The cultural legacy of Professor Balthazar, the titular character of Croatia’s beloved animation series produced between 1968 and 1978, was celebrated with a range of screenings and public events at this summer’s edition of Animafest Zagreb, the annual world festival of animated film.
Created by a team of animators helmed by Zlatko Grgić for the Zagreb Film production company, Professor Balthazar(Profesor Baltazar) follows the adventures of a good-natured inventor as he applies a combination of science and optimism to offer solutions to unusual and seemingly unresolvable everyday problems of his compatriots. Balthazar’s imaginative creations not only help the citizens of Balthazar City, but also clear up obstacles worldwide, including at such locales as London, England, the Swiss Alps, and the South Pole. His in(ter)ventions frequently address the conflict between work and leisure, between socially beneficial activities and personal pleasure. Thus, the streetcar conductor Fabian, who loves to fly, comes to operate the city’s first and only airborne streetcar that functionally unifies his job and his hobby (The Flying Fabian/Leteći Fabijan, 1970). Similarly, a clock-loving mouse’s dream of living inside the Big Ben Tower becomes realized through the combined interventions of Balthazar, an horologist, and members of the British Parliament, who ensure that the clock can continue serving the public while the mouse takes up residence inside it as its keeper (Of Mice and Clocks/O mišu i satovima, 1970). Through storylines such as these and many others, the series of shorts entertained and educated generations of television viewers, while showcasing the creative range of the Zagreb School of Animated Films.
Reflecting on Professor Balthazar’s enduring legacy in the region, Croatian film and theater director Vinko Brešan summed up the humanist essence of the animated series: “What kept us glued to the television screen were stories about altruism, togetherness, and the image of the playful old professor whose childlike imagination brings all problems to a successful and happy resolution.” Other speakers at Animafest’s commemorative event remarked on the show’s timeless and universal moral messages of friendship and love as fundamental to its popularity among worldwide audiences, including those in Germany, the United Kingdom, Scandinavian countries, Canada, and Iran among more than thirty others. Indeed, the cartoon character’s recognizable brand has been used in recent decades to promote a range of products and services, including toys and stationery, fashion, restaurants and eateries, and the city of Zagreb itself as an artistic and creative destination. Animafest continues to build on that heritage with its annual festival, which received a record 1800 submissions for its 2018 iteration.
To learn more about Professor Balthazar and the role Zagreb Film has played in the development of animation locally and globally, click here.