Little Bear’s head, in turn giving it a good jostle before quickly recoiling. Convinced that a fly is on his head, Little shakes his head rapidly as he looks up and swats the air, and then peers back at Big to ensure that it’s not just one of his tricks, with Big playfully pretending he is doing nothing as he glances back towards Little a few times; he then repeats the jostle, this time causing Little not only to swat his arms more swiftly and overtly, but also to get up from the stump and look around, from there flailing his arms around so rapidly that, in a first for the series, they create smears and multiples constructed of sandpaper! As the buzzing has seemingly stopped, he stumbles back to the stump anxiously, reaching his arms back for it as he tries to sit down again—only to jump in surprise at its sudden continuation, whereupon, after inspecting his seat as though making sure the alleged fly isn’t on it, he jumps onto the stump and begins jumping and flailing his arms so much that they become like two giant spinning blades! (Based on their shiny luster, the blades may have been created with some kind of metal or metallic substance.)

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At last, the Little Bear realizes that the Big Bear has been doing all the buzzing, his jumps ceasing and arms gradually slowing to a halt as he stares at Big with a not-so-pleased look; Vladímir Malík, in turn, zooms in on Big as he begins swirling his forehead as an excuse to keep the fun buzzes going. For some reason, editor Helena Lebdušková then inserts a quick 17-frame close-up (less than a second) of the Little Bear’s unpleasantly surprised look, perhaps emphasizing his realization that he has once again been duped by the Big Bear, though knowing Štěpánek it could also be just a leftover from a different version of this sequence that was nixed in the end. In this regard, it is followed by a sloppy scene in which, as Big stops swirling and buzzing, the unamused Little Bear takes on an arms-akimbo pose and glares at him to express his disapproval, then jumps down from the stump—only for his mouth to not even move as he says “Enough!”, and for the animation to suddenly cut to him stamping down on Big’s foot (without even lifting his leg to do so!) as Big stretches up in pain before he takes the comb away from Big, warns him sternly not to “buzz at me” while they’re still estranged, throws the comb out with flair as he continues glaring at him, and steps off unhappily. The substance of the scene is at least funny, as we see Little has gotten serious enough about his distaste for any more of Big’s nonsense that he can now use humiliating pain and intimidation as deterrents against the dominant partner.

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Not that this really deters Big, though: he proceeds to take out a bucket and start blowing bubbles from it with a straw, in turn popping into the stump area to fire a quick burst of bubbles at the back of Little’s head as he walks off. This immediately provokes Little to turn around and run back, shaking his fist at Big as he warns him also not to bubble; yet in due time, he is won over by the dreamy streams of bubbles that Big keeps blowing, and as he tries amusedly asking Big not to “butter me up” all the time, the bubbles gather and take the form of a man on a swing, with an enchanting glockenspiel waltz on Bukový’s part complementing Little’s feelings of wonder. (For what it’s worth, the idea of straw-blown bubbles becoming a magical person was almost certainly cribbed from Pojar’s earlier 1957 film at Bartolomějská, The Little Umbrella (Paraplíčko), but it works very well here nevertheless.)

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Overcome with astonishment, Little goes over to Big and asks how he makes those “prabuňky” (which basically means microorganisms) as he takes the bucket of bubble solution from him, his hands trembling as though he is in awe of the magical powers that lie before him. Upon blowing into the straw so deeply that a bunch of bubbles land on Big’s eyes, Big takes the bucket back (wiping the bubbles from his eyes as he does so) and, with Malík zooming in on him, lectures Little vividly on how to blow the bubbles properly, delicately taking the straw up with his mouth so that he can gently blow a giant bubble with a trail of smaller bubbles behind it: these become a sort of blimp that carries the bubble man-on-a-swing away as Little looks on with delight. In his excitement, however, as the bucket is handed back to him, Little proceeds to outright drink the bubble solution through the straw; the surprised and confused Big Bear yanks the bucket back only to find it has all been drunken up.

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Sure enough, Little begins hiccupping to where bubbles come out of his mouth; his embarrassment over the situation is evident in how he tries quickly shoving them back into himself and covering his mouth, only for them to re-emerge from his ears and (when he tries covering those) even his rear end, much to Big’s chuckling amusement! The bashful Little Bear then covers himself in the giant bubble that ultimately emerges, with the Big Bear remarking that he’s a “full-blown superball” as he starts bouncing along in the bubble; he in turn uses his leg as a ramp to bring this superball onto his head, and from there slowly lowers himself, his delicate handling of the bubble allowing him to start bouncing it around playfully with his head, rear end, and legs. Finally, he sucks up a little of the bubble with his straw and releases it with the straw still punctured inside it, such that the bubble blasts off like a rocket and starts flying around wildly as a forceful stream of bubbles pours out from the straw’s open end! (“And ta-da! We’re playing cosmonauts.”)

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After burping out his own bubbles, the Big Bear, realizing the situation has gotten out of hand as he ducks to avoid the diving Little Bear-bubble, decides to turn into a fire truck, driving back and forth with a long ladder to keep up with the bubble as conductor Štěpán Koníček starts up a catchy chase theme composed by Bukový specifically for this entry (performed mainly by solo-trumpet with electric guitar backing); ultimately, Big realizes it’s a futile effort as he tumbles over and returns to his original form, with the big bubble eventually running out and popping as Little starts burping out the last of the bubbles within him, causing him to spin ever-higher into the sky before starting to fall from a horrendously high height (his speed such that he leaves a sort of burning trail behind him while Malík blurs the background behind him). Recognizing that the situation has gone from bad to worse, Big prepares to accept what he sees as Little’s ultimate doom: he predicts where Little will land and possibly go straight to Australia, drawing a line from Little to the ground so that he can draw a target at his relative position, and then steps back a lengthy distance as, looking up at the incoming Little Bear again, he takes his beanie off out of respect and begins sobbing, wiping his tears away with the beanie before finally recomposing himself (note how he bends his knees briefly to release some of his emotional stress) to watch out for the end of the Little Bear. (Note also how, throughout this sequence, the Little Bear shifts repeatedly between his normal appearance and a strange, overly-stylized design that looks like a lifeless, beady-eyed teddy bear, perhaps conveying his helplessness.)

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Just as Big ducks and shields his eyes in anticipation of what is set to be an earthshaking crash-landing, however, the funny, buzzy fall sound is suddenly interrupted by the sound of an engine starting up, which nevertheless causes Big to rattle violently; his surprise as he gets up and finds that Little has seemingly disappeared is well-conveyed by his eyes bulging out for two frames. Running over to the target, he pats around on the ground as he asks where Little has fallen, believing that he is buried somewhere in the vicinity—only to find himself in the presence of a bizarre, hairy UFO insect thing (animated with cotton or some similar fabric?) that descends and salutes him! The understandably scared Big Bear meekly salutes it in return, his head jolting up in frightened surprise, then tries to back away slowly and run only to be pulled back by the UFO’s springy arm; as it turns out, it has caught the Little Bear for him, pulling Little out of its body and placing him in Big’s arms as it salutes the Bears once more before rising back into space.

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As Little waves goodbye to the UFO, Big nervously asks what that was, whereupon Little, revealing he has grown attached to the UFO, refers to it affectionately as “Bohoušek the saucer”, almost sighing over how it supposedly played with him up there and concluding that it could be a new friend for him. Realizing that his own position is in jeopardy, Big dismisses Bohouš’s existence as, putting Little down (note how he flails around babyishly before Big makes him stop), he pledges to do “a dozen-fold as much”, transforming into various specimens of flying cookware and even a sultan on a magic carpet (it seems, for whatever reason, he carried along a sheet patterned exactly like his shirt) in an attempt to win Little back; this culminates in him folding himself inside the carpet to become a UFO of his own, blasting off and releasing a ton of sparks that look like Bohoušek’s fabric! Yet none of this particularly interests Little, who shakes his head “no” and swats his hand bemusedly at Big: while Big’s display is “tiny, and lovely, and nice”, he is nevertheless “too big a bear for playing…and too crafty”.

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At first, the UFO Big Bear stops in mid-air, unable to believe what he has just heard; when Little repeats “too crafty” and, stretching his arm out to grab his sack from off-screen, walks off in search of a smaller companion, the UFO Big Bear slams onto the ground and, reverting bouncingly to his original form, remarks to the fourth wall that Little’s “gone mad suddenly into a pinhead”. As usual, Big seems incapable of recognizing how his behavior has increasingly alienated Little, seeing in him only a stupid kid who has become harder to play around with; ergo, rather than giving him some space as a true friend might do, he keeps pushing at him with different methods of captivation and manipulation in hopes that one of them will convince Little to rejoin him in his crafty games.

Thus, as the Little Bear makes his way relentlessly over an orange-red desert-like background, the Big Bear tries exhorting him to stop: he runs in front of him, pulls him back a little, and eventually even cartwheels over him so he can become a boom barrier, forcing him to a crashing halt. With Little’s attention now grabbed, Big suggests that they should get together again, and that he will even find Little a small playmate in the form of a dwarf: to demonstrate as much, Big stretches his tall boom barrier self up and releases himself such that he is flattened into a dwarf, speaking in a high-pitched voice as he walks around Little. This briefly regains Little’s enthusiasm as he jumps up in celebration, only to stop, realize how nonsensical Big’s proposition is, and swat at it as he tries to set off once more; Big in turn reassures him as he takes Little’s sack, bounces it onto his other arm (further away from Little), and reverts to his real form, declaring that they have been “hit by heat” as he pats Little’s back and proceeds to become a rising thermometer to show how their relationship is supposedly warming up again. This culminates in an assurance that they will be “fifty-fifty” as he holds his hand out, encouraging Little to accept the deal.

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Perhaps it is only this last promise that convinces the long-abused Little Bear, after a bit more consideration, to shake hands on the shady deal; tellingly, he does so happily in the close-up, yet the more distant shot with both Bears has him doing so with a much more ambivalent look, as though Štěpánek himself was unsure exactly how the Little Bear would respond to this deal and opted to just throw these two possibilities out here. In any case, the energized Big Bear jumps high up in celebration, landing as a motor scooter as he declares that they’re off, with the Little Bear in turn jumping on excitedly as they ride off into the woods: for whatever reason, the two Bears are once again depicted in unusually stylized, dead-looking forms as they ride over a seesaw and then trip over some boulders, sending them spinning through the air and landing on their heads (curiously, only Little squashes-and-stretches as he lands, with Big simply bouncing back onto his feet).

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Štěpánek’s forest here is much darker and arguably more beautiful than in How the Bears Went Swimming, decorated as it is with an abundance of realistic-looking fir branches and bushes. In some unusually fluid-looking animation, the Little Bear struggles to get his sack off of his head, with the Big Bear having to pull it off for him before he drags him by the arm to hide behind the rock; from there, he does a good job pretending to peek out for a dwarf, even dragging Little back on the basis of his purported inexperience when he tries peeking himself, and points out the alleged dwarf as hiding “over there, beneath the ferns”. After shoving Little behind the rock again to further the impression that something hides there, Big gently exhorts him to carefully go over and look beneath the leaves, ordering him to bring back anything he finds on the basis that dwarves “masquerade in many different ways”; of course, it quickly turns out, to no one’s surprise, that this is all just a front for Big to start cooking with whatever savory ingredients Little brings back to him, with Big repeatedly and aggressively pushing Little away to find mushrooms.

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As Little mutters about how Big only tells lies, he discovers, to his surprise, an egg on the ground—and just as he is about to alert Big, he stops and decides to take it for himself, hiding the egg behind his back gleefully as he remarks on how Big is “always just taking over, taking over.” Alas, even as he stirs the pot of mushrooms and licks the spoon to taste, Big turns and immediately recognizes that Little is hiding something, hopping up and rushing over to him as Little hides the egg while a playful, skittish pursuit theme led by a flute starts up: when Big tries peeking behind him, Little squishes himself down, and from there he backs away in a leaning, secretive manner as Big stretches himself over him in an attempt to see what he’s hiding, only to fall over from the weight of his towering self! Reverting to his usual self, Big concludes Little is acting as though he’s found an actual dwarf, and decides to further investigate by marching over to Little (right as he is hiding the egg in a thicket) with a proposal that they play dog: Little, it seems, cannot resist such a game, as he exclaims something (though no dialogue is actually heard) and points to himself excitedly (as though gesturing “me!?”) before rolling himself around to become a tail-wagging dog. As the Little Bear-dog barks and stands on his hind legs, Big takes his beanie and throws it off to the side, ordering him to fetch it as he in turn rubs his hands gleefully in anticipation of the secret he is about to uncover—but just as he brushes the thicket away, the Little Bear-dog rushes right through him, sending him rolling out of the screen as Little covers the egg with the fetched beanie and starts kicking his legs back to bury it further!

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Frustrated with this withholding of the egg, Big stamps his foot down and steps towards the canine Little Bear with his threatening, fist-clenching posture, pointing at him, shaking his fist, and throwing up his arms in exasperation as he decides to shun him in return owing to their “fifty-fifty” agreement (Little, for a brief moment, reverts and holds the beanie down on the egg for fear of what the raving Big Bear may do next). Perhaps mindful of how their relationship seemed to be improving for a bit, Little, after gently stroking the beanie-covered egg, carefully steps over to the Big Bear and does the same for him as he decides to show him the egg after all—but (and he turns around to say this finger-waggingly right as the Big Bear starts getting excited) only on the condition that he shall not want it “hard-boiled nor scrambled”. As the two Bears once again shake hands in a renewal of their agreement, Little reaches out and gently lifts the beanie up to reveal the egg—much to Big’s scorn.

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Little, meanwhile, takes a much more optimistic view, believing the egg to be an unhatched little dwarf as he begins breathing on it to keep it warm. He does not take kindly to Big’s amused insult towards his behavior, practically jumping back towards him as he invokes their “fifty-fifty” agreement to force Big to help him in that regard; thus, the two Bears find themselves breathing on the egg together, with Big often turning towards the camera to buzz and swirl his forehead as an indication of what he thinks of Little’s crazy demands (and turning back to the egg when Little’s eyeballs peer towards him). Soon, though, the egg begins to hatch, cracking as it begins bouncing its way out of the woods (and conveniently placing the beanie back on Big’s head) with the two Bears nodding their heads along to its movement—and in an inspired reflection of what basically hatched it, the child inside the egg begins exploding through a series of multi-colored eggshells (matching the colors on the beanie), the fragments landing on the Bears helping to sell the idea that something like this could happen, before finally emerging as a crumpled little bowler hat, its brief shivering showing that it is alive!

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Once again, Big initially views this new development with disdain, while Little, offended by Big’s reaction as he shakes his arms furiously at him and slams the yellow eggshell fragment on his head, sees the brighter side of things, declaring that the hat “rounds us off” as he tries stroking the newborn hat; almost magically, it recoils and begins crying like a real baby, with Big taking the opportunity to throw out a cultural reference in response (Louis Armstrong’s March 1965 visit to Czechoslovakia must have been fresh in audiences’ minds at the time). Little continues to be displeased with Big’s mockery, pointing out that the hat is little as he picks it up and begins walking around while rocking it to sleep; upon seeing Big walk into the area with a smirk on his face, Little kicks him up such that he lands as a baby carriage, placing the wailing hat inside the Big carriage so that he can rock it to sleep more easily. This sets off a series of transformations intended to pacify the baby hat, as Big, reverting the canopy to his head, in return kicks Little into becoming a spinning toy on his handle, then kicks him again to turn him into a loudly-blowing duck toy; when this causes the hat to wail even louder, Big swipes his beanie up to become a jester (note how his arms are clearly detached from his carriage body!), Little turns his head into a crowing rooster and a mooing cow, and finally Big becomes a barking dog—all to no avail!

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At last, Little reverts back as he hits upon an inspired (and perhaps intentionally humiliating) idea: Big must become a potty for the hat to do its business! Understandably, Big is dumbfounded; when Little, fully confident and even a little self-satisfied over this idea, smashes Big down to force him into a pitcher-like form anyhow and is just about to place the hat inside him, Big recoils and balks, waving his hand rejectingly and then stepping back even further to shake his fist as he declares he’s not playing. As the disappointed Little Bear steps towards him with the crying hat, Big further rants and raves (stepping back and forth as he flails his arms around) about how Little’s idea doesn’t even make sense, as the hat hasn’t had anything to eat—and from inadvertently stumbling upon this fact, the two Bears realize, much to their jubilation, that this is the real reason the hat is crying. Out of fear of a humiliation even he has not dared to put Little through—and unable to stop the persistent Little Bear from his newfound purpose of raising this strange new child—the Big Bear is somehow, at last, driven to use his worldly-wisdom for someone else’s good and not just for self-serving trickery.

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Thus, with a newfound warmth and love for the hat, Big graciously transforms back into his carriage form, taking the hat from Little as the latter goes off in search of milk (and shoving Little off almost enthusiastically as he stammers in his reminder for Big to take care of the hat). After tilting himself up to check if Little is gone, Big starts bonding with the hat to an appropriately methodical-sounding theme played by electric guitar, bassoon, and piano: turning Pepík (as he christens the hat) around to let it see his face, he rocks Pepík gently and encourages it to hop onto his head, whereupon it giggles twitchingly as it obliges (much to Big’s delight), and from there Big taps on his handle, giving Pepík free license to hop on there and rattle around as it continues giggling! Things come to a dead halt, however, when Big, in his jocularity, attempts to teach Pepík its first word: “mamlas”, a perverted pun of an insult that sounds like mama but actually means “numbskull”, and which causes Pepík to coo uncomfortably.

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Thankfully, Little returns at that moment with a bottle of milk, with Big in turn swiftly pulling Pepík back into his carriage and reverting his own head/beanie to the canopy as though he does not want Little to see his softer side. As Little takes Pepík out and casually kicks Big away, he tenderly feeds the hat with the milk, causing it to grow much bigger as Big looks on sweetly; when Little begins tossing Pepík up and down and tickling the hat, however, Big rides back in to take it back and literally kick Little and his bottle out, clearly wanting Pepík to be his son and student as the teaching theme starts up again.

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Reverting to his true self, Big once again encourages Pepík to hop onto his head and give him a dandy appearance, clapping slightly as it does so, and from there stretches his leg out as he has Pepík jump onto his foot. It is then, however, that Pepík decides to jump all the way towards Little, on his way to deliver another milk bottle—and upon its landing, the hat stands up on its own, much to both Bears’ delight! (This also cuts off, to be sure, what might have been an interesting plot thread to explore, namely what appeared to be an emerging power struggle between the two Bears over who gets to care for Pepík.) From there, Pepík starts to develop and grow very rapidly: after falling over for a bit in its unsteadiness, the hat stands again and begins stumbling rapidly towards Little’s milk bottle, taking it and drinking from it on its own (though still with some help from Little as he lifts the bottle up for the milk to go down into its mouth), and the overjoyed Big Bear in turn decides to start feeding Pepík solid foods in unusual and challenging ways, cartwheeling out to bring in a huge pot with lots of things in it as the music starts to speed up (with the bassoon being replaced by an oboe).

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First up is a croissant, which Big holds out and raises to an increasingly high height from the ground as Pepík runs over and begins jumping for it, eventually jumping so high that it captures the croissant right as Big tries to raise it even further; next is an apple that emerges right as Big stretches his beanie into a fountain, with Pepík managing to catch it even after Big pulls out a gun and shoots the apple to make it roll speedily along the ground! Finally, as Big strokes Pepík endearingly, he comes up with a test of wits: throwing the pot up, he turns into a vending machine such that the pot and all its contents land inside him, and he demonstrates himself by pressing his button such that a bag of cashews emerges, with Pepík gobbling the whole thing up very quickly. Desirous of more food, Pepík quickly catches on and presses Big’s button such that a bucket and the pot emerge, whereby it proceeds to consume these as well!

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While the Bears are initially impressed with Pepík’s consumption of the bucket, they become much more concerned when it takes in the big, heavy pot; Big, in particular, picks Pepík up and tries looking inside the hat only to find that the pot is not there, and he once again finds himself patting all over the ground for the pot, unable to believe that Pepík has actually consumed the whole thing. The situation then gets even more absurd as, much to the Bears’ shock, Pepík goes as far as to consume Big’s gun, whereupon the hat hiccups and begins firing bullets from within itself! As the Big Bear turns his beanie into a shield so they can get closer, Pepík starts sputtering around and firing off a bunch of bullets and even the bucket and pot; only eventually is the hat itself launched from the gun, which fires off two final shots before the rampage comes to a close.

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As the two Bears emerge cautiously from behind their rainbow shield—notice, in another error, how Big has apparently pulled out a spare beanie to wear while his actual beanie is still in its shield form!—they are surprised to suddenly hear Pepík say “Boom!”: the hat has somehow made its way under the pot, and now it emerges, child-like and oblivious to the danger that has just passed, as it points out innocently to the two Bears how the gun goes “Boom!”. As the Bears rejoice at how Pepík is completely unharmed, Big openly brags that Pepík is able to handle anything because the hat takes its smarts from him; re-energized and with renewed confidence in Pepík’s abilities, he cartwheels over to the left with shield-beanie in hand (with his spare beanie now disappearing!) as he declares that he will now show “what we mime together”.

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Thus, smashing the shield onto his head to turn it into a ringmaster’s hat (with his shirt following suit) and taking a long stick from the ground as he begins marching in place, Big begins a nice little performance with Pepík as his well-trained circus animal, accompanied by a catchy clarinet-and-trumpet-led theme in the same key as the earlier teaching themes. They bounce over and on each other, followed by Big acting as a bouncy seesaw between his own hat and Pepík using his head and foot (incidentally, the brief shot of Little watching gleefully and clapping is rather sloppily animated, looking almost as though editor Helena Lebdušková just spliced together three different versions of Little’s clapping animation as Little abruptly cuts between differently-constructed-and-positioned poses—see the two sets of consecutive frames below!), and then Big cartwheels over to the right while keeping Pepík bouncing on him, and finally Big has Pepík do some high hoop-jumping exercises, eventually having the hat land on Little’s head as Little himself stands upon Big’s giant ringmaster hat.

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Perhaps it is a little unkind to take issue with this sequence, which overall is enjoyable for what it is. But at the same time, the near-total absence of any creative transformations on the Big Bear’s part, which could have resulted in a truly stellar performance, makes it more than a little lacking for what’s supposed to be a demonstration of how Big and Pepík can mime; perhaps Štěpánek’s indecisiveness once again resulted in him running out of time to come up with anything truly outstanding.

On that note, with this film thus far already exceeding How They Ate Witty Porridge in its runtime, it’s about time for Štěpánek to wrap things up: so, in yet another unexpected development, Pepík suddenly stands up and urinates on Big! This immediately provokes Big, his pride horribly wounded by his own student, to become a stern authoritarian, calling the hat by its “real” name Josef (Pepík being the diminutive form thereof) as he angrily shakes his fist at it and demands to know what the hat considers him to be—whereupon, to add insult to injury, Pepík throws the very parental-sounding insult Big had taught the hat, “mamlas”, right back at him! Shocked and angered (just look at his fast reaction to the hat’s words), Big reverts the hoop to its stick form as he declares he’ll “teach you, urchin”—and a (once again) remarkably uncreative scuffle ensues as the Little Bear desperately tries to hold Big back from striking Pepík (with Big suddenly reverting from his ringmaster appearance to his normal form between shots, and the skittish pursuit theme from earlier in the woods being reprised here), which finally culminates in the ultimate stage in Pepík’s twist-filled development: the hat is now capable of flying like a UFO, and with a few final drops of excrement against Big, it decides to fly off with a flock of migrating birds, quickly working its way through to become its leader.

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As Big shakes his fist and swears to eventually give the hat what for, Little begins crying, lamenting that Pepík was “still so little” as though he were a parent seeing his grown-up child head off into the world alone. It is fittingly here, as Pepík and the birds literally fade away into the clouds, that autumn and all its melancholy feelings of change and the passage of time arrive in the Bears’ world, heralded by two large leaves blowing in the wind: even the Big Bear, comforting the crying Little Bear, cannot help pointing it out as more and more leaves blow past them. As he takes out a tissue to wipe Little’s eyes and nose, he suggests that they go back to the movies together—and in a truly perfect ending for this hatty story, Big slams the pot into the stick such that they become a bowler hat and cane, and Little excitedly takes them to become Charlie Chaplin’s Tramp character, in turn spilling cigar ashes on Big’s foot and provoking him to become a cop as the two of them chase each other around (Little even stepping like the Tramp!) to a fast-paced rendition of the series’s theme song!

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Like Witty Porridge before it, Hold Your Hat is mostly a haphazard patchwork of ideas that don’t quite hang together as well as they should. In this case, though, the ideas are fascinating and oddball enough, and the Bears themselves charming enough, that the film is pleasant to just sit back and watch; at the same time, the themes of child-rearing, and how quickly time goes by, that somehow emerge in the second half also lend the film an unexpected poignant air. The final minute or so, in particular, with the arrival of autumn as the Little Bear cries over how the bowler hat has passed from his life and the way the Bears decide to pay it the ultimate homage by re-enacting Chaplin, feels like it could have been in a much better film; as it stands, given the troubled production circumstances—with Pojar mostly off in Canada, and Štěpánek struggling to direct even his own puppets properly—perhaps we can only be grateful that this final sequence and a few others in this entry managed to exist at all.


How They Went to Bed / ‎Jak šli spát (1967)

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In hindsight, it is almost too coincidental that a prominent theme in Štěpánek’s two 1966 entries is the Little Bear’s desire to do something separate from the Big Bear, or at least to be on an equal footing with him. One can almost sense, given the disputes over who deserved credit for the Bears and the tensions between Pojar and Štěpánek that were already starting to arise even at this time, that their stories were essentially Štěpánek-Urban’s way of lashing out against their perceived second-fiddle status under Pojar and his direction, and for that matter what they saw as his unwarranted credit-grabbing. Indeed, Štěpánek even claimed in later years that, even when they were still collaborating, Pojar actively tried to pass off Štěpánek’s innovations and creations as his own: he recalled an occasion where he visited Pojar’s home only to find he was not there, but his wife was—and she showed Štěpánek puppets that he had designed and worked on for months, boasting that Pojar had just finished them. For that matter, when Pojar was interviewed about the Bears by the daily newspaper Práce in 1968, he purportedly did not mention Štěpánek at all: “For the bears I needed…as much motility as possible, the possibility of absurd changes almost like in drawing. So I used a technique which is something between puppet and drawing.”

As the Bears‘ popularity grew, a much more public violation of the agreement whereby Pojar, Štěpánek, and Urban would be co-credited as the series’ creators was taking place: the posters advertising the first three shorts, which according to the Czech National Film Archive’s records were respectively released on 13 May 1966, 27 May 1966, and 10 March 1967, credited only Pojar, in his capacity as director, as the main visionary behind the series. As the posters themselves show with their lists of other animated films being screened—and as posters for screenings of other Czech animated shorts like the Krtek series show—it was standard procedure to credit only the directors when advertising cartoons; since this ran right in the face of what the main figures behind the Bears had previously agreed upon, however, Urban decided to take some time to plead his case to Krátký Film’s management at a meeting that took place at the Prague Film Club on 16 December 1966, just as work was starting on what would be the sixth and final entry of the first Bears series:

Urban: Štěpánek and I are pressed for time, because we are doing the sixth Bears and must leave. At the beginning of our activities on the series “Hey Mister, Let’s Play” we exchanged with Comrades Žižka and Gráf almost diplomatic notes on the fulfillment of author’s rights, i.e. whether or not to present the names of the authors on promotional material, which includes, besides invitations, also posters. I was assured that the comrades, who have considered my concrete authorial share in the case of the Bears series, where it is as the author of the story, screenplay, and commentary, understand it as a natural requirement. Since then, the work is presented only as the work of Břetislav Pojar on posters. It introduces disharmony into the otherwise harmoniously-working Štěpánek-Urban-Pojar trio. It is not inessential for the names of all three to be on the posters for this series. It is in the absolute agreement of the authorial team. The KF management can give an instruction—to whom should I turn as an author?—for this to be on the posters.

Žižka: I agree, even though I am not responsible for the posters of ÚPF, much less for the posters of the Prague Film Company. I can intervene, not order, but warn…

Urban’s opening statement would seem to be an admission of how difficult it was for him and Štěpánek to get anything done in a timely manner without Pojar’s direction, even as Čiklovka’s production plan for 1966 may have accounted for Štěpánek’s directorial inexperience and given him a bit more leeway to begin with: Pojar had managed to produce all three of his far more solidly-constructed entries in the 1965 production year alone, whereas Štěpánek in 1966 had the same amount of time to direct just two entries, both of which nevertheless came out feeling rather rushed and desultory with stories that were sloppily put together at best. Perhaps it was a wise decision to hold the sixth Bears entry over for the 1967 production year; in any case, the authorities did listen to Urban in the meantime, as the posters for Hold Your Hat (released 5 May 1967) and How They Went to Bed (as the sixth entry would be called when it was released as late as 13 September 1968) would feature extensive credits that listed not only Urban, Pojar, and Štěpánek but also cameraman Vladímir Malík and music composer Wiliam Bukový. (The poster for How They Ate Witty Porridge (released 24 March 1967), meanwhile, credits only Pojar and Štěpánek, even abbreviating the latter’s first name to simply “Mir.”)

And so this brings us to How They Went to Bed itself: a worthy finale to the original Bears series, it is the only one of Štěpánek’s directorial efforts to come close to the level of Pojar’s earlier Bears entries. This is not least thanks to an unusually strong and even poetic story by Ivan Urban: essentially an inversion of Washington Irving’s tale of Rip Van Winkle (and all its literary forebears like the Japanese folktale of Urashima Tarō), it touches upon the poignant theme of the impermanence of childhood, of suddenly finding yourself all grown up and no longer able to spend your days carefreely as time goes by faster than you can imagine. It also helps that Štěpánek and Urban’s unique interpretations of the Bears’ characters had improved significantly from the previous entries: their initial conflicts arise naturally from the Little Bear’s sleepiness as his urge to hibernate for the winter kicks in, and the transformations they undergo to express their feelings throughout the film are much more imaginative and varied than before. As the literal icing on the cake, Štěpánek’s art direction for the Bears series reaches its pinnacle here, with plenty of interesting and even gorgeous props and settings; the beautiful winter sequences, in particular, must have taken special amounts of craftsmanship on part of Štěpánek and the preparation team at Čiklovka.

Perhaps as a result of all this extra thought and care, certain corners nevertheless had to be cut to keep the film within the production plan’s constraints. The proper lip-sync on the Bears’ dialogue, which had been a defining characteristic of the previous two entries, was largely eschewed here, with the Bears’ speaking mouths and Rudolf Deyl Jr.’s voices only occasionally matching up. Most notably, the Bears’ weddings are conveyed through an extended flashback animated with cutouts, which were likely easier and less time-consuming for Masník and the Procházkas to work with; while cutout-animated interludes had been a staple of Pojar’s entries, they were entirely absent from Štěpánek’s up to this point. In this respect, these presumably time-and-cost-saving measures made for the ultimate paradox: they helped bring this entry even closer to the earlier Pojar-directed films with the Bears.

In keeping with both the new production year and how the previous entry ended with the arrival of autumn, the Bears’ woodland undergoes one final artistic revamp here, with darker, earthier soil and a few red and brown leaves scattered across the bottom. The pink rabbits who handle the titles have been tamed even further; with friendly-looking smiles, they methodically reopen the compressed Central Film Distribution card to reveal the film’s title by stepping back and pulling on their respective sides of the card, and then, in a throwback to the very first Bears entry, they reveal the credits scroll simply by reopening the recompressed title card again (albeit with such force that they fly off-screen as a result). As the rabbits step back in to manually push the scroll upwards like in the previous entry, they repeatedly shift their heads up and down as though looking at the credits and making sure everything is in order; finally, they recompress the credits scroll again only to have some trouble trying to tear it open to begin the cartoon—and in a semi-encore of the opening gag in Princesses Are Not to Be Sniffed At, they get thrown into a tree that was standing behind the title scroll all along, causing two halves of a cactus to fall onto them (the one on the right in particular causing the upside-down rabbit to twirl right back onto his feet!) and more autumn leaves to scatter from the tree!

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As the autumn leaves continue floating gently down (note that some of them are colored blue), we see the Bears in the middle of a game of checkers, with Little using acorns and Big using pinecones (a clever reflection of their respective figures). Already, as he finishes pondering and makes a move, Little yawns and, after honking the horn to let Big know it’s his turn, begins to doze off; Big, as expected, is jolted into making his move almost immediately, honking the horn twice in his enthusiasm. As Little rubs his eyes and makes his next move, his tiredness begins to overpower him: he struggles to warn Big to watch out for him and then honk the horn, and soon he is snoring as Big playfully makes his own next move with his foot. Big then tries to jolt Little awake by placing the horn such that his drowsy head lands snout-first on the bulb: his sleepiness is such that it takes him a bit of looking around to realize he’s still playing, and he tiredly slides another acorn as he dozes back off.

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Realizing how advantageous the situation is to him, Big lets out a triumphant laugh and, scooting closer to the checkboard mat, carries out multiple jumps over all of Little’s conveniently-positioned acorns (only the very last jump, which takes place not diagonally but horizontally, is illegal), in turn thrashing them from the board such they all bounce off of Little’s sleeping head (his slumber such that not even this assault can awaken him) as he claims victory and, honking the horn towards Little, declares that Little “cracked like an acorn”. It is only this last taunt that jolts Little awake: looking from side to side at the largely empty checkerboard below him, he immediately assumes Big has cheated again (which is only partly true this time!) and jumps down to angrily kick away the pinecones on both sides of him, crumple the checkerboard mat up, and toss it out, turning back to Big with a nasty glare and clenched fists to show just how fed up he is! In one of the few shots where the acting and mouth movements are linked to the dialogue, Big defends himself: he more-or-less points his finger upward and nods as he claims he didn’t cheat, then scornfully swats at Little while shaking his head “no” as he points out that Little slept while he made his (mostly) valid moves.

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Pulling back from Big as he mocks the idea that he did anything wrong by sleeping, Little turns to a random leaf on the ground and takes out his anger on it, kicking it away such that it multiples into a bundle of leaves, then times himself out from Big by facing the rock, swatting at him as he asks rhetorically “who thought up such a sleepy game”. As Little continues ranting, Big decides to have a little fun with himself: he steps on one of the leftover pinecones such that it twirls in the air, then kicks it high up such that it lands perfectly balanced upside-down upon the tip of his beanie before bumping it off. With this done, he steps over to Little and, perhaps on the basis of his rock-facing position, suggests they play hide-and-seek, rubbing him gently on the back of his head and then scratching the top so as to butter him up into the idea before nodding to emphasize his claim that it’s a lively game and taking on an earnest, beckoning posture; sure enough, Little’s anger quickly gives way to enthusiasm, excitedly jumping up as he declares more or less that he’ll be the one to count down.

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Interestingly, rather than counting down as he places his arm over his eyes, Little skips straight to the statement that one says in Czech hide-and-seek after one is already done (basically the equivalent of “Ready or not, here I come!”); however, the way he says it noticeably gets slower over time, indicating that he has succumbed to his hibernatory urges once again. In the meantime, Big steps off and, to a catchy, skittish solo bassoon melody, tries finding a place to hide: at first he tries shoving a metal pot-hat (the same one from Witty Porridge?) over himself only for the top to completely break off, and then, as Little tiredly finishes his proclamation, he attempts to hide himself behind the dump heap of metal objects and fences that strangely characterizes this side of the woods, only to find this does not work at all. Finally, after a bit of pondering, he taps his head in realization and at last decides to take advantage of his transformative abilities: he jumps up and lands as a pot in which he can hide his head!

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But of course, as Big tries calling out to let Little know he can start seeking, Little has gone to sleep once again, his snores so intense that they cause the autumn leaves to blow in and out from his rock-hidden face. Annoyed and remarking to himself on the matter as he peeks his head out from his pot body, Big decides to try waking Little up: he rattles himself such that he turns into a giant ringing bell, and when this doesn’t work, he becomes a self-beating drum and then a blaring, honking horn! When all these fail—and indeed, Little’s sleep has only gotten more intense as more and more leaves are blown in and out by his snores—the frustrated Big Bear, after a bit more head-scratching, decides to take a more aggressive approach: turning into a cannon, he shoves a giant bottle of Marcel Rochas’s Femme perfume into himself and fires it such that it bounces bottom-first off of Little’s head while squishing him down! Alas, this only wakes Little long enough to tiredly swat towards Big and mumble for him not to prod him; he goes back to sleep as he assures Big that he sees him all the same, this time lying on the ground.

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Stamping his foot down furiously with his clenched-fist arms following suit, Big lets out a minced oath of “heršvec” (“her” being derived from German Herr meaning Lord, and “švec” meaning shoemaker) as he runs over to Little and, lightly tapping him to see how unresponsive he is, wonders if he might be sick. Using both his hands, he swiftly dresses himself in a head mirror and stethoscope from his rear and begins conducting a medical examination, with his placement of the stethoscope by Little’s shoulder tickling him enough to wake him up; he proves far less amused, however, when Big tries to get him to say “aaah” by putting a spoon handle in his mouth. Realizing what’s going on, Little spits the spoon into Big’s mouth (the spoon suddenly changing direction such that the handle gets stuck in Big’s mouth instead of the actual scoop!) and angrily gets up to demonstrate his health through some interesting transformations: shoving Big away, he becomes a fish that can somehow breathe on land and walk on its fins, and then turns into a sprightly, singing, fluttering bird, flying high up in the air and even letting out a 2D-animated drop of poop on Big’s beanie (with Big unamusedly wiping the residue off) before gently descending, hopping, and rolling right back into his sleeping form!

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Big, realizing Little’s tiredness is much more severe than he expected as he looks on wondering what to do, next tries shaking Little violently awake (to a fun squeaky, scribbly sound) to entice him into his favorite game of ninepins: he jumps off-screen and rolls into a ball, in turn knocking over some colorful bottles (besides the bottle of Femme perfume, there’s also one of Cinzano Bianco vermouth), and then sets all the bottles back up, even putting a boot on top of the Cinzano Bianco bottle for good measure, as he entices Little to play as well. Unfortunately, Little once again proves too tired: it takes a while for him to even realize what Big has been saying, and, after drowsily exclaiming “ninepins”, he tepidly rolls over to the bottles without even transforming into a ball, coming to a sleeping halt right as he bumps into the front bottle. Now thoroughly frustrated, Big takes his beanie up just to slam it back down on his head in rage, pumping his arms as he does so, and from there gives the curled-up Little Bear a good swing with his arms (note the discontinuity between the two shots in which he does this: not only does the second shot start in the middle of Big swinging his arms up even though he was already about to swing them back towards Little at the end of the first shot, but his fists are no longer clenched in the second shot either)—only for Little to knock out all the pins, whereupon he wakes up briefly to celebrate as he rolls along on his head before ending up in the giant boot as he returns to his deep sleep (so deep, in fact, that the boot itself seems to be snoring as it opens and closes to his snores)!

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The astonished and confused Big Bear, scratching his head, at this point grabs Little from inside the boot (shaking the boot off of him in turn) and shakes him aggressively to get him to wake up, even standing him on his feet afterwards, but to no avail; even as Little tiredly nods his head in agreement with Big’s command for him not to sleep, he nearly falls over in drowsiness, forcing Big to rush back from whatever he was about to start up in order to catch him. Standing him up again, Big begins praising the sleepy Little Bear as a “good little boy” and rubbing him gently to get him to hold still, but then finds he is physically no longer able stand on his own—as Big tries backing away, he nearly collapses again—and so has to hold him in place as he quickly stretches himself out to grab a ball of yarn with an embedded needle from off-screen; from there, he ties the string to Little, and runs off with the ball such that Little is dragged and starts bouncing along, finally turning into a kite and soaring high into the sky with its lovely snowflake-filled clouds! (Note that the shot of Big running along with Little becoming a kite sees the return of the weird miniature models from Hold Your Hat; in this film, however, it’s clear that they’re a way for Štěpánek to simulate vast, distant shots in which the Bears seem to be dwarfed by their surroundings without having to actually create larger, more expansive backgrounds that might have presented needless difficulties for cameraman Vladímir Malík, among others.)

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Planting the ball of yarn with the attached Little Bear-kite in the ground, the Big Bear clasps his hands together enchantedly as the wind grows stronger and, in a beautiful scene, starts blowing all the leaves scattered throughout the background into a swirl, with Big in turn being so overtaken with bliss that he jumps excitedly and becomes a satellite, fittingly rising into the air to join Little in the sky as he then morphs into a kite himself, with his string branching out from the same one holding Little to the ground! Now that both Bears are in the air, Big begins suggesting to Little that they migrate somewhere else for the winter, pulling him even higher up such that the ball of yarn is detached from the ground, allowing them to fly above the clouds freely; as Big flies in circles around Little, however, the dozing-off Little Bear at last speaks up and points out that “every decent bear lies down for a long hibernation”, in turn diving right into one of the many gorgeous snowflake-constructed clouds as he reverts to his normal form to continue his sleep. Soon enough, though, his weight causes him to sink down through this cloud and the larger one below him to the ground, causing snow to begin pouring down, with the Big Bear-kite attached above him preventing him from falling too fast; upon reaching the ground, Little pulls Big down through the big cloud to join him in hibernating, with the breakage causing droves of elegantly-crafted snowflakes and frozen snow chunks to pour down and transform the autumnal woods into a stunning winter wonderland! In a striking change in musical direction from the rest of the series that emphasizes the sheer beauty of it all, Wiliam Bukový underscores this entire sequence of wonderful visual storytelling with lush, sweeping string music, culminating in a fluttery, descending climax that slows to a relaxing, peaceful stop (with a bit of mandolin-plucking for good measure) as all the snow comes pouring down.

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Big peeks up from beneath a chunk of snow, his eyes bulging out briefly in surprise at how quickly the woodland has changed, then peeks around as he continues to lay low, only to find himself being stepped upon by the sudden arrival of some gibbering penguins. Perplexed by what has just happened, Big jumps out and, looking around for Little, quickly finds that the two of them are still connected by the yarn from their kiting—and that Little, buried beneath the snow, is sleeping so soundly that his snores are creating a kind of fountain, increasingly aggravating a penguin who cannot stop the stream no matter how much snow it piles on it. Fearing that Little could be buried for good as the penguin prepares to throw a boulder of snow upon him, Big begins hastily pulling him back, the penguin in turn giving chase as it tries kicking the fountain and even diving into it; only then does Little awaken and emerge, spewing snow out as he mistakes the penguin for a fancily-dressed potboy and pleasantly asks Big what they’ll be having.

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Big, thinking that they’ve ended up in some foreign land, quickly drags Little back by his mouth, whispering for him to behave “a little worldly” so that their provincial origins in Kolín won’t be found out. As the now-calmed penguin passes by them, Big shows his cosmopolitan side for the first time in the series, casually greeting it in French with “Bonjour! Ça va?”; the penguin comprehends Big’s intent enough to respond cordially, even bowing, but is also intimidated enough by this bizarre encounter that it backs away from the Bears rather nervously, almost dashing off as it gets far away enough from them. Big, in a classic case of misunderstanding, thinks that his approach is working, and so blows up a balloon as a gift and begins closing in on this poor penguin that just wants to hurry on with its life, throwing out a bizarre mixture of French, Czech, and Russian greetings; Little, meanwhile, is indifferent, yawning and returning to his hibernation as, in a very understated irony, he pulls the snow over him like a blanket (probably a testament to how tired he is that he does not mind this extreme cold at all, haha).

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As Big tries figuring out how to communicate properly, the penguin notices his balloon and, now enthused, reaches out to grab it somewhat hesitantly (evidently still intimidated by the Big Bear), with Big pulling it away at first as he works out how to convey what he wants in return; after a bit of frustrated mulling, he decides to simply use his transformative abilities to show his desire for two beds visually, making a weird affirmative noise that sounds like a car revving up as he does so. Now fully understanding, the penguin whistles for three smaller assistants to zip up, and together they all lie down to form a sort of train; Big, in turn, takes the once-again fountain-gurgling Little Bear from the snow and tosses him on-board before hopping on himself (their rugged semi-miniscule forms being used for this sequence), and, powered by the spinning feet of the leader at the very end, the penguin train heads off to the first rendition of what will prove to be the film’s theme song (fittingly accompanied here by sleigh bells), with Little returning to sleep while Big looks forward to their dwellings.

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As a way of speeding things up a little, Malík undertakes a rapid, blurred pan over to the two snow-covered caves that will shortly serve as the Bears’ hibernation homes, with Big exclaiming that they’re “a complete international hotel” as he jumps for joy before taking the sleeping Little Bear off and, thanking the penguins in Russian, French, and Italian, hands them the balloon; Little practically sleepwalks into his cave, while Big, having stayed awake the whole time, stops and at last yawns (his two-piece mouth switching to the older painted mouth). But then an unforeseen problem arises: as the leader penguin gently tosses the balloon up and bounces it, perhaps testing to see how fragile it is, the balloon quickly deflates! So the leader runs over to Big and holds the deflated balloon out just as he is stretching and crawling into his cave, the smaller penguins jumping excitedly for him to fix the balloon; Big, at first, just carelessly inflates it and hands it back, such that it once more deflates almost as soon as the leader celebrates and tries bouncing it again. As the younger penguins continue to be restless, even getting angry when the leader hesitates to wake Big up, the leader decides to knock on the cave and plead with Big to come up with a better solution: as Big sees for himself the balloon’s fleeting inflation, and finds that the penguins do not have a string to hold the air inside (cutely enough, they all shrug one-by-one in response to his query), he decides to blow the balloon up to a gigantic size—and insultingly shove the leader penguin into the plug to keep the air in, allowing the little penguins to play with the balloon to their hearts’ content!

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As a quiet, patient-sounding time-passing theme drones on, played only by bassoon and some slight percussion, the beautiful snow falls once more thanks to the penguins kicking the balloon into the clouds, and the two hibernating Bears have a brief dialogue about Little’s comfort, perhaps showing how Big deep down cares about Little; the shot of the snow falling, incidentally, features some thin, curvy metal wires, clearly delineating the general paths of the falling snowflakes (perhaps they were intended as a near-invisible visual aid for the animator of this shot). Eventually, spring arrives, heralded by a gorgeously-crafted shot of the shining sun; the blurriness works well in conveying its intense, blazing heat, as does the chaotic, flaring animation of the grainy powder with which it was apparently created. A lovely bird flies into the still-snow-covered hibernation area, flying in circles and fluttering from bump to bump as it sings to a solo-flute piece; then, one by one, a couple flowers and then the Big Bear himself pop out of the snow, with Big stretching and yawning as the bird continues fluttering around and singing from on high.

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The camera then pans quickly over to the right, just in time for the Little Bear to pop out. As Big comes over, prods him asking how his sleep was, and then cartwheels off into the blooming green fields before stopping on a headstand, we see that the Bears are dressed in nightgowns and nightcaps that they did not have before, and moreover that they are emerging not from caves but from actual houses; these are the first signs that a long time has passed since we last saw the Bears. For that matter, as Big comes to a halt, there’s a very curious animation error (corresponding to the camera itself being shifted slightly upward) in which Little briefly pops in for a single frame; as Little’s pose here is a little different from when he actually enters the area some time later (open the two frames below in separate tabs and compare them), it would seem that the animator of this shot briefly thought it was already time for Little to walk in, and from there it might have been too much of a hassle for editor Helena Lebdušková to actually remove this aberrant frame (or no one actually noticed).

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After an extended silence, Little swats coyly at Big as he begins to reveal his strange dream: walking over to Big with his head bent over and hand over his mouth for whispering (he does put his hand down briefly on the way, perhaps realizing it’s not yet necessary to keep it over his mouth if he isn’t saying anything directly to Big yet), he claims that he got married, and (after looking back to make sure no one is listening in) with Big, to boot! After giggling overtly and head-shakingly while Big turns himself right-side up—I must add that Rudolf Deyl Jr.’s vocal performance here is simply wonderful, perfectly conveying Little’s childish, earnest, and gleeful innocence over the matter—Little even elaborates that he himself was dressed fancily in black, while Big was in a white little dress: he opens Big’s nightgown up such that it becomes a projection screen, and he jumps back to become a projector, displaying his bizarre fantasy (clearly born out of their close relationship as kids) on the screen! Big objects amusedly, waving his hand “no”—as it turns out, he had a similar dream, except his and Little’s roles were reversed, and accordingly he bangs on Little to stop his projection as he himself jumps out from behind the nightgown-screen and begins projecting his version of their apparent wedding! Thus there follows a brief squabble in which the two projector-Bears each insist that his version was the truth; finally, as Little starts to get angry, Big strokes him gently on his lower head and suggests a compromise in which, as they are already brothers to begin with, they had a double wedding with female lookalikes of each other, allowing the two of them to project their wedding dreams at the same time.

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And so begins an extended cutout-animated interlude, based largely around the escalating conflict between a tall, pretentious string-playing penguin appointed for the wedding and an obstinate, jazzy little brass-playing penguin, providing some extra fun and visual variety at what was surely a much lower cost (monetarily and timewise) than the scenes utilizing the Bears themselves. The tall penguin, pompous and self-satisfied, bows down gracefully and takes out his bow, tapping it in the air and raising it up emphatically like a conductor about to begin a performance (note how he raises his entire figure up in doing so); he then taps his foot to get a sense for the tempo as he slowly lowers his bow towards his double bass, then swiftly drags it to the strings (and lowers his left hand to the proper fingering positions) to begin droning out a moldy-sounding tune that vaguely resembles “I Could Have Danced All Night” from the musical My Fair Lady.

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It is then that he starts to be repeatedly interrupted by the little penguin, loudly belting out the first few notes of this film’s unique theme song on a small trumpet. At first, the tall penguin simply smacks him off with his bow (even bowing down afterwards as though it were a simple but virtuosic way of getting rid of the interloper), but then starts getting more aggressive as, on the second time, he takes the small penguin’s trumpet and literally blows him away with it before throwing it out after him. Finally, on the third time, he goes as far as to smash the small penguin into the ground with his double bass, shattering it into pieces—and revealing that he apparently owns a set of nesting strings, as there turns out to be a cello inside it! (Almost makes you wonder how often he loses his temper for this strange backup plan to even be necessary…) As he resumes trying to play the moldy romance theme on his cello, the little penguin simply squeezes himself out and keeps right on playing—whereupon the tall penguin outright hammers the trumpeter further into the ground using his cello, smashing it into its final form of a violin!

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Before the tall penguin can resume his tune on his violin (with a now-much larger bow than necessary), however, he notices the trumpeter once again trying to start the theme song back up—and things get intense as, thoroughly fed up, he decides to put his instrument aside and take out a giant sledgehammer, in turn playing a prototypical game of whac-a-mole as he tries to smash the trumpeter wherever the trumpet pops out from the ground! (Masník or one of the Procházkas does a good job giving a sense of weight to the sledgehammer as the penguin swings it around, not least by having it lag behind his arms as he lifts it up, as well as timing the swing such that the sledgehammer quickly gets to the ground after it passes the swing’s halfway point—see the sets of two consecutive frames below.) Ultimately, the repeated popping-out forms such a perfect circle of holes around the tall penguin that one final swing sends the string-player himself crashing down—but this proves only a temporary setback for the tall penguin, who climbs out and, seeing the trumpeter popping up further away and playing loudly in apparent victory, quickly runs over with his sledgehammer and gives him a good squishing smash right out of the projection screen itself!

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To keep the trumpeter out for good, the tall penguin hammers a giant cork into the hole and stands upon it for good measure, looking around to make sure the little penguin is not popping out elsewhere, then wipes his brow in exhausted relief before immediately putting the sledgehammer away and, with renewed flair, resuming his musical duties on his violin. In a last-ditch effort to exert his will, the little penguin takes out a stand pump and inflates himself, using all this air to give his trumpet a particularly forceful blow—one that sends the violinist penguin flying into the wedding cake (and impacting the table so hard that everything flies into the air), obliterates a good chunk of the floor, and transforms the trumpet into a tuba that plays so loudly and violently that some pastries fly into the faces of not only the tall penguin but also one of the wives! The wedding attendees attempt to retaliate by pulling out a bunch of other cakes and pastries and throwing them into the tuba—but this only succeeds in causing the tuba to start sounding out like its previous trumpet form as it fires the foodstuffs right back at everyone, and an all-out food fight ensues between the guests and the tuba-playing penguin!

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As the Bears themselves, who after all are still children at heart, witness the chaos and fun that the penguin is creating at the expense of the stuffy wedding as he at last gets the film’s boisterous theme song going, they begin cheering him on and helping him out: Little takes his nightgown off such that it gets crumpled up and fires it into the wedding guests by blowing into his nightcap, then Big takes it even further and, declaring “Away with the wedding!”, turns Little into a pump and inflates himself, blowing all the cutouts away from the projection screen using his own nightcap-turned-trumpet! He then throws Little at the screen while proclaiming ecstatically, “Long live spring! Spring and games!”, and suggests they play bull: a true rejoicing in the joys and freedom of childhood, where there are no need for stifling adult matters like weddings. (Of course, Ivan Urban cannot avoid bogging down this sequence with a bit of arcane Czech lingual humor: Big pronounces “býka” (meaning bull) as “bejka”, in an extension of how the “ý” at the ends of Czech adjectives is often pronounced colloquially as “ej” (e.g. “malý” meaning little may be pronounced “malej”), with Little in turn feeling the need to correct him in his pronunciation.) And yet, the foreboding signs of doom in this regard are now plainly evident: the Bears are wearing “mature”-looking, buttoned-up versions of their shirts.

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Bukový’s theme song for the film, which serves as the sole aural accompaniment as the Bears play their game of bull (with Big as the bull, of course), gives off the poignant sense that this is the grand finale, as though what we are seeing is indeed the last game the Bears will ever get to play; this feeling is only further heightened as, in what seems to be a deliberate throwback to the very first big game they played, Little suddenly bounces into his old train form to flatten the Big Bear-as-bull. (For that matter, as Big unfurls Little from the sheet during the game, Little’s shirt switches back to its original childhood form and remains that way for the remainder of the film, as can be seen in the screenshots below.) Sure enough, as Little tries chasing Big off, the two of them crash into one of the snow-covered houses from which they emerged—and Big quickly orders Little to halt as a miniature version of their old train game emerges from the house!

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As the two older Bears revert to their normal forms—indeed, not only Little but also Big are no longer wearing the “adult” versions of their shirts but are back to their usual striped shirts, and remain this way for the rest of the film; perhaps it was a deliberate decision to show how the Bears have ultimately remained children at heart in light of the game, or at this point the staff was in a such a hurry to finish this elaborate film by the deadline that no one cared enough whether the shirts were wrong to fix them even in the shots after this—the miniature versions of the Bears reveal themselves to be their sons, declaring that their mammas want the original versions to “do something more sensible” than playing games. And indeed, as the two mini-Bears continue their train game, the cranky wives throw their washtubs, washboards, and a lot of laundry out at their husbands (the laundry itself is impeccably crafted, with lots of great wrinkling and texture and dimensionality as the two Bears scramble to get out of it), no doubt peeved at their nearly-destructive laziness as they themselves work hard; we get only the barest glimpses of their heads, showing them to be slightly different-looking versions of the Bears themselves. Thus, the two Bears realize that their wedding was not a dream at all, and they soon get right to work (how emphatically they throw the sheets into the washtubs!) in this strange reversal of Rip van Winkle: whereas his time travel allowed him to escape his shrewish wife and spend the rest of his days idly, the Bears’ apparent time travel has only landed them in precisely such a less-than-blissful marital situation.

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As the two Bears work and watch their children play, the Little Bear cannot help reminiscing on how they themselves were once the same; indeed, as a slower and nostalgic-sounding version of the film’s theme starts up, a long-eared rabbit even hops out of its hole to serve as a semaphore for mini-Little to raise, just as Little had once raised the ears of semaphore-rabbits. Now grown-up and caught in adulthood, all the Bears themselves can do at this point is help their children play however they can, not least by turning into a giant bridge for them to cross through—or, in Little’s case, by actually demonstrating the proper way to act as a train, in the process dirtying Big’s laundry. And so, as Little continues to wonder how their children learned their old games, Big screws Little over one last time, handing him his dirtied laundry while he takes Little’s cleaner-looking laundry (arguably justified in this case since Little was the one who made it dirty)—thus, the two Bears go on with their adult job of scrubbing the laundry, Little being particularly angry over the ordeal, as the Film Symphony Orchestra’s conductor Štěpán Koníček leads us out with one final reprise of the film’s special theme song.

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An ode to childhood and the innocence, wonder, and fun that all too often go away in adulthood, How They Went to Bed is the perfect finale to what would prove to be just the first Bears series, and by far the best film of any kind that Štěpánek largely directed himself. For that matter, it is a poignant swan song to the career of the Bears’ voice actor Rudolf Deyl Jr., who died suddenly of a heart attack on 21 November 1967, right as he was filming what would have been his role as the King in the classic modernized fairy-tale film The Incredibly Sad Princess (Šíleně smutná princezna); he had been suffering from cancer for three months at that point. At the time of Deyl’s death, How They Went to Bed was still in production; but given the finality in the story as the Bears grow up and lose their playtime for good, and given that all the dialogue had obviously been recorded by then, it is possible that Urban and Štěpánek had intended this to be the series finale to begin with, even if Deyl’s death had not thrown a wrench in any further plans to continue making Bears shorts. In hindsight, given what was to follow, it might have been for the best if the Bears had not continued beyond this short at all…


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For a brief period after the first Bears series wrapped, Pojar, Štěpánek, and Ivan Urban went their separate ways. In 1967-68, Štěpánek collaborated with writer-director Ivan Renč on two cutout-animated short films, The Sword (Meč) and The Town in Black (Město ve smutku), both of which were produced at Jiří Trnka’s studio on Bartolomějská (a.k.a. Konvikt) with animation by Jan Adam. Both are, at best, pretty-looking but vacuous high-concept films that try to pass themselves off as profound social commentaries. The Sword at least has some interesting visual ideas as it shows how various passers-by imagine a sword to be all kinds of different objects (while completely ignoring the murdered man into which it turns out to have been stabbed); The Town in Black, meanwhile, attempts to be a statement on how people may get so used to tyranny that they will inevitably bring it back themselves even after it is overthrown (as represented by how another dragon is brought in to enslave a princess after the previous one has been slain), but comes off as little more than pretentious, mind-numbingly repetitive animated wallpaper. To be fair to Štěpánek, this was around the same time that he collaborated with the multi-talented intellectual and writer-filmmaker Jiří Brdečka on two brilliant films animated at Bratři v triku, The Power of Destiny (Moc osodu) and Revenge (Pomsta), both of which succeed perfectly in using the creepy, grotesque side of Štěpánek’s art style to strengthen Brdečka’s ruthlessly macabre, blackly-humorous storytelling; for that matter, it was also in 1968, and also at Bratři v triku, that Urban tried writing and directing a film on his own, Nehvízdat prosím!, about which little is currently known other than that it was designed by former Pojar collaborator Zdenek Seydl.

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As for Pojar, 1968 at last saw his return to Čiklovka to direct a new film, albeit one intended as a favor for a longtime Canadian friend of his. Fanfarón, the Little Clown (Fanfarón, malý klaun) was based on a story by the film festival organizer and children’s film producer Rock Demers, whose youthful love of film led to him earning a degree in audiovisual technology at the former École normale supérieure de Saint-Cloud in Paris in 1958, followed by two years of hitchhiking across Eurasia to Japan. It was during these travels that he first met Pojar, and was impressed by his oeuvre: “It was the first time that I realized that great artists could devote their talent to making films [for children],” Demers told journalist and radio host Franco Nuovo in 2019. Soon, as director-general of the Montréal International Film Festival from 1962 to 1967, Demers took the opportunity to introduce the works of Pojar and other filmmakers he encountered behind the Iron Curtain to Québec, as well as adding a youth section to the festival; he would then leave in 1968 to focus full-time on his personal distribution company Faroun Films, originally founded in 1965 to import and export children’s films from all across the world, and it is surely no coincidence that the little clown who starred in Pojar’s film that year had the same name as this company. The film itself plays out as a lesser semi-relief remake of Pojar’s earlier Konvikt film The Little Umbrella (Paraplíčko), but is nevertheless an eminently charming and warm-hearted children’s story filled with his usual delightful visual ideas and set pieces (the credited designer is illustrator-painter Zdeněk Krejčí, about whom very little is known); it also demonstrates that Pojar had become much more interested in the potentials of Štěpánek’s pliable puppet technology than Štěpánek himself. (Years later, a more ambitious project of Pojar’s would be realized with the help of Demers, but of that, some other time…)

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Most crucially, however, 31 July 1968 saw the sudden death of Wiliam Bukový, whose music had been so important to the Bears’ unique flavor, at the age of only 36. He had already been the main composer of Pojar’s films prior to the Bears, and this is to say nothing of his work in live-action films, which included Pavel Juráček and Jan Schmidt’s 1964 Kafkaesque classic Josef Kilián (Postava k podpírání). With two key creative figures in the original Bears series now tragically passed away, one would think that any possibility of a second series was now closed off for good; yet, as the next few years would show, popular demand for more Bears shorts would ultimately outweigh any practical considerations in that regard…

1969 would prove to be an important year in both Pojar’s and Štěpánek’s careers. The Prague Spring, with its all-too-brief liberalization, had been crushed by Soviet tanks on 21 August the previous year, and now the newly-installed government of Gustáv Husák began instituting its policies of “normalization”, which included restricting or cracking down on subversive films of all kinds—and so Pojar’s latest film Antidarwin, designed by Štěpánek, ran into trouble with Krátký Film’s new manager and ex-secret policeman Kamil Pixa, who purportedly declared after a screening of the completed film that he wanted to literally destroy Pojar’s career. Its brilliant satire on human evolution, and how the primitive desire for intellectual conformity has remained the same even as the methods of propaganda and warfare have progressed, clearly did not sit well with the newly-repressive authorities—Štěpánek himself claimed that the film was a “paraphrase” of the atmosphere post-August 1968—and ultimately, neither did Pojar’s satiric side in general; it has even been said that a journalist for the Communists’ official newspaper, Rudé právo, denounced his satires at one point. (Having scoured the archives of the newspaper in question, I could not find such a denunciation; perhaps it was not actually published within the paper.) In any case, it was clear that Pojar would no longer be able to produce his most inspired ideas at Čiklovka: luckily, this was the same year in which the film he had been creating for the National Film Board of Canada, To See or Not to See, was finally completed, and as the studio proved itself open to further collaborating with him, Pojar quickly migrated back to Canada on a more perennial basis. Henceforth, Pojar’s most narratively daring films would be produced with the NFBC, whereas at Čiklovka he would focus almost exclusively on children’s films that were unlikely to stir up any political trouble.

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That same year, there also came The Shooting Gallery (C.K. Střelnice), the only film Štěpánek tried to write and direct on his own (with animation by Stanislava Procházková)—and an utter disappointment. Intended as an allegory for the dehumanization of the reemergent Communist tyranny, the film takes forever to set itself up, coming off for over half of its runtime as little more than a showcase of some creepy, realistically-sculpted general’s toy collection, and even when the twist is finally revealed—the relief puppets are actually people who have been shot and smashed into the general’s playthings, rigged to repetitively re-enact their designated roles at the general’s whims with no life or humanity or mind of their own—Štěpánek fails to effectively convey the tragedy in how two lovers whose romance is apparently so strong that they twirl high into the air end up as the general’s next victims in this regard, nor does he provide anything like a satisfying or impactful resolution as the film just stops after the flattened lovers have joined the other puppets. Perhaps Štěpánek had high ambitions for the story, only to once again prove himself incapable of living up to them within the production plan’s limited time; in any case, while the finished(?) film was certainly beautiful-looking and blunt enough to earn a Silver Hugo at the Chicago International Film Festival in 1970, it is far from the powerful anti-totalitarian statement that Štěpánek’s proponents have made it out to be, much less “the most successful short film of the studio Krátký Film.”

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Animator Jan Klos, who began working under Pojar at Čiklovka in 1973, wrote to Marin Pažanin of his experiences with Štěpánek thusly:

Štěpánek was undoubtedly an original artist, but for the [animators] a more sensible DIRECTOR is more important – a person who can clearly tell something to the viewer and who has mastered the production technology and can communicate properly with “collaborators”. To do this, he must be a diplomat in dealings with the superior society of breadwinners – owners of means of production, production companies and so on. Štěpánek lacked all the qualities of a considerate organizer. His inability to communicate humanly is thus typical of the various self-centered individualities that occur among artists…I am against considering Štěpánek to be a normal person, even if it is Rembrandt. Maybe it was a disease, his inability to decide anything. I forgive him for continuing my then miserable existence, but I do not want to remember it.

This scathing portrait of Štěpánek, which on its own certainly explains the failures of The Shooting Gallery and most of his Bears filmsespecially, as we shall see in due time, his second-series entries—still does not answer the question: why did Pojar and Štěpánek continue to collaborate for over 10 years after the original Bears series, even with all the tensions, difficulties, and creative differences that were starting to drive them apart? It is possible that they simply respected each other more than they were willing to admit, and recognized that their partnership represented an ideal combination (Pojar’s brilliant ideas and Štěpánek’s beautiful art direction) that consistently produced successful films; indeed, Petr Zvoníček, who later served as the script editor of the Czech animation anthology series Mistři českého animovaného filmu, recalled that when he visited Čiklovka in the autumn of 1969, the two of them still worked outwardly as colleagues, even companions. It is also possible that they were just forced to stick together professionally under the circumstances: Čiklovka was now commissioned, after all, to produce a second series of Bears shorts that obviously had to bear their names and involvement in some form, and even afterwards they had probably developed a certain dynamic by which they could design and prepare quality films efficiently, which might not have been possible had they separated for good and tried working with different collaborators. (Pojar was certainly capable of designing gorgeous films on his own, as his NFBC films and a handful of works at Čiklovka show, albeit these usually were under special circumstances (e.g. no strict production plan for the NFBC films) or predated the Bears—having someone else who knew his vision well come up with the designs and sets for him surely helped production move faster, which in the normalization era became even more of a necessity.)

Whatever the reasons may have been, change was in the air under the new normalization, and not necessarily for the better. Over the next few years, as production of the second Bears series limped on, Čiklovka would be shaken up as artists arrived and/or exited almost in a revolving-door fashion while the studio itself was shifted around administratively, and Pojar would spend almost all his time working on a new film of his own at the National Film Board of Canada, leaving Štěpánek and Urban in something of a creative rut that would severely affect how these later Bears entries largely turned out.

In December, perhaps: a detour to discuss Pojar’s first NFBC film, To See or Not to See.

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