Little Otik (Otesánek)

Little Otik (Otesánek) posterWorking Title: Greedy Guts
Rated R
Running Time: 127 Minutes
Czechoslavakian, English Subtitles
Written and Directed by Jan Svankmajer
Based upon a classic folk tale.


High concept for this film might be described as “Pinnochio” meets “Frankenstein”. Or “Pinnochio” from Hell.

If you’ve never seen a Svankmajer film, run out and see this one while it’s on the big screen. This is my favorite of all his films, and while it doesn’t showcase as much animation as his other works, I found it more compelling. Imagine a Brothers Grim tale adapted to screenplay by Sigmund Freud, directed by Tim Burton and Terry Gilliam, and with puppetry supplied by Jim Henson’s workshop…and you’d be somewhere in the general ballpark. A very weird playing field to be sure, but Svankmajer is a major talent. This is a surrealist black comedy that will knock your socks off.

The story deals with the same basic premise as A.I. (“Artificial Intelligence” directed by Spielberg). An artificial child is ultimately rejected by his parents because of his inhumanity and must fend for itself the best way it knows how. In “Pinnochio” the wooden boy danced and sang. In “A.I.” the artificial boy whined about finding the Blue Fairy for nearly two hours. Here, in “Little Otik,” the wooden boy eats people…which in my opinion is much more entertaining!

Having said that, however, it may not be for every person out there…

Svankmajer, isn’t looking to bring in a mass audience, though. He defies much of modern entertainment and is quoted as saying:

A child raised on Disney produce will find it difficult to get used to more sophisticated kinds of art and will assume his/her place in the ranks of viewers of idiotic television serials.
“Little Otik” is not Disney fare. It uses a child’s fable but explores very adult themes in an extremely graphic fashion. And, although it may not be the epitome of the film artform, it is definitely original, and for that it gets an A rating.


Somewhere in Prague. Bozena and Karel are a loving couple, but are both infertile and have no chance of ever having a child. Their lives are empty. In an attempt to cheer up his wife, Karel buys a cabin in the country to spend the weekends.

However, a playful joke backfires in the worst possible way. Karel is making improvements on the property and digs up a couple of tree stump roots. One of the tree stump roots has vaguely anthropomorphic features. Karel is an amateur woodcarver and works on it a bit more with a knife until it resembles a male baby…right down to a little twig for the penis.

His wife, Bozena, instead of laughingly role-playing the arrival of the “child” and then calling an end to the joke, goes completely overboard. She bonds to the wooden baby as though it were a real child. Karel threatens to cut it up for firewood, but Bozena begs him until he agrees to let her keep it.

Bozena treats it as if it were a real baby, even going so far as to try to breastfeed it. Then, through some kind of strange sympathetic magic, the tree stump comes alive!

Svankmajer uses CGI effects to show the strange creature actually breastfeeding. The rest of the effects, though, are limited to stop motion animation, which is a good choice. The jerky stop and go movement of the creature is stranger and eerier than many of the more polished special effects techniques used in bigger budget Hollywood films.

Also, Svankmajer uses camera close-ups in a strange and unsettling way. Food, whether it is the inhuman infant’s formula or the next door neighbors’ poached eggs, is approached as something animated and scary that might hurt you if you’re not careful. The movie is extremely oral, in a Freudian sense. Svankmajer dwells on mouths and consuming food.

It’s something commonplace that with his dark surrealist touch becomes downright creepy.
Bozena and Karel name their “child” Otik. It soon becomes a problem, though, by demanding more and more food. They struggle to feed it, but their efforts just aren’t enough. Soon, it eats the family cat, then the postman, and a social worker who comes calling…

The parents cover it all up, but a young neighbor girl named Alzbetka figures it out. She’s read a book of fairytales, and knows that little Otik is actually the Otesánek of legend, and will continue to grow in size, eating until it kills everyone or is destroyed. Alzbetka is not your usual pretty little child protagonist, however. She is a femme fatale who strikes up a friendship with the monster. In one scene, the precocious Alzbetka (who can’t be more than 12) flashes her butt at an old pedophile, enticing him over for Otik to gobble him up.

Otik gobbles up half the apartment building, but Alzbetka has read the fairy tale and knows it can’t last. Eventually Otik comes face to face with his arch nemesis – an old woman armed with a sharpened garden hoe.

As for if everyone lives happily ever after, though…I’ll let you see the film and judge for yourself.