An excerpt from the booklet essay by Graham Williamson

Eastern European animation has always been one of the region's most successful cinematic exports for precisely this reason. Even someone who did not grow up enjoying Zeman's work - as generations of Czech and Slovak children did - will find his work blissfully nostalgic, if only because it has been so inescapably influential on all the stop-motion and puppet-animated cinema that came after it.

This accessibility allowed his work to gain fans all over the world. Notable admirers of Zeman's work include Terry Gilliam, Kobo Abe, Tim Burton and Wes Anderson, who must surely have been influenced by this film's montage of Baron Munchausen's former lovers when he wrote a similar sequence for Gwyneth Paltrow's character in The Royal Tenenbaums (2001). Yet it has also, perhaps, resulted in Zeman not receiving the auteurist attention he deserves. Unlike most Czech and Slovak films, viewers are generally introduced to Zeman's pictures as pieces of entertainment rather than works of serious art. In fact, they're both; delectable, lighter-than-air novelties whose technical genius has rarely been matched.

To understand Zeman's achievements, we must look at the history of three-dimensional animation before CGI. The road to stop-motion begins with Georges Méliès, the first person to realise objects could be made to move, appear and disappear through editing and substitutions. His status as the first occupant of the territory later claimed by Eastern European animators was made literal when Ladislas Starevich (Władysław Starewicz), the Polish-Lithuanian director of The Cameraman's Revenge (Miest Kinomatograficheskovo Operatora, 1912) moved into Méliès's old studio.

Today Méliès is often remembered as the father of special effects, and this dual legacy hints at an early advantage stop-motion had over hand-drawn animation. Until the rise of CGI animation, no other form of animation could share the frame with live action without calling attention to its status as animation. The sequences where Gene Kelly and Bob Hoskins interact with cel-animated characters in Anchors Aweigh (George Sidney, 1945) and Who Framed Roger Rabbit (Robert Zemeckis, 1988) respectively are certainly designed to astonish, but their wow factor rests on the audience recognising that they are cartoons.

By contrast, a stop-motion animator like the Hungarian George Pal could handle a special effects blockbuster like War of the Worlds (Byron Haskin, 1953) using techniques not far removed from his earlier 'Puppetoons' like Tubby the Tuba (1947). Ray Harryhausen may be an animator, but few refer to Jason and the Argonauts (Don Chaffey, 1963) as a part-animated film. Harryhausen's contributions sit naturally alongside the live action, never appearing to be part of a different universe. The line between animation and effects is interestingly porous in stop-motion, and Zeman's features hop all over it with infectious mischief.


Graham Williamson's complete essay, from which this excerpt is taken, appears in the booklet which accompanies the release.

Disc Info

Czechoslovakia, 1961
Length / Feature
(Blu-ray/24fps): 85 minutes
(DVD/25fps): 81 minutes
Blu-ray Special features: 163 mins
DVD Special features: 59 mins
Blu-Ray: 2.0 Dual Mono LPCM (48k/24-bit)
DVD: 2.0 Dolby Dual Mono
Original aspect ratio: 1.37:1
Language: Czech

Blu-ray: BD50 / 1080 / 24fps / Region ABC
DVD: PAL / DVD9 / Region 0

Blu-Ray: £19.99
DVD: £12.99
Release Date: 24 July 2017


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