Once Upon a Time ... a Bear
Colargol is at the same time one bear and several and thus it is also fitting that he has many parents. Colargol was conceived the very first time by a Frenchwoman, Olga Pouchine, when she was telling bedtime stories to her son in the 1950s. Victor Villien, a family friend, was impressed by the richness of the story and in 1957 created the lyrics to an operetta for children and presented the project to Philips Records. While there was some initial resistance, the first two records were eventually released in 1961 with music by Mireille Hartuch. This second incarnation of Colargol became an instant success, prompting Philips to issue 8 more records. The original records were 7" 45rpm EPs with one thematic story arc always spanning two successive titles. These livre-disques were subsequently published also as 10" 33rpm LPs, every LP containing the material from two respective EPs and thus representing a whole story arc. Although long out of stock, these records still have reasonable availability as valuable collector's items.
Encouraged by the popularity of the records, Villien started to sell the idea of an animated series to ORTF, the French television network. However, the network already had Nounours, a bear character hosting a TV show for children and yet another animated bear didn't appear to bring in any additional value, so the proposal was turned down. Villien didn't get discouraged by this and teamed up with the independent producer Albert Barillé who was looking for a suitable project for his recently founded company Procidis. Barillé managed to secure enough funding to get the project started and asked the gifted Polish animator Tadeusz Wilkosz to design the puppets and set up a production team at the Se-Ma-For studios in Łódź. Wilkosz had to make 30 different versions of the little bear before everybody was satisfied with the design and the production could start!
It is this third incarnation of Colargol that became the most famous and beloved of them all. ORTF picked up the show and started to air it in 1970 and other networks around the world soon followed suit. The series was unique and inventive in several ways, starting with a rich and detailed world, high quality animation with technical feats like combining stop motion and cel animation, first class musical score, excellent storytelling and engrossing adventures, and finally characters that were pure of heart and absolutely adorable. Voice casting in different languages generally followed a high standard, though with some notable exceptions like a completely out-of-character voice chosen for the British Colargol, an issue that quite likely contributed to the early termination of the series in the UK (there were other antagonizing issues with the British version as well).
With this in mind the current situation is all the more lamentable. Because of reasons explained in the petition the adventures of Colargol cannot be found in other languages than Polish, and even in that language only a small fraction of all the material is legally available in a digital format. Known DVD releases are listed below for each episode for the benefit of those who want to try their luck at finding a copy. There is just enough material on YouTube to show what we are missing.
The series consists of 53 episodes made between 1967 and 1974 that can be divided into seven or eight separate story arcs depending on whether the two last episodes are counted as their own arc or an extension to the previous one. Each episode is about 13 minutes long and features episode or story arc specific animation for the introduction and end credits. The first four story arcs coincide with those from the operetta, though much expanded for the different format, with most songs used several times. From the fifth story arc on the style of the show turns from operetta to adventure and songs become few and far between.
Colargol and the Circus (1-7)
In the first story we meet Colargol, a cheerful little bear cub who likes singing very much. Unfortunately, he doesn't have any talent for it! After learning to sing with the aid of a magic whistle given him by the King of Birds Colargol finds out that not everybody, including his parents, is delighted about the idea of a singing bear. Disappointed, he joins a traveling Circus and becomes an instant star. However, when Colargol becomes homesick the director doesn't want to lose his best crowd puller and puts Colargol in a cage. All the animals of Colargol's home forest Bois-Joli must work together to help him escape.
Published as English, French and Polish VHS and a Polish DVD. There is also an English DVD in circulation but that is a mediocre quality VHS transfer. All versions are out of stock but if you are lucky you might find a spare copy of the Polish DVD (Przygody Misia Colargola: Śpiewający Miś).
Colargol at Sea (8-13)
When Colargol learns to swim he is so enthusiastic about it that he swims all the way to open sea and gets lost. After meeting a seafaring family, submerged scientists and various sea creatures he is eventually picked up by a ship on its way to the Arctic Sea. The sailors are mean and force Colargol to do all the hard work on the ship. After Colargol's friend Raven 12 finds the ship they escape with Hector the space rat who was a passenger on the ship. Colargol meets the ice bear girl Nordine and her grandfather on the North Pole and they and other arctic animals help him to repel the sailors who are still trying to capture him. Finally, a friendly whale takes Colargol back home.
Published as French and Polish VHS. Episode 11 was also published on a Polish compilation DVD. All versions are out of stock.
Colargol in Outer Space (14-21)
Inspired by a presentation given by Hector, Colargol and his friends build a rocket and fly to space. Their rocket crashes on the Moon and Colargol, Raven and Hector must find a replacement ship to continue their journey. When traveling further away in space they find various otherworldly wonders as well as a mechanical bear, Merlin the Magician and finally the Wicked Witch who takes them as prisoners and demands a rare flower in exchange for releasing them. After Colargol manages to retrieve the flower from the planet of mechanical monsters they turn the space ship towards the Earth but the ship breaks down. Colargol and his friends must travel the rest of the journey on the tail of a star and they safely slide down a rainbow to a pile of cushions put there by Colargol's parents.
NB: The real life Hector the space rat became a national celebrity in France when he made a successful suborbital flight onboard a Veronique sounding rocket in February 1961 as the first French animal to have visited space. In episode 14 Hector shows a fictional animated clip about this very event. For some reason the movie version of Colargol's space adventures contains a different clip. In the TV version Colargol makes a moon crystal necklace for Nordine and the scene suggests that he is very fond of her (and Nordine eventually gets the necklace in episode 26 as well). However, the movie version doesn't contain Nordine and the necklace is for Colargol's mother instead!
Episodes 14-17 were published as a French VHS which is out of stock. The second part of the story is not published.
Raven's Wedding (22-27)
Colargol and his friends are having a seaside vacation when the message arrives that Nordine and her family are on their way to visit Bois-Joli. It is revealed that Colargol's friend Raven 12 is about to get married with Ms. Magpie. Nordine arrives and everybody helps in preparation of the wedding reception. The reception is a great success and everybody is having a great time until an accident happens when Hector is preparing the fireworks. Nordine gets lost and is found by the circus director who takes her as the new crowd puller for his circus. However, it doesn't take long before Nordine is saved and she can return to the North Pole with her family.
Not published in any format.
The Lost Whistle (28-33)
It is wintertime in Bois-Joli. Colargol falls down a hole in the ice and loses his magic whistle. After meeting various underground creatures like frozen dinosaurs and animals that are preparing for spring Colargol gets back home and is asked to sing for a television show. Without his magic whistle he fails and, finding himself a disgrace to his friends, runs away. Colargol follows some animals to the Jollywood rock festival while Colargol's friends search for the lost whistle. Finally the whistle is found and brought to Jollywood where Colargol has meanwhile been accused of arson and put in prison. After Hector and Raven find the real perpetrator Colargol is pardoned, gets his singing voice back and performs at the festival.
Episode 28 was published on a Polish compilation DVD which is out of stock. The rest of the story is not published.
Colargol in the Wild West (34-40)
Colargol visits Uncle Grizzly in the Wild West, only to learn that a band of outlaws led by Kid Blacky the wolf has been terrorizing the area, stolen Hector's gold and taken Uncle Grizzly's daughter hostage! Colargol, Hector and Raven decide to help and a wild chase across the prairie ensues on horseback, stagecoach, express train, canoe and so on. With the aid of the wise medicine man of the local indian tribe, Colargol and his friends eventually save Uncle Grizzly's daughter and in the final stand-off in Golden City they defeat Kid Blacky's gang, making the place safe again.
Published as Polish VHS and DVD, both of which are out of stock. If you are lucky you might find a spare copy of the DVD (Przygody Misia Colargola: Colargol na Dzikim Zachodzie).
The Magic Suitcase (41-51)
Hector has been given the secret of golden tulips by his uncle but soon thereafter Kid Blacky takes Hector hostage and demands that Hector gives the secret to him. Colargol and Raven leave Bois-Joli on a rescue mission to free Hector, aided by Mr. Zowl the owl's amazing transforming suitcase that can take the shape of any means of transportation that is needed. Colargol and Raven chase Kid Blacky and Hector all the way around the world, visit famous places and make new friends, until Hector is finally released and the friends can return home together.
NB: There are several references to Se-Ma-For and Colargol in the episodes, starting with a close-up shot of a railway semafor during the opening scene, and cities around the world display tongue-in-cheek advertisements for products like Cola-rgol soft drink!
Published as English and French VHS which contain the shortened movie version. Episodes 41-46 were published in full as a Polish VHS, and episode 46 was published on a Polish compilation DVD. All versions are out of stock.
A Christmas Story (52-53)
It's time to say farewell to all the inhabitants of Bois-Joli. Christmas is approaching and Colargol and his friends do their best to create the most beautiful Christmas tree and bring happiness to everybody including those who are poor and neglected. Unfortunately, the Wicked Witch from outer space crashes the party and wants some of the famous golden tulips. When told that it is not a season for tulips the witch decides to make the event a celebration of herself and the help of Merlin the Magician is needed to guarantee a happy ending to everybody.
Published as a Polish VHS and on a Polish compilation DVD. Both versions are out of stock.
In addition to the TV series, Wilkosz later edited three of the story arcs into movies, Colargol na Dzikim Zachodzie (1976, Colargol in the Wild West), Colargol Zdobywcą Kosmosu (1978, Colargol the Conqueror of Space) and Colargol i Cudowna Walizka (1979, Colargol and the Magic Suitcase). Each movie contains most of the material of the respective story arc without the introductions and end credits.
There are preciously few pieces of information about Colargol available on the Internet. Here are some leads for researching the topic:
This is a non-commercial tribute site. The author is not associated with Procidis France, Se-Ma-For Poland or other right holders for the original Colargol franchise. The copyrighted material on this page is retrieved from public sources and reused in a way that falls under the Fair Use clause. The page itself is provided under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 3.0 license.