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Czech Animation ‘Little From the Fish Shop’ Dives Into Int’l Waters

Prague artist Jan Balej is embracing the grand history of Czech animation, celebrating the completion of 410 days of shooting his stop-motion free adaptation of Hans Christian Andersen’s tale “The Little Mermaid.”

With rights sold in the Czech Republic, Slovakia and France, and a buzz about the pic at this year’s Annecy animation fest, the feature-length passion project “Little From the Fish Shop,” produced by Prague’s Miracle Film, is beginning to ride international currents. The story’s hero is Little, the daughter of the Sea King, who wants to see the world and fall in love.

The fairy tale has been updated to modern times, complete with mean streets, dangerous levels of sea pollution and abusive relationships for Little to cope with. “It’s not easy,” says producer Nelly Jencikova. “It’s the adult world. It’s not very nice.”

Nevertheless, crowds at the Karlovy Vary film fest were noticeably enchanted as they took in outtakes screened Sunday, and retired to the terrace of the Hotel Thermal to witness the official wrap party in the company of Balej’s spooky handcrafted figures.

Balej, whose previous feature, “One Night in One City,” won him attention six years ago, shot “Little” over the past two years on a micro-budget, but with remarkable craftsmanship in the tradition of the Jiri Trnka animations that entertained kids all over Europe in the 1950s. But Balej has mixed in a streetwise, almost punk ethic to his characters and settings, making for a film experience hardly aimed at children — though most seem to delight in it anyway.

Working with chief animator Michael Carrington, Balej has poured endless patience into a tale that offers more complex character development and relevance than his previous film, a linking of three separate episodes, was able to pull off.

It’s a story in which choices and surrendering to love, however misguided, has real costs and risks, as Jencikova puts it.

Balej, used to long hours on his own in the workshop, seemed almost overwhelmed by the attention and press at Karlovy Vary. “I’m an introvert type,” he confessed. “I’m not really uncomfortable … this is all just so unusual.”

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