Cybernetic Grandmother
CYBERNETIC GRANDMOTHER
(KYBERNETICKA BABICKA) 1962

THE MERRY CIRCUS
(VESELY CIRKUS) 1951

Director: Jiri Trnka

Reviewed by Paghat the Ratgirl



Cybernetic Grandmother In the increasingly automated future, you won't have to risk having a grandma who'll get sick or die, as robot grandmas are available.

Such is the premise of Cybernetic Grandmother (Kyberneticka Babicka, 1962), a stop-motion puppet cartoon which opens with a lovely human grandmother showing her grandson around the countryside, teaching him bravery. They just generally love life together.

They visit an airplane graveyard & wander together amidst the scrap metal & broken down machinery. Beyond the machine graveyard is a strange complex of buildings that seem to be entirely automated, & grandmother & the boy never encounter other human beings.

They wander around in one of these buildings & grandmother uses a small card to gain some sort of pass for the boy, who descends into a weird underground alone, waving goodbye to grandma.

Soon he's encased in a clear plastic egg flying above a sterile landscape. Musical & television entertainments appear on a screen before him, the music played by roboticized instruments.

Cybernetic GrandmotherAs strange events unfold around him, it's hard to tell what's outside the egg & what is televised for his enjoyment. But eventually the ride is over & he's deposited in a place of conveyer belts.

The lad seems unworried as he rides a plastic sky car to still other strange buildings & wanders about seemingly at random, arriving in time at a chamber with a code number that matches the one on his pass.

He wanders about in a pleasant room decorated with old art & modern toys & futuristic furnishings. At the top of a staircase, however, he finds a gloomy dark loft with a huge model of a molecule as centerpiece.

In this room he encounters a grotesque robot chair with decorative angel wings attached, speaking like a loving grandmother. Like his real grandma, the chair plays ball with him & keeps him company. He tries to adapt to this being his grandma, but remains leery.

Imaginative, surreal, kafkaesque, the boy's passive acceptance of his world has a nightmare quality, & the kinder his robotic environment tries to be, the more menacing it seems due to his human isolation.

The Merry CircusJust as the boy is about to embrace despair, his real grandma shows up, turns off the granny-chair-robot, & happiness is restored in his real grandmother's lap.


Stop motion animation with paper cut-outs instead of Jiri Trnka's usual puppets, The Merry Circus (Vesely Cirkus, 1951) has stunningly colorful design.

In the big top we see a seal act with clowns. The seals juggle & balance increasing numbers of transforming objects with their snouts, tossed to them by the clowns. A monkey conducts the circus music.

The Merry CircusThen a ballerina acrobat on horseback act circles the ring, followed by the strangest of these crowd-pleasing entertainments, a goldfish that performs on a highwire & trapeze.

For a bit over eleven minutes numerous pretty acts follow in close progression, all with the beauty of Cirque du Soleil as the closest approximation, making the crowd deliriously happy.

Despite that the characters are animated paper, they are given a surprising dimensionality thanks to shading & shadowing.

It all adds up to six minutes of aesthetic cut-out animation. The lack of any satiric content, story, or characters nevertheless makes Merry Circus one minor for Trnka, though it's very enjoyable for its innocence & beauty.

copyright by Paghat the Ratgirl



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