Czech animator and illustrator Zdenek Miler, creator of the popular cartoon character Krtek (Little Mole), died Wednesday. He was 90.
During his last months, Miler lived at a nursing home in Nova Ves pod Plesi, southwest of Prague.
There were 52 Krtek cartoons made at Prague’s Kratky Film Praha studio. The first, 1957’s Jak Krtek Ke Kalhotkam Prisel(How the Mole Got his Trousers), won the Silver Lion award at the Venice Film Festival.
With installments released as late as 1992, the series had drawn a wide audience among children in Eastern Europe and such countries as Germany, Austria, China and India.
His cartoons also included the Cvrcek (Cricket) series.
Born in the town of Kladno on February 21, 1921, he graduated from Prague’s Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design and illustrated many children’s books.
He created the cheerful, helpful Krtek in 1956 after walking in woods near his home town west of Prague and tripping over a molehill. “So, I said to myself: that’s it. The mole,” he said in a 2006 interview with Czech public radio.
Miler had sought a new creature that nobody else would use. “Walt Disney used for his cartoons almost all animals, but one. That was chosen by me,” he recalled.
Instead of speaking, the mole uses nonverbal exclamations to show his feelings, thus gaining popularity with international moviegoers. Over five million copies of books with Krtek’s adventures have been translated into 20 languages and sold worldwide.
There are well also many Little Mole toys. One stuffed version of Krtek returned to Earth in July after travelling to outer space on NASA’s shuttle Endeavour. The toy accompanied American astronaut Andrew Feustel, whose wife Indira is of Czech origin.
“Krtek spent a lot of time floating around the international space station,” Feustel observed during his visit to Prague. And in a letter to Feustel, Miler said that he was honored.
Until his death, all designs based on the Little Mole required Miler’s personal approval.
“He never disappointed me. He made me happy all my life,” Miler reflected.