Czech Film Puppetry

Poster that caught eye at the Strahov Monastery last November, 2009.

I’ve been missing Prague recently and reminiscing about our family trip last November. While we were there, we stumbled across a Czech film puppetry exhibit (link all in Czech, but you can get an idea of it here) at the Strahov Monastery. I have always been a fan of stop-motion animation, having loved holiday specials like “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeerwhile growing up in the U.S. as well as the more current British “Wallace and Gromit” shorts and film.  This exhibit showed puppets from many Czech films and television shows.  It also had an area where children could make puppets out of wooden spoons, which my boys absolutely loved!  (Older one wanted to make Mozart, since the night before we had seen the puppet show “Don Giovanni.”  The younger one’s ended up looking like Beethoven for some reason.  I don’t know why!)

In another area, there was a computer set up where children could mold a character out of colored clay and film it moving, virtually teaching them all about how stop-motion animation works.  My older son made a dinosaur, and after moving it slightly over and over, filming one frame at a time, his eyes grew as big as saucers when he watched his dinosaur finally move on its own on the computer monitor.  This was as hands-on as it gets!

I’ve been wanting to write about this exhibit for a long time, but I had a hard time tracking down the name of the film pictured in the poster here, as its fairy-like puppets were my favorites at the exhibit (Why I didn’t ask someone when we were there, I’ll never know!).

But now I know the name!

“Broucci

In English, broucci means “fireflies” or “little beetles.”  At the exhibit, we were lucky enough to see the puppets as well as an enormous set from “Broucci” as well as many other films.  My family fell in love with all the puppets from the different stories, and we had a lot of fun trying to pick out which ones were our favorites.  Mine were most definitely from the film “Broucci,” so I wanted to find out if I could find the story online back at our hotel room. But without knowing the name, I couldn’t find it anywhere.  So when I recently stumbled upon the name of the film and SCENES that were on YouTube, I did my Muppets “Animal” dance and ran to tell my husband and my boys (the older five-year-old actually remembered the exhibit!)

Of course, the film is all in Czech, and I have yet to find an English translation online or for sale, so we watched what we could of the Czech version on YouTube (three parts), and my boys liked it so much that they watched it again.  I’d love to tell my preschool parents about the YouTube clips in case they’d like to share them with their children and have them try to figure out what’s going on.  It’s amazing to me how you can tell a lot about what’s happening in a story even without knowing what the characters are saying.  The puppets and sets from the film are unbelievably charming, and I wish we could watch the rest of it, even in Czech.

When I discovered “Broucci,” I also found out that the film is based on a book by Jan Karafiat, published first in the 1870s, and that there is an English translation, illustrated by Jiri Trnka (a famous Czech puppet maker, animator, film director, and illustrator that I also learned about at the exhibit), a copy of which is at the Salem Library!  I immediately requested that it be sent to my local Lake Oswego library through an inter-library transfer.  The book should arrive within a month, so I will finally be able to read the entire story  in English!  (More Muppets “Animal” dance).

I really found that the power of story and myth is alive and well in the Czech Republic, from their history of puppetry to these stop-motion films to their annual fairy tale films that are released during the holidays.  I really wish there were more of these films released here in the U.S. that I could watch.  Thank goodness for YouTube.

And on that note, here are the first three parts of “Broucci.”

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