Saturday, 5 August 2017

Symbolic Animation From Eastern Europe

In the U.S., animated cartoons from the 1910s into the succeeding decades were used as a form of entertainment (almost always comedy), advertising or propaganda. The majority of the American animation that appeared in theatres or on television came from commercial studios. Walt Disney pretty much set the standard in terms of design and movement (and in some cases, through much of the ‘30s, story) but, eventually, artists wanted to try new things and express themselves differently. UPA gets the lion’s share of attention for this kind of thing. Elsewhere around the world, things were different, possibly because studios were not bound by commercial considerations. The National Film Board of Canada released interesting and iconoclastic cartoons. And in Europe, there were experiments taking place as well.

The 1962 book “Design in Motion” by Halas and Manvell looks at the broadening of subjects for animation and various forms of artistic vision around the world. It is enlivened with drawings in numerous styles. Some that struck me as very bold are from a cartoon produced in then-Yugoslavia, Piccolo. See them below.

My knowledge of overseas animation is really poor, but the internet has come to the rescue with a book called Animation: A World History: Volume 2 by Giannalberto Bendazzi, published in 2016 by CRC Press. There is an excellent and well-researched précis on Zagreb Film as well as the creator of this short, Dušan Vukotić. As quoting even an extract from the book apparently violates copyright laws, I’ll have to paraphrase and you can click on the link above to read the relevant chapter with its analysis in full.

Vukotić was from Montenegro and made his way to Zagreb in Croatia to study architecture. Along the way, he drew and published cartoons and caricatures, and then took part in the start-up of Zagreb Film. His first animated short was Nestašni Robot (The Playful Robot, 1956).

Piccolo was completed in 1959. Bendazzi postulates that this film had its genesis in Norman McLaren’s Cold War allegory Neighbours (Canada, 1952). Piccolo is symbolic of the escalation of the arms race where two friendly men living under the same roof suddenly try to start outdoing each other when one buys a piccolo and begins playing it. The instruments get larger and louder until their house collapses. (As a side note, some have read the same meaning into Tex Avery’s 1949 cartoon Bad Luck Blackie. I really doubt Avery was that political; he merely wanted to make people laugh).

Unfortunately, Piccolo is not available for free on any of the video sharing websites. However, Rembrandt Films (yes, the same company which hired Gene Deitch as a director in the ‘60s) has Vukotić’s works for sale on DVD. You can look here on the Rembrandt site.


  1. Unfortunately, Piccolo is not available for free on any of the video sharing websites.

    You can see it here:

  2. Blocked due to copyright.

    1. Sorry about that. I watched it the day that column was posted.
      Great cartoon.

  3. This link on Dailymotion works:

  4. With all due respect (Toadette), Yowp, I wouldn't try it unless you want to constantly mess around with downloading over and over..