From slapstick, catch me if you can cartoons, to more sophisticated animated series, Eastern Europe has produced hundreds of cartoon shows over the past century, some of which have grown into fully rounded cultural phenomenons. Despite a wide range of genres and topics featured on film and TV today, nothing can evoke the imagination and breathe an air of positivity into life like cartoons can. However, among hundreds of successful and adored cartoon shows, only a selected few managed to garner international popularity and enter into mainstream culture, earning iconic and quintessential must watch status.
1. Masha and the Bear (Ма́ша и Медве́дь)
Probably the most popular Eastern European cartoon show globally, Masha and the Bear was created at a small Moscow home based studio in 2009. by a handful of animation enthusiasts led by the screenwriter Oleg Kuzovkov. The story is based on a Russian folk tale, and features a bright, lively three year old girl Masha and her best friend, a retired circus performer Bear. In addition, Masha’s pets pig, goat and a dog, as well as the wild animals who live in the forest near Masha’s house are also prominent characters on the show.
According to the interview director of the series Denis Chervyatsov gave to “Russia Beyond The Headlines”, Masha’s mischievous personality was inspired by a real life girl. “Masha was based on a real person… In the 1990s, the project’s artistic director, Oleg Kuzovkov, was on holiday when he saw a little girl on the beach. The child was so ingenuous and open that she could easily walk up to a stranger and play chess with him or pick up his flippers and go swimming. However, after a few days, the vacationers began to hide…”. Not too long after it first aired, Masha and the Bear became a global phenomenon broadcasted in 120 countries, with the episode “Masha and the Porridge” reaching a high 16th place on the list of most watched videos on YouTube worldwide with almost 2 billion views. Today, Masha and the Bear universe has expanded well beyond a cartoon show, and has grown into a fully developed brand, with merchandise, several spin offs, and possibly a full length animated film.
2. Bolek and Lolek (Bolek i Lolek)
Considered a cartoon show classic in Poland, Bolek and Lolek is a mostly dialog-free story about two brothers and their adventures, on which they are sometimes accompanied by a tiny, white dog. Adored both by the public and the critics, Bolek and Lolek won numerous international awards and was ranked as number one in a cartoon popularity poll conducted in Poland. Alongside the brothers and dog, another prominent character on the show is Tola, a girl who lives in a forest and is arguably the love interest of one or both brothers. Tola was introduced in 1973., as a response to the low female viewership, while the show started to broadcast in 1962.
3. Professor Balthazar (Profesor Baltazar)
Created by a small group of 20 illustrators from Croatia, Professor Balthazar was the most popular cartoon in Yugoslavia, and certainly the most successful project of Zagreb Film Animation Studio. Besides its success on a domestic market, Professor Balthazar was broadcasted on both ABC US and ABC Australia, with significant viewership in Germany, Denmark, Italy, France, United Kingdom, Canada, Israel and many other countries. During the 59 episodes, Professor Balthazar, and elderly and eccentric scientist consistently performs various experiments, with which he aims to improve the lives of his fellow citizens. As an altruistic, kind, curious and highly imaginative character, Professor Balthazar remains one of the most beloved cartoon protagonists in the Balkans. The long awaited production of new episodes began in 2005. by Zagreb Film Animation Studio.
4. Well, You Just Wait! (Ну, погоди!)
A legendary Soviet cartoon ”Well, You Just Wait!” narrates a comical slapstick style story featuring a rebellious Wolf on an eternal mission of catching the Hare. Macho and insubordinate, Wolf is a devoted biker with a flair for hooliganism and an unexpected artistic prowess. Breaking the law, smoking, playing the guitar and being mischievous all around is a part of his character, along with his comical talent for ballet and figure skating which he discovers only when partaking in these activities in order to catch the Hare. Besides Wolf and Hare, the show features a plethora of supporting characters, each with their own comical element, such as an illusionist cat and elusive hippopotamus. Characterized by minimal dialogue, “Well, you just wait!” mostly relies on songs, laughs and grunts. However, the titular phrase “Nu, pogodi!” (Well, you just wait!), is the most frequently spoken quote from the show, said by Wolf every time one of his schemes turn against him and almost always directed at the Hare. Despite the first episode airing in 1969., and the last one being produced in 2006., the show is still very popular in Russia and widely broadcasted.
Adored all over Central and Eastern Europe, the creation of Czech animator Zdeněk Miler gained massive popularity across the world, most notably in Japan, India, China and Iraq. After stumbling across a molehill by accident, Miler, who was on a quest to find a protagonist for his upcoming short animated film decided it will be a mole. After his film “Jak krtek ke kalhotkám přišel” featuring a mole won two Golden Lions at Venice Film Festival in 1957., Miler decided to turn his mole character into a cartoon show hero. After a hedgehog, mouse and a rabbit were added as supporting characters, a cultural phenomenon was created. Noted for its playful soundtrack, characters in the show are mostly silent, except for few occasional sounds or greetings. Mole was broadcasted in over 80 countries, served as a mascot of 2015 European Athletics Indoor Championships in Prague, and is considered to be a multimillion dollar brand, with merchandise available for purchase both on European and American market. Most popular piece of merchandise is a plush toy of Mole, which happens to be the only toy to ever go into space, as an American astronaut Andrew Feustel who got the Mole toy from his native Czech wife brought it on board when he went on a NASA Space Shuttle Mission.