Czech/French film (1967; vt Les chevaliers des rêves; vt The Wishing Machine, 1971 US). Krátký film Praha / Filmové studio Gottwaldov / Société Générale de Production Paris. Directed by Josef Pinkava. Written by Josef Pinkava. Starring Vít Weingartner, Milan Zeman, Rudolf Deyl, Miroslav Holub, Josef Hlinomaz. 83 minutes, cut for its 1971 American release to 78 minutes. Colour.
After skipping school to spend the day at a world's fair, mostly engaging in mischief, two boys – Honza (Vít Weingartner) and Vašek (Milan Zeman) – return to tell their schoolmates about some fantastic occurrences there (previously unseen): an exhibit that generated electronic Music with a woman who materializes from nowhere, and a machine that changed one boy's casual clothes into a formal suit. Then, while their teacher lectures, they recall another amazing event: sneaking into and using "The Automatic Wish Fulfiller" to fulfil their wish to become the first two astronauts to fly to the Moon. However, once they find themselves inside a Spaceship about to take off, they are distressed when they learn that their improperly wished-for journey to the Moon will be a one-way trip. The voice of the spaceship stops the countdown and tells the boys that if, in the next three days, they can find something more beautiful than the Earth itself, they can take a round trip to the Moon. Upon leaving the spaceship, they find themselves in an idyllic rustic setting, where their search for something beautiful leads them to engage in typical boyhood diversions of the past – blowing bubbles, looking through a kaleidoscope, holding a pet mouse, playing with old clothes in an attic, and fishing. One boy fantasizes about having completed their Space Flight and being greeted by an enthusiastic crowd before receiving medals for their feat. But when they find themselves back beside a pond, they are pursued by an ever-growing number of police officers, captured inside a greenhouse, and brought to a court to be tried for their crimes and thrown into a Prison. Fortunately, they outwit their guard and escape using a helicopter, which they fly to the spaceship, though they see that it is now taking off without them. But the spaceship drops a parachute with a letter to them that asks, "Has your search for beauty taught you to distinguish between reality and fantasy?" Now apparently reconciled to enjoying everyday pleasures instead of dreaming of extravagant feats, the boys run off through a green field.
More a Fantasy with elements of advanced Technology than a true sf film (> Technofantasy), this strange children's movie might be regarded as a cautionary tale about the dangers of lying, or more provocatively, an argument that today's youth should stop dreaming about space travel and futuristic Technology and instead find fulfillment in the simple childhood activities of earlier generations. It might also be regarded as an sf version of the film The Wizard of Oz (1939) wherein the rejected alternative to an idealized rural existence is not a colourful fantasy world but a spaceship to the Moon; learning to "distinguish between reality and fantasy", by this reading, would be equivalent to recognizing that "there's no place like home". Overall, Automat Na Prání undoubtedly has a certain languid charm, and it may become better known and appreciated once its hard-to-find English-language version again becomes available. [GW]
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