'Pat & Mat' turn 45: The iconic Czech cartoon duo is gaining fans worldwide

The clumsy handymen featured in the stop-motion, non-verbal cartoons have broken into the HBO top 10 across nine countries.

Raymond Johnston

Written by Raymond Johnston
Published on 21.08.2021 17:00 (updated on 21.08.2021)

The popular Czech stop-motion animated series Pat & Mat celebrates 45 years this month. The two handymen first appeared in a theatrical short released Aug. 12, 1976, and the first episode for TV came three years later. A recent feature film is currently trending on HBO in nine countries. An exhibition about the duo is currency at Ctěnice Chateau Complex.

Due to the wordless nature of the segments as well the universality of the bumbling characters, the series has been popular internationally for decades. The format has the two title characters attempting to make or fix something, but using the tools incorrectly. Through their persistence and optimism, they eventually get a passable result.

The concept ties into Czech culture, where people pride themselves on their ad-hoc engineering skills. There is even the phrase “Czech golden hands” (Zlaté české ruce) for a clever solution to a technical problem.

The cartoons still have a huge fan base across much of Europe as well as Japan, South Korea, Brazil, South Africa, and part of the Middle East.

The 2019 feature “Pat a Mat: Kutilské trampoty” (Pat & Mat: DIY Troubles) this past week was in the top three of all streamed films on HBO in seven of the nine countries where it is available: Bosnia and Herzegovina, Croatia, Montenegro, North Macedonia, Poland, Serbia, and Slovenia. In the Czech Republic and Slovakia, where the film has already been widely shown, it still managed to break into the top 10 on several days.

The “Pat a Mat … a je to!” exhibition at Ctěnice Chateau Complex (Zámecký areál Ctěnice), a branch of the Prague City Museum, has historical items from production, screenings of the 2016 comedy “Pat & Mat in a Movie” (Pat a Mat ve filmu), plus games and workshops. It runs at the venue in Prague’s Vinoř district until Jan. 2, 2022. Details are on the museum website.

The duo surprisingly didn’t have a name until the third series began in 1989, a dozen years into their existence. Pat & Mat comes from the Czech words “patlal” and “matlal,” roughly meaning “clumsy” and “awkward.” The short versions of the names can alternatively be rendered as “stalemate” and “checkmate.”

They are known by different names in other countries. In Germany they are Peter and Paul or, in then-East Germany, Macke and Mack. Zingo and Ringo are the names in Arabic nations. Iceland calls them “Klaufabárðarnir” (The Clumsy Guys) while in Norway they are “To gode naboer” (Two Good Neighbors).

BUSINESS REVIEWS

JanHandyman with van

JanHandyman with van

Really dilligent

Roman Handyman

Roman Handyman

Excellent work

Joe Fix All s.r.o.

Joe Fix All s.r.o.

totally recommend Joe fix all !

The series began with one episode called “Kuťáci” (Tinkers) produced at Studio Jiřího Trnky, a division of Krátký film Praha. It was the brainchild of animators Lubomír Beneš and Vladimír Jiránek, who envisioned a series of slapstick theatrical shorts aimed at an adult audience. The studio, though, was not interested in more episodes.

Eventually, in 1979, Czechoslovak Television’s children’s section in Bratislava showed interest but wanted a different name for the series, and a slightly different attitude. They settled on “… a je to!” which works in both Czech and Slovak to mean something like “and that’s that.” Some 27 more episodes were made by 1985.

The show avoided politics, which also helped with its international appeal. After the first episode, Czechoslovak censors objected to the red and yellow shirts that the characters wore. Some people saw this as a jab at the Soviet Union (red) and China (yellow). Once production started up again in Bratislava, the red shirt was changed to gray and stayed like that until the Velvet Revolution.

The end of communism also saw the creators, Beneš and Jiránek, founding aiF Studio and moving production to Prague. Beneš passed away in 1995, and Jiránek in 2012. Lubomír Beneš’s son Marek now oversees production of new episodes.

So far, there have been 129 episodes made in 10 series, plus one episode that was never released. Despite the popularity of the cartoons, aiF ran into financial trouble in 1999.

BUSINESS REVIEWS

JanHandyman with van

JanHandyman with van

Really dilligent

Roman Handyman

Roman Handyman

Excellent work

Joe Fix All s.r.o.

Joe Fix All s.r.o.

totally recommend Joe fix all !

While ownership of the rights to the characters was under legal dispute, some of the former team made a 50th episode called “Playing Cards.” It broke the previous format by having English dialogue. It was also 12 minutes long instead of eight and in widescreen. The episode is stored in the Czech Film Archive, though a grainy bootleg version from a foreign VHS tape is on YouTube. The voices detract from the charm of the concept.

Many of the newer episodes can be seen on Pat & Mat's official YouTube channel. some of the entries now have millions of views.

The duo was honored with a Czech stamp in October 2011, and the cartoons have won awards at international festivals.

Find candidates in Czech Republic with language skills with Expats.cz Jobs. Find out more