This one is a bit shorter then I planned on but here we go:
Dutch animation always has been more popular outside of the country then in it’s native like most things. Beside even oscar winning shorts (Co Hoedman’s Zandkasteel, Borge Ring’s Anna & Bella and Michaël Dudok de Wit’s Father and Daughter) and a very rich history of illustration and animation there is a real lack of interest in anything coming from our country. It’s a real Dutch thing to do in general, look down at what your country produce and acclaim it when other countries begin to love it.
The only real beloved Dutch animation series I can think of is the wonderfulness of alfred jodocus kwak(a future episode for sure) even that was mostly animated by anime studios. And a little movie based on the adventures of a white cat and a bear.
Olivier B. Bommel and Tom Poes are some of the best-remembered comics of Dutch past. A smart adventure comic based on a blow-hard gentleman bear and his smart young cat friend wonderfully drawn by Marten Toonder and his team.
It’s an extremely Dutch comic(s) that goes into class differences, Sherlock Holmes like detective cases and the occult. While originally started as a duo comic the two characters had solo adventures were Bommel was a bumbling but lovable buffoon and Tom was the smart youthful detective. Important side characters are trusty butler Joost and the clumsy geese Wammes Waggel. It’s a pretty classic set-up but one that works fine and is an interesting thing to look back at.
Originally starting as a daily newspaper comic during Wo II in occupied Netherlands, a weekly comic later in the Donald Duck comic collections(even those weren’t written by Toonder and aren’t officially counted as Bommel stories) it was a giant hit in the war filled and post-war Netherlands. When the paper Toonder produced for came under SS reign he quit producing and turned his studios in a secret press for the resistance.
The comic was so successful that Howard Hughes had his eyes on producing a movie of the adventures of the two animals in the early 50’s and visited Toonder’s studio. He was disappointed by what was presented and said he would return in a couple days to see new material. Toonder was later told Hughes didn’t pay his hotel bill(which he did pay) and he let the deal fall through which sank a USA run for the comic and an earlier movie.
Beside the Netherlands in post-war Europe Olivier Bommel was a success in many comics collections and newspapers. Even they were successful there most of the time they kinda disappeared around the 80’s when Toonder’s withdrew from an active role in his own studios. His own studios produced tons of commercial work beside the Bommel comics and started the career of various famous Dutch animators and comic writers, the most interesting being Joop Geesink whose mostly commercial puppet movies are a sight to behold. Toonder was known for being notorious cheap and ego filled, letting people work on his comics for low freelance fees and not crediting them.
The studio itself was doing animation work from the early 40’s on for the Movie News broadcasts that would play before movies and were mostly self-taught in every aspect of animation. While some early animation movies were produced of the Bommel comics in the 40’s and 50’s for the Philips company by Toonders studio Toonder still wasn’t a huge fan of the animations. He thought they were rushed, to comical and kinda destroyed the feeling of the comics. It did help allot of animators stay out of the hands of the NSB and SS.
Even the comic has been ongoing since 1941 it was a still a much-beloved comic in the early 80’s which led to producer Rob Houwer(who then came of the success of producing the first couple Paul Verhoeven movies) to motivate a then 71 years old Toonder to give the ok to do a movie. After long talks, Toonder gave his ok and the 3 year production of Als je begrijpt wat ik bedoel started in 1980.
Production was rough and slow, it was completely hand-animated by Toonder Studios with even then the mostly retired Toonder himself doing a ton of drawings for it and even doing a voice test for possibly voicing Bommel himself which didn’t happen. It shows also, while the animation is not on Disney level of smooth, it has an insane level of detail and raw charm to it which fits in perfectly with the comics. It’s still a sight to be seen how fluent all the movements of the characters are. Most importantly it was the first and only full length completely Dutch produced animated movie, a title it poorly still holds to today. While quite a few Dutch directors made full length animated movies most did outside the country and with global animation teams. It’s what makes the movie such an oddity.
What about the movie itself? It’s a version of 1957’s De zwelbast but with a comic edge to it to make it a more family-friendly affair and better fluent storywise for a movie. Toonder disliked the fact it had became allot more slapstick focused but myself after re-reading/watching the comic and movie think they did a smart thing with making the movie more comical. It’s not one of the more heavier or occult Bommel stories, mostly focusing on themes like friendship and in some way fatherhood, and an old school comic farce. Bommel and Poes act and sound like you would expect from the comics and all their animal friends/enemies are drawn in very fun original ways also.
While a huge success the movie mostly seemed to be a one-off through its lengthy production cycle and Toonder’s indifference to the finished product which made it harder to get the rights for a follow-up. There were some small ideas for a follow-up movie from Toonder Studios but beside some commercial shorts, nothing ever got made.
Around the same time Toonder has become ill and had a hard time to keep working full time at his age for his own studios so he got a background role. Some Tompoes stories were still made, mostly for the donald duck comics, but slowly but surely Toonder Studios shut down even more after a failed stock sale in the late 90’s. Toonder studios was declared bankrupt in 2002 and the rights of the studios now belong to Toonder’s family.
Overall it’s a wonder Als je begrijpt wat ik bedoel got made in the first place. Made in a country that never has been a hot bed for feature-length animation it was a interesting experimentation that turned out well but not well enough to start a booming scene. Still, it remains an odd-ball footnote to Dutch film history, it’s only full length-animated movie. It’s also still a fun movie.
Also here is the English dub if you got time
My former piece on Toonder Studios
Lambiek’s write-up about Toonder STudios(https://www.lambiek.net/aanvang/1945toonderstudio.htm)
Marten Toonder, Een eenvoudige doch voedzame maaltijd(KRO tv, 1972, https://youtu.be/Yk0AErKdozs)