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The Castle of Pastime: Kratochvile

Edgar Dutka details one of his favorite places; the permanent exhibition of Czech animated film at the Kratochvile Castle.

The Museum at night. Photo courtesy of © the Kratochvile Animation Museum.

Forty million tourists have visited the capitol of the Czech Republic, Prague, in the last year. However, only twenty thousand of these visitors know where the Castle of Pastime is and why it is worth the day trip from Prague to enjoy it. The Kratochvile Castle (the Czech name "kratochvile" means 'pastime') was built by the Italian master architect Baltasar Maggi in 1583. It is the most beautiful example of Renaissance architecture in all of Bohemia. The Castle, surrounded by three fortification walls and a water moat, was completed in six years, but the owner Vilem from the house of Rozemberk, soon died, and the Castle was inherited by his brother, the last of the family, Petr Vok. Petr was famous for his many mistresses but he was already old and sick and he sold the Castle in 1601. So on and so on the long, and rather uneventful, history goes. We, animation folks, are interested in the year 1976 when the permanent exhibition of Czech animated films was established at the Kratochvile Castle.

An installation of puppets from the Trnka studio, inside the Kratochvile Animation Museum. Photo courtesy of and © Wendy Jackson.

Trnka, the Father

Czech animated film was a cultural phenomenon for nearly forty years. After the Second World War a little studio of animated film was established in Prague. A group of young animators asked Jiri Trnka to be their artistic boss. He was just a few years older but already famous for his children's book illustrations and scenography. He had no prior experience in film but they finished four animated films under Trnka's direction in one year's time. With the animated fairy tale Zviratka a Petrovsti (Animals and Robbers), Trnka won the International Cartoon Film Prize at the first international film festival in Cannes after the war. For the first time a Walt Disney film was defeated in the festival competition by an unknown director from an unknown studio. Young Bretislav Pojar, Jiri Brdecka, Vaclav Bedrich, Stanislav Latal, who have all become prestigious names in Czech animation, were Trnka's animators. While Animals and Robbers was not so different from Disney in animation technique, stylistically, this film began what was to become characteristic of all Trnka films: a new and fresh artistic design, quite different from all others, lyricism, instead of gags, and beautiful music.

In 1947 the group was divided between a studio of cartoons and Trnka's studio of puppet film. Just as American animated cartoons originated from newspaper comic strips, the Czechs have a long and deep tradition in puppet theater. I can remember as a child attending many puppet theater performances with one meter tall marionettes. It wasn't until the mid-Fifties that television broadcasting began in Czechoslovakia. Trnka's puppet films were even more successful than his first cartoons and formed a long string of internationally acclaimed achievements. His feats include feature puppet films The Czech Year and The Ceasare's New Dress, based on the Hans Christian Andersen tale, The Novel based on Chekhov, The Song of the Prairie, The Good Soldier Sweik and the fairy tale Bajaja. Two of his other landmark films are the amazing adaptation of Shakespeare's Midsummer's Night Dream and his last film The Hand, a strong metaphor about an artist's situation in a totalitarian society which, after his death in 1969, was banned from screening for twenty years.

A puppet from Jiri Bocek's Three Etudes for an Animator. Photo courtesy of and © the Kratochvile Animation Museum.

Today's Talents

But Czech animated film is not only Trnka. Perhaps you remember Pojar's famous films A Drop Too Much or The Lion and a Song, the first winner at the festival in Annecy. There is also the Oscar winning American director Gene Deitch who came to Prague in the Fifties to marry a Czech producer and to teach Czech animators to be a little more dynamic in their animation drawing. I could mention a younger generation such as Jan Svankmajer, or even younger artists and directors, such as Jiri Barta and his amazing puppet films, or Michaela Pavlatova, an Oscar nominee for her film Words, Words, Words I also did not mention the Karel Zeman and Hermina Tyrlova films created at the former Bata/s Studio in Zlin. Have you seen his adaptation of the Jules Verne novel The Invention of Destruction or The Stolen Airship? You can see entire scenes and sets, drawings, puppets and artistic designs from all of the films I have mentioned, plus much more, in the permanent Museum of Czech Animated Film in the Kratochvile Castle.

Original production artwork from Jan Svankmajer's Et Cetera. Photo courtesy of and © Wendy Jackson.

Something For Everyone

Who ought to visit the Castle? Children. The little ones look at the lovely little original scenes inhabited by puppets. The older children can learn how to animate a puppet or a traditional film. For film historians, it is a rich source of information. But first, and foremost, this Castle, with its two floors of animation history, is interesting to people involved in animation, professionals. It is always useful to look back in order to see ahead better. For those who are blind and deaf to animation there is still the interior of a renaissance castle, with original ceiling frescos and marvelous views to enjoy. The Castle windows reveal the surrounding green meadows, ponds and oak woods. The Castle is open starting in April every Saturday and Sunday. From May until October the museum is open daily except on Mondays. A manager lives there through the winter.

The Kratochvile Castle is situated by the little town of Netolice which is known for breeding race horses. It is one hundred kilometers south of Prague. Yes, it is in the region of the capitol of Southern Bohemia Ceske Budejovice or Budweiss in German. Why do I mention it? When you are tired of all that animation art and history, of Renaissance castles, of green meadows and muddy ponds, you can taste, or better drink down, a few pints of original Budweiser straight from Budweiss.

Edgar Dutka is a scriptwriter, animation historian and professor at The Academy of Performing Arts in Prague.