Czech first lady brings back lovable mole

Updated: 2012-07-23 13:12

By Mike Peters (China Daily)

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Czech first lady brings back lovable mole

Livia Klausova was feted at a Czech embassy reception last week before visiting CCTV studios in Beijing for the relaunch of The Little Mole series. Mike Peters / China Daily

Czech first lady brings back lovable mole

Livia Klausova breezed into Beijing last week with a posse of cute, fuzzy friends with big eyes. The Czech first lady was toting black-and-white plush toy versions of Krtek (Little Mole), the popular Czech cartoon character that CCTV relaunched last week.

Krtek, created by Czech animator Zdenek Miler in 1956, has sold 5 million books in a country of only 10 million people, she says. The TV version became a huge hit in many Eastern European countries as well as Germany, Austria, India, China and Japan. Although the cartoon has not appeared on Chinese television for more than a decade, Little Mole books are widely sold in Chinese editions.

Klausova says that Yanshu, as the small creature is known in Chinese, has an enduring appeal for several reasons.

"There is no language barrier," she says. "Because the stories are basically not verbal." Miler's first script was narrative, but the cartoonist scrapped that formula after one episode in favor of stories told through action, expression and exclamations - voiced by his two daughters.

"They were the test audience, to make sure the stories worked for children," says Klausova, who grew up in a large family in what is now Slovakia, watching the stories on television with her younger brother. Since then, she has shared the stories, in books and on TV, with her own children and grandchildren.

The collection of some 50 episodes, which have been digitally remastered for HD television, are very different from the action adventures that drive many animated series, she says.

"The Little Mole is kind, he takes care of his family and friends - he takes care of a bird with a broken wing," she says.

There is no fantastic combat in these stories. "Instead, they are creative, and inspiring, because they touch themes in everyday life," she says. "The stories seem simple and easy at first, but they have depths that appeal to adults as well as to children."

Klausova finds it "poetic" that Miler could translate ideas without words so gracefully for so many decades. She has seen Little Mole books and videos in China on her four previous visits - three with her husband, President Vaclav Klaus. Last year, the Czech embassy and the National Center for the Performing Arts in Beijing hosted an exhibition of Miler's work a few months after his 90th birthday. The cartoonist died soon after.

While the mole enjoys an international reputation, Klausova says he's less-known in English-speaking countries, even the United Kingdom.

That may be changing.

On May 16, 2011, a plush toy of Krtek was aboard the Space Shuttle Endeavour. US astronaut Andrew Feustel carried it along at the behest of his wife, who is of Czech ancestry.

And this May, Bloomberg reported that Apple Inc is planning to help Krtek enter the $21 billion US toy market for the first time. Exporting the six-decade-old creature through new media is a first step toward establishing the most popular Czech animated icon in America. Little Mole fans - and no doubt Miler's heirs - hope that will spur sales of books, movies and toys.

Meanwhile, Klausova looks forward to stimulating a new generation of fans in China.