Zdenek Miler: Czech animator known for his lovable Mole character

 

In the 1970s the gaps between BBC programmes were often filled not with trailers for forthcoming attractions but with actual short films, giving children a chance to see, among other things, dozens of delightful East European animations. For children around five years old, one of the most popular characters was Zdenek Miler's red-nosed, big-eyed Mole. He starred in around 60 charming films extolling gentle, old-fashioned friendliness, and respect for one's neighbours and the environment, and grew to be a worldwide phenomenon.

Miler was born in Kladno, an industrial town north-west of Prague. After graduating from Prague's Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design he went to work with the father of Czech animation, Jirí Trnka. Miler's first solo effort was "About the Millionaire Who Stole the Sun" (O milionari ktery ukradl slunce, 1948), based on Jirí Wolker's parable about a millionaire who is told that the only cure for his illness is sunshine, but who dies from greedy over-exposure.

Miler's most famous creation first emerged on to Czech cinema screens in "How the Mole Got His Pants" (Jak krtek ke kalhotkám prišel, 1957), which had the unlikely aim of teaching Czech children about the clothing industry. Miler hugely admired Disney, but was unable to think of any previously unused animals. He went for a walk and literally stumbled on the answer when he tripped over a molehill. In fact, the hero isn't very mole-like, with big eyes and hands instead of claws. The 15-minute film, in which Mole's animal friends help him make a pair of trousers, fulfilled tedious official demands while satisfying Miler's creative needs.

However, Miler left the character. In 1960 he made three films about a puppy discovering the world, and 1962 saw a rare outing into something more overtly political with "Red Stain" (Ruda Stopa), a film that was outwardly a plea for peace but which could be seen in more Aesopian terms, and whose imagery of tanks on the streets eerily predicted 1968.

Mole returned in 1963, but as Czech narration would hinder his international chances he uttered only exclamations and the simplest words – primarily "Hallo" – that would be understood throughout the world. Miler's daughters provided some of the voices (and the infectious laughter) and acted as a quality control department, checking that children would like the films.

Over the next few years, Mole got to grips with all kinds of technology. Epitomising his old-fashioned make-do-and-mend approach, in "The Mole and the Car" (Krtek a autícko, 1963) the velvety hero's desire for transport is fulfilled when he finds a spoilt little boy's discarded toy, while 1965's Krtek a raketa ("The Mole and the Rocket") finds him on a desert island where a friendly crab helps him to build a means of escape.

From 1968 Mole appeared with increasing regularity, and the five- or six-minute films were ideal for television. Naturally he was hugely popular across Eastern Europe, but beyond that he found his way to over 80 countries including China, India and Japan. He also became ubiquitous in books, games, clothes and even pillow-cases and, later, CDs and videos. However, Mole was unable to get much purchase in the US, despite the advocacy of Michael Medved.

The series finished in 1976 after a couple of dozen short films, and Miler developed a new series of seven films about a cricket. Like the Mole he encounters various problems – breaking his violin; being swallowed by a hen – and is helped by his animal neighbours. In "The Cricket and the Engine" (Cvrcek a stroj, 1978) he convinces the hedgehog to clean up his smoke-belching vehicle.

Mole returned with six half-hour films from 1982 to 1994. Beginning in 1995 Miler made another 20 Mole films, retiring the character in 2002. Mole had been a valuable source of hard currency to communist Czechoslovakia, but in recent years it also helped make Miler wealthy. But he refused to sell the rights, saying that to do so would be like killing himself: he saw Mole as an unattainably perfected version of himself.

But even then, it wasn't quite the end. In 2011 the astronaut Andrew Feustel manned the space shuttle Endeavour. Inspired by his Czech wife, he took a little Mole toy on the flight and Miler designed the accompanying logo.

John Riley

Zdenk Miler, animator: born Klado, Czechoslovakia 21 February 1921; married Emilie (two daughters); died Prague 31 November 2011.

Suggested Topics
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
Life and Style
techYahoo Japan launches service to delete your files and email your relatives when you die
Life and Style
Child's play: letting young people roam outdoors directly contradicts the current climate
lifeHow much independence should children have?
Arts and Entertainment
Tycoons' text: Warren Buffett and Bill Gates both cite John Brookes' 'Business Adventures' as their favourite book
booksFind out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
<p><strong>2008</strong></p>
<p>Troubled actor Robert Downey Jr cements his comeback from drug problems by bagging the lead role in Iron Man. Two further films follow</p>
filmRobert Downey Jr named Hollywood's highest paid actor for second year running
Life and Style
Dale Bolinger arranged to meet the girl via a fetish website
life
Property
Sign here, please: Magna Carta Island
propertyYours for a cool £4m
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

C++ Software Developer / Image Processing / 3D Visualisation

£45,000 to £55,000: IT Connections Ltd: C++ Software Developer / Image Process...

Java / J2EE Developer / Agile / Linux

£30,000 to £40,000: IT Connections Ltd: Java / J2EE Developer / Agile / Linux ...

Software Development Manager / Java / J2EE

£45,000 to £55,000: IT Connections Ltd: Software Development Manager / Java / ...

Digital Content Manager,Leicester

£24000 - £28000 per annum: Charter Selection: Leading Nationwide and important...

Day In a Page

Some are reformed drug addicts. Some are single mums. All are on benefits. But now these so-called 'scroungers’ are fighting back

The 'scroungers’ fight back

The welfare claimants battling to alter stereotypes
Amazing video shows Nasa 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action

Fireballs in space

Amazing video shows Nasa's 'flame extinguishment experiment' in action
A Bible for billionaires

A Bible for billionaires

Find out why America's richest men are reading John Brookes
Paranoid parenting is on the rise - and our children are suffering because of it

Paranoid parenting is on the rise

And our children are suffering because of it
For sale: Island where the Magna Carta was sealed

Magna Carta Island goes on sale

Yours for a cool £4m
Phone hacking scandal special report: The slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

The hacker's tale: the slide into crime at the 'News of the World'

Glenn Mulcaire was jailed for six months for intercepting phone messages. James Hanning tells his story in a new book. This is an extract
We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

We flinch, but there are degrees of paedophilia

Child abusers are not all the same, yet the idea of treating them differently in relation to the severity of their crimes has somehow become controversial
The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

The truth about conspiracy theories is that some require considering

For instance, did Isis kill the Israeli teenagers to trigger a war, asks Patrick Cockburn
Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Alistair Carmichael: 'The UK as a whole is greater than the sum of its parts'

Meet the man who doesn't want to go down in history as the country's last Scottish Secretary
Legoland Windsor's master model-makers reveal the tricks of their trade (including how to stop the kids wrecking your Eiffel Tower)

Meet the people who play with Lego for a living

They are the master builders: Lego's crack team of model-makers, who have just glued down the last of 650,000 bricks as they recreate Paris in Windsor. Susie Mesure goes behind the scenes
The 20 best days out for the summer holidays: From Spitfires to summer ferry sailings

20 best days out for the summer holidays

From summer ferry sailings in Tyne and Wear and adventure days at Bear Grylls Survival Academy to Spitfires at the Imperial War Museum Duxford and bog-snorkelling at the World Alternative Games...
Open-air theatres: If all the world is a stage, then everyone gets in on the act

All the wood’s a stage

Open-air productions are the cue for better box-office receipts, new audiences, more interesting artistic challenges – and a picnic
Rand Paul is a Republican with an eye on the world

Rupert Cornwell: A Republican with an eye on the world

Rand Paul is laying out his presidential stall by taking on his party's disastrous record on foreign policy
Self-preservation society: Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish

Self-preservation society

Pickles are moving from the side of your plate to become the star dish
Generation gap opens a career sinkhole

Britons live ever longer, but still society persists in glorifying youth

We are living longer but considered 'past it' younger, the reshuffle suggests. There may be trouble ahead, says DJ Taylor