Animation has a long and storied history in the Czech Republic, with directors such as Jiří Trnka and Jan Švankmajer garnering international renown, but one of the most indelible aspects of Czech culture has been the children’s program Večerníček, which has aired nightly on Czech TV for the past forty years (and, intermittently, for some years before that).
Currently, Večerníček airs each night at 18:45 on ČT2. Programs range from about 5-10 minutes, and a complete series of a particular show is typically run over the course of a week or two. In format, the programs resemble the kind of classic Warner Bros. (Looney Tunes) or Disney shorts that seem to have vanished from contemporary children’s programming in recent years. Just about every Czech children’s cartoon has aired on Večerníček at some point over the years.
And now – the top 10 Czech cartoons. Qualifications for being on this list: the series in question must have been a Czech production, and been an animated program. Some disqualifications that would have otherwise made a list of the best večerníčky: Krkonošské pohádky (a live-action production which is one of the most popular Večerníček programs), Dášenka (half live-action), Příběhy včelích medvídků (live-action marionettes), Jen počkej! (a Russian production), and Bolek a lolek and Slavný lovec Pampalini (Polish).
10. Pojďte pane, budeme si hrát
You may not know this series by name, but chances are you’re familiar with the main characters: the big teddy bear and the small teddy bear (and the three pink bunnies). Pojďte pane, budeme si hrát was made by famed animator Břetislav Pojar in the mid 1960s, just as Večerníček was entering popular culture; it may not be considered an actual Večerníček production, though it has aired on the program. The unique animation style – cutouts mixed with 3D objects – might have influenced Terry Gilliam and (later) the creators of South Park.
9. Štaflík a Špagetka
With a 69% rating at ČSFD.cz, this is easily the least popular of my selections (each of the others scores over 80%). But call it a personal favorite; I just can’t get enough of those two mischievous dogs and their foil, the raven (or is it a jackdaw?) Love that theme tune, too! Štaflík a Špagetka was directed by Václav Bedřich, who made a number of other series on this list (and other deserving Večerníčky). Later episodes were televised in color, but I prefer the original black & whites. Bonus for non-Czech speakers: the series is without dialogue.
Rákosníček is a little green man who lives in the reeds; he’s not just green – the entire character, clothes and all, is strikingly color-coded. This memorable series, featuring often-inventive visuals, is one of the more surreal Czech cartoons. Rákosníček featured in three series in the late 1970s and 80s from animator Zdeněk Smetana; 2-time Czech Lion-winning actress Jiřina Bohdalová provided the narration.
7. O loupežníku Rumcajsovi (Rumcajs)
Rumcajs is one of a number of characters created by famed author and poet Václav Čtvrtek to be adapted into a Večerníček production. Dressed in his trademark red hat, white shirt, and red pants, he's a Robin Hood-like character who lives in the forest with his wife Manka and son Cipísek. The series, directed by Ladislav Čapek, is notable for its fluid animation style (by Radek Pilař, who also provided the illustrations for Čtvrtek’s stories), particularly impressive for the era.
6. Pohádky z mechu a kapradí (Křemílek a Vochomůrka)
Křemílek a Vochomůrka, another Václav Čtvrtek creation, featured in the series Pohádky z mechu a kapradí (that’s Tales from the Moss and Ferns). Křemílek and Vochomůrka are white-capped elves that live together in a wooden stump in this series (like Rákosníček) from director Zdeněk Smetana featuring narration by Jiřina Bohdalová. The series transitioned from black & white to color over the years, but the characters themselves notably remained b&w. The music is particularly memorable; Karel Gott even crooned a version of the theme. Gotta love it.
5. Maxipes Fík
Another series directed by Václav Bedřich, Maxipes Fík (actually comprised of two series – the 1976 original was followed by Divoké sny Maxipsa Fíka in 1983) follows an overgrown dog and Ája, the young girl who cares for him. The series is lovingly animated (by Jiří Šalamoun) using a classic Czech pub-style illustrations scheme; Josef Dvořák provided narration, and Petr Skoumal did the music.
4. Mach a Šebestová
Mach a Šebestová differs from most other titles on this list in its titular heroes, who are by most accounts normal schoolchildren. The same can’t be said for the talking dog who frequently joins their adventures, however, and the magical phone that grants their wishes. Mach a Šebestová was created by writer Miloš Macourek (Kdo chce zabít Jessii?); the series was directed by Jaroslav Doubrava and animated by Adolf Born. The original 1982 series was followed by reboots in 1999 and 2005.
3. Bob a Bobek
Bob and Bobek are two white rabbits who live in a magician’s hat; the magician, however, is always absent. The series features a memorable dynamic between the two characters, with Bob, the larger rabbit, assuming a fatherly role, and Bobek as the mischievous child. Along with Maxipes Fík and Štaflík a Špagetka, this is the third series directed by Václav Bedřich to feature on this list; cartoonist and animator Vladimír Jiránek is credited with story and screenplay. A number of series followed the 1979 original.
Krtek, or The Little Mole, is the definitive Czech animated character, and undoubtedly the most popular character on this list; not only is he known around the world, he’s even made it to outer space. The lack of dialogue, and the Disney-like anthropomorphism of the animal characters, has led to The Little Mole’s widespread popularity through Europe, Asia, and even North America. But while the original (late 1960s-70s) Zdeněk Miler productions are simply wonderful, the more recent incarnations have been of decidedly inferior quality, in both writing and animation.
1. Pat a Mat
Pat a Mat, the stop-motion series featuring two inept but imaginative DIY handymen, contains a mentality that might be described as innately…Czech. The dialogue-less series has had some international recognition, especially in European countries, though the duo’s popularity certainly isn’t as widespread as The Little Mole’s. And the subversive series isn’t really for children: some of the real-life situations the characters get themselves into might be deemed a little too dangerous. But the reason Pat a Mat takes the top spot on this list: of the 70+ episodes produced since the series was created in the late 1970s, each one is a gem. Many of the more recent episodes have been directed by Marek Beneš, son of series creator and long-time director Lubomír Beneš.
Note: many of these exist on DVD, though you’ll be hard-pressed to find English subtitles for any of them – though that won’t matter for Pat a Mat or Krtek, and if you’re interested in learning Czech, the others will make for some useful tools.
Those are my picks. What are yours?