Hungarian animation hit the big screen for the first time in 1973 with “Johnny Corncob” (“Janos Vitez”) by director Marcell Jankovics. It is based on the 19th century Hungarian epic poem of the same name, and follows a brave shepherd who joins the Hussars, rescues France and returns home to find his beloved sweetheart dead. Unperturbed, he sets out on a series of perilous quests knowing that his only chance to be reunited with his love may lie in death. With its jaunty tunes, dazzlingly imaginative visuals and Munchausen-esque exaggeration (at one point he scales a mountain so high he is scorched by the sun), “Johnny Corncob” marks an impressive debut. Jankovic would later go on to make his masterpiece, “Son of the White Mare.”
The 1970’s and 1980’s marked the heyday of Hungarian animation led by the PannoniaFilm studio (who also did the animation for Rene Laloux’s second film, “Time Masters”). In 1986 they released Hungary’s most famous film, “Cat City,” a secret agent parody about a cat-mouse cold war. Hungary’s most popular film, “Vuk” (1981), A Disney-style anthropomorphized-animals family film, dubbed into English as “The Little Foxes,” remains a national favorite.
In the 1990’s Hungarian animation more or less disappeared before steadily mounted a comeback. The most recent Hungarian animation I’ve seen is “The District” (2004), a rambunctious take-no-prisoners anarchic comedy that successfully toured the festival circuits. The plot involves children of rival ethnic gangs who travel back in time, slaughter mammoth herds and bury them under the primitive city square so that they can be oil barons in the present. The low-budget CG uses an inspired technique that crudely swaps hundreds of mugshots to animate character expressions. The 2D look, along with the politically incorrect and rabidly satiric content drew comparisons to South Park.
[Image: "The District" or "Nyocker" in the native Hungarian.]
Perhaps the trippiest of Hungarian animations, and to my mind one of the most charming, is “Hugo the Hippo” (1973). I’ll give it a full review in the next post.