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Se-Ma-For

The animation studio that created the cartoons Polish kids grew up on

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Katarzyna Waletko (National Film Archive – Audiovisual Institute)

For many children living in the times of the Polish People's Republic and throughout the 1990s, the end of the day was marked by the broadcast of bedtime stories: a short block of cartoons and animated series shown on channel 1 of the Polish public broadcaster TVP. Every day at 7PM sharp, streets were deserted as children sat in front of their TV screen. The animated bedtime stories closed their day, while the next program - the 7:30 p.m news report - opened up the final stretch of the evening for their parents.

From home project to national icon

Bedtime stories are a unique TV format that gained popularity in the countries of the socialist bloc, often being the only television offering aimed at children. Many of these animations, shown on television as well as in cinemas, were produced at the Studio of Small Film Forms Se-Ma-For in Łódź.

The studio’s beginnings date back to 1947, when the first post-war puppet film, Under the Reign of King Krakus (Za króla Krakusa), directed by Zenon Wasilewski, was made in the director's private apartment.

Se-Ma-For soon became known in Poland as the cradle of animated films (mainly with puppets) for children, while for foreign viewers their calling card were the experimental films and animations shown in the festival circuit.

Masters of craft

Se-Ma-For employed directors and producers with very diverse artistic visions. Animators Daniel Szczechura and Zbigniew Rybczyński were known for their experimentation on the form of animation, using cut-outs and puppets in their work. Roman Polański and Janusz Morgenstern became known for their feature-length films. Edward Sturlis, Tadeusz Wilkosz, and Lucjan Dembiński focused on children's films and cartoons.

Outstanding Polish composers were invited to create music, including Krzysztof Penderecki and Krzysztof Komeda. You could hear jazz, symphonic and electroacoustic music not only in the films intended for cinema festivals, but also in those aimed at the youngest audience. King Midas, for instance: a film by Lucjan Dembiński with a score composed by Penderecki.

Years after these avant-garde musical cartoons aired, some of the songs remain in the collective memory of the Polish youth that grew up with Se-Ma-For movies. Not only older generations, but also children of the new millennium know the lyrics and music of the theme song of „The Adventures of Teddy-Bear Drop Ear" ("Przygody Misia Uszatka")

For a bedtime - good evening/ Teddy bear is singing for you/ They call me Teddy Bear Drop Ear / 'cause I have a droopy ear

Equally accomplished visual artists, often experienced in working on theatre sets, took care of the decors of Se-Ma-For’s productions. Scenographies for puppet films show an impressive amount of detail, a variety of textures, and ingenious technical solutions, often resulting from the lack of technologically more advanced techniques.

Heroes forever

The most important assets of the Se-Ma-for animation studios, at least from the point of view of their young audience, were the heroes and their adventures. Se-Ma-for created a whole family of iconic animated figures - mainly animals - many of which are still recognized and loved today.

Teddy Bear Drop Ear, an always responsible teddy bear, was a style icon, always fashionably dressed. When he appeared in 1962 in a standalone film, he did not have his characteristic attributes known from the later - serial - incarnation yet: the floppy left ear and pajamas in which he used to say goodbye to the viewers. He entered the collective memory for good in 1975, when Polish television began broadcasting an entire series of his adventures.

Also extremely popular were Teddy Bear Colargol (who was devoted to singing and dreamt of a career on stage) and the cat duo Filemon and Bonifacy from the series *"The Adventures of Filemon the Cat" ("Przygody kota Filemona").*

Piotrek and the dog Pimpek from *"Enchanted pencil" ("Zaczarowany ołówek")*, in turn, made children dream of possessing a magical pencil such as the one mentioned in the title, enabling them to create their own world and solve any problem they might encounter.

The extraordinary popularity of heroes whose adventures have been followed for years redirected the activities of Se-Ma-For , which steered away from experimental cinema in the 1970s. Instead, meeting the requirements of television came to be the focal point.

Between dream and memory

After numerous changes in the company structure in the 1990s - difficult years for the Polish cinema industry - the studio ceased its activities in 2018. The heroes it created, however, remain alive, returning regularly to cinema and television screens. Now no longer a part of bedtime routines, the iconic animation series are broadcasted on thematic channels. Their heroes stay steady at the top of the rankings whenever polls inquire about the most popular characters of Polish children’s cinema. and it can be assumed that they will not be dethroned for a long time.

This blog is part of the Europeana XX. A Century of Change project which focuses on the 20th century and its social, political and economic changes.

television animation 20th Century