About Masterly Tales: The Animated Short Films of Jiří Trnka

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Silly circuses, classic fairy tales, and a Western parody come to life through magical stop-motion, puppet, and hand-drawn animation in these charming, family-friendly shorts which showcase Trnka’s mastery in handling animation media throughout his career. The touring retrospective The Puppet Master: The Complete Jiří Trnka is produced by Comeback Company, originated at the Film Society of Lincoln Center. Curated by Irena Kovarova. Films provided by and stills courtesy of the Czech National Film Archive. Suggested for children age 10 and older.


Short films included in this program are:


Zvířátka a petrovští (The Animals and the Brigands) (1946, 8 min)

A rooster, a cat, and a goat meet a trio of ignoble characters deep in a night-shrouded forest in this hand-illustrated, Cannes prize-winning folktale, which showcases Trnka’s gift for evoking light and shadow. In Czech with English subtitles.


Arie prerie (Song of the Prairie) (1949, 20 min)

One of Trnka’s most delightfully silly efforts is a slapstick spoof of John Ford’s Stagecoach and

Hollywood singing cowboy Westerns based on a popular novel by Jiří Brdečka, who would later direct his own adaptation, the cult favorite Lemonade Joe. This film contains no dialogue.


Veselý circus (Merry Circus) (1951, 12 min)

Trnka brings to life a surrealist circus of tightrope-walking fish, musical monkeys, balancing bears, and high-flying acrobatics in this whimsical feat of cut-out animation made in collaboration with leading Czech painters of the era. This film contains no dialogue.


Jak stařeček měnil, až vyměnil (How the Old Man Traded It All Away) (1953, 9 min)

Folk art-like hand-drawn stills illustrate this sweetly simple pastoral fable, in which a peasant comes into possession of a small fortune—but realizes there are treasures greater than gold. In Czech with English subtitles.


Dva mrazíci (The Two Frosts) (1954, 12 min)

Two mischievous frost spirits—voiced by famed comedian Vlasta Burian and author, popular actor, and satirist Jan Werich—make things chilly for a pair of travelers in this wintry comic folktale. In Czech with English subtitles.


Cirkus Hurvínek (Circus Hurvínek) (1955, 23 min)

Trnka pays homage to two of Czechoslovakia’s most beloved characters—Spejbl and the mischievous Hurvínek, a father and son duo created by Trnka’s puppeteer mentor, Josef Skupa—in this imaginative tale of a young boy who dreams of being part of the circus. In Czech with English subtitles.

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