Czech’s Little Mole: A Famous Astronaut, Traveller and Discoverer of Coal

Czech’s Little Mole: A Famous Astronaut, Traveller and Discoverer of Coal

The popular cartoon character from Central Europe is famous all over the world, and he has even made it to space twice. Its author, Zdeněk Miler, a Czech artist, director of animated films and illustrator of children’s books, was born a hundred years ago, on 21 February 1921.

Czech’s Little Mole: A Famous Astronaut, Traveller and Discoverer of Coal
The Little Mole is one of the most famous Czech characters: the short, animated stories and books with this inconspicuous hero have been accompanying generations of Czech children for more than sixty years. He is also popular in other countries: young viewers and readers in Germany know him as Maulwurf, in England he is the Little Mole, and he is also famous in Scandinavia, Japan and China, where he was one of the main attractions of the Czech exposition at the 2010 EXPO in Shanghai.

How did Zdeněk Miler invent the Little Mole?

It was in 1954 when Zdeněk Miler was working on a film that was to explain the technology of industrial fabric production to children using a story about a linen shirt. The artist wanted a small character to accompany children through the story, explaining the production of linen from the very beginning to the final touch. He couldn’t come up with any ideas for a long time until, one day, he went for a walk through the woods behind Kladno and came across some mole hills along the way – and the idea was born! He realised that it was the only character that Walt Disney had not yet used. Two years later, the first animated film called How the Little Mole Got His Trousers was complete. In 1957, it brought two main awards from the Venice Film Festival, and the film soon won another award at the Montevideo Festival. Other short films about the Little Mole continued to be made (from 5 to 29 minutes long). There are about 50 of them. 

Little Mole in space

When the film about the Little Mole and a Rocket first appeared in 1965, no-one expected that the Little Mole would actually get into a real rocket fifty years later. The plush Little Mole toy made of fireproof material became the symbol of the last space mission of the Endeavour rocket in 2011, promoting science and space research. American astronaut A. J. Feustel, whose wife Indira Devi Bhatnagar has Czech roots from her mother, took the Little Mole with him into the space. The second trip that the Little Mole took with Feustel into space was on 21 March 2018, when he flew in the Russian Soyuz and accompanied the crew of the International Space Station for over six months. The Little Mole spent much more time in space than Vladimír Remek: the only Czechoslovak astronaut spent 7 days, 22 hours and 17 minutes onboard the Soyuz spaceship in 1978.

Little Mole travelling around the world, in Formula 1 and in Kladno

Travellers Pavel Zrzavý and Martina Libřická chose the Little Mole as the mascot for their Our Trip around the World project as a symbol representing their home. The Little Mole set off with them in February 2015 and travelled through 22 countries in 527 days, visited hundreds of places and explored many interesting cultures. In addition, the Little Mole also drove Formula 1 as an image on the Alfa Romeo Racing team car. He then found a home at a château in Kladno near Prague. In 2020, they opened an exposition dedicated to Zdeněk Miler, who was born there, and his most famous story character. Children can look forward to an interactive area, a photo booth, and watching several animated stories and a document on the Little Mole’s trip to space.
Stories about the Little Mole accompanied Zdeněk Miler throughout his whole life. The Little Mole appeared in about fifty of Miler’s animated films, and about the same number of books. In addition to the Little Mole, Miler also created other characters, such as a curious puppy and a cricket.

Miler – Artist, director, illustrator

Zdeněk Miler studied at the school of graphic design and then at the Academy of Arts, Architecture and Design in Prague. In 1942, he started working as an illustrator in the Baťa Film Studio in Zlín, and three years later he joined the Bratři v triku studio, managed by another famous Czech creator of animated films, Jiří Trnka. Miler’s illustration of three curly-haired boys won the competition for the new studio logo, rewarded with a week-long paid holiday. The first part of the Little Mole series, How the Little Mole Got His Trousers, is different to the following episodes as it is spoken. The decision that the following stories will be without any commentary, and that the Little Mole would only use a few words, was made during the production of the second episode, the Little Mole and a Car (1963). Exclamations such as look, wow, here, bye-bye, oh boy, the laughter and crying, among other sounds, are the work of Miler’s daughters, Kateřina and Barbora.
Zdeněk Miler died at the age of 90 in 2011, in the sanatorium in Nová Ves pod Pleší. You can pay a visit to his grave at the Vyšehrad cemetery in Prague; there is a commemorative plaque on his family home in Kladno. With the Little Mole, of course. By the way, his Little Mole is a successful businessman. It is estimated that Miler made about 200 million Czech crowns and the Little Mole continues to bring millions in revenue every year.