Fig 1: Jiří Barta
Innovation and creativity is what drives award-winning stop-motion animator Jiří Barta. He is also renowned for incorporating aspects of reality and his uncanny, sculpted art style which are carved into his wooden characters, creating heavily stylized and surreal portrayals of people. Manipulating the principals of animation to how he sees fit, Barta presents a new and fresh style that cannot be found in many other animators, though what he does have in common with others such as Jan Svankmajer is that his animations are renditions of fantasy and the impossible, often relating to fairy tales and folklore. He also bears similar styles to him due to his use of real-life objects which seemingly disappear and reappear for little to no reason and whether or not they impact the story is up to them themselves.
Much like how Svankmajer created his feature-length film, “Alice”, Barta likewise conjured up a retelling of the classical tale of the Pied Piper of Hamlen while shrouding it in a much darker tale of corruption, greed and sin. The story makes use of Barta’s confidence in his work, unlike Svankmajer’s films, where a rabble of shifting chaos of moving objects, squabbling characters or seemingly random events could occur and there could be no message to be thought about in the sequence, whereas Barta attempts to include a moral theme to truly make us think and to understand. Ivana Kosulicova explains the use of morality in the movie in her article on Kinoeye.com:
“Barta's conception of the story stresses the analogy between rats and the character of people possessed by the mammon of money. The townsfolk of Hamelin represent the basest human qualities, such as avarice and gluttony.” (Kosulicova, <no date>)
This is hugely prominent in his retelling of The Pied Piper in which the townsfolk are seen as corrupt and devious folk. Kosulicova compares how the darker aspects of human action can be compared to the dirty and scavenging portrayal of rats. The penultimate scene in the film where the townsfolk metamorphose into the very rats they tried to get rid of proves this, giving a message how, if we let sin take us over, we are no better than vermin.
The use of morals is prominent in his work, but Barta makes use of them in such creative ways as to deviate from the typical Disney-esque retellings of folklore and fairy tales. He fills the ‘Pied Piper of Hamlyn’ with metaphors and messages telling us about the gradual deterioration of human society and how many have fallen to the craving of material goods; the devil that resides within us all.
“Barta’s bleak tone is slightly alleviated as a lone, surviving fisherman remains—his discovery of a lone infant in the abandoned city signals a hopeful future.” (Jenny Jediny, 2007)
There is one scene at the end where a reoccurring character, the elderly fisherman on a boat outside the town in a lake, is the only one left alive, besides a lone crying child within the town, after the Piper drowns the transformed townsfolk. The old fisherman discovers the child and abandons the town to start a new, brighter future. This gives the overall dark message throughout the animation a glimmer of hope: how the kindly deeds and the gentleness of the elderly and the young can bring hope to human society.
The work of Barta isn’t just to be seen, enjoyed and taken for granted. It is also to be studied and analyzed for deep meaning and morals, for its creative character and sets design and its disturbing and surreal atmosphere. His work has had a large impact on the world of animation and on audiences. His work should be known for years to come.
Jediny, Jenny, (2007) The Animation of Jiri Barta http://www.notcoming.com/features/jiribarta/ (Accessed 16/04/2012)
Košuličová, Ivana, (2002)
The Morality of Horror
http://www.kinoeye.org/02/01/kosulicova01_no2.php (Accessed 16/04/2012)
Jiří Barta [Online image].Pekarna.org http://www.pekarna.org/web/index.php?page=stoptrik&id=3&child=80 (Accessed 16/04/2012)