Zagreb Film produced some of the wildest, most eclectic animated shorts of the 20th century, but their work has been exceptionally difficult to view — until now.
Back in 2008, I curated a dvd of “lost classics” from the studio, which was essentially a collection of shorts that I wanted to have on dvd myself. But that minimally distributed dvd consisted of unrestored prints, which did little justice to the beautiful color and design in the studio’s films.
Thankfully, the rarity of these animated gems is a thing of the past. The studio’s works have been restored over the past decade with the support of the Croatian government and they are being regularly released for free viewing on a dedicated Youtube page.
The Zagreb films took risks, with both content and form, beyond what most American studios dared to do after the 1940s. In many ways, Zagreb is a continuation of the American studio United Productions of America, which bowed to commercial pressure in the mid-1950s and abandoned its earlier ambitions to experiment with the medium. Zagreb Film emerged around the same time as UPA’s prestige faded, and the upstart European studio had a glory period that lasted well into the 1970s. The company remains in existence to this day.
It’s difficult to pick a favorite film so I’ve embedded a handful below. There’s dozens more on their Youtube page, and hundreds more yet to be released (it’s not clear how complete the Youtube page will be, but we’ll take what we can get).
It’s also important to be in the right mindset when viewing these films. Their films offer a freewheeling spirit of graphic experimentation and a relentless search for new ideas. Their commitment to avoiding easy formulas means that not every film is a smashing success, though even the lesser films tend to contain interesting elements. As Animation Obsessive observes of the studio’s work:
Basically, this stuff follows its own rules. It’s weird. It’s dogmatically anti-Disney. It often features stories never previously tackled in animation. The films don’t look normal, and they don’t even sound normal — as [Zagreb Film diretor Dušan] Vukotić once said, animation that doesn’t imitate real motion requires abstract sounds that “do not imitate real noise.”
Pictured at top: Bumerang, The Great Jewel Robbery.