originally posted at https://canmom.tumblr.com/post/717327...

Jó estét mindenkinek! Eljött az Animációs Éjszaka ideje.

Good evening everyone! It’s time for Animation Night.

Gif source: @serpentinequeen


Tonight I’m going to continue the grand tradition of ‘copying Aniobsessive-senpai’s homework’, and take us to visit the ‘Hungarian school of animation’, aka magyar rajzfilmiskola. They were a bunch of experimental weirdos from the period when Hungary was ruled Much like the Zagreb School from across the border in Croatia (AN 136), who were a biiiig influence, they launched away from the midcentury UPA style and experiments like Yellow Submarine to make something unique.

The best known Hungarian animated film is Son of the White Mare (1981) directed by Marcell Jankovics. Lemme quote Aniobsessive:

[White Mare] is hard to compare to other animated features. Marcell Jankovics and his team used Hungarian folk art and folk tales as the basis for a huge, mind-expanding, psychedelic adventure movie. It tells an accessible story in an art-house style — 90 minutes of searing colors and spellbinding patterns, with each character in a state of constant transformation.


This film was wildly influential, reaching people like Genndy Tarkovsky to form a big part of the DNA of Samurai Jack. But White Mare didn’t spring out of nowhere.

The 20th century for Hungary was, to put it mildly, a rough time. Here’s a really really brief version. In World War I, Hungary was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, which lost the war hard and basically collapsed. In the resulting power vacuum the country was separated from Austria and went through a brief communist revolution which fell to a monarchist counterrevolution; the monarchists surrendered to the Entente in 1920 and gave up most of the country’s land. In the new peace, the new monarchy set about their agenda of ‘doing antisemitism’, which predictably got a great deal worse in the 30s following the great depression and the rise of Hitler nearby.

So in WWII, Hungary sided with the Axis. They joined Hitler in invading the USSR, and got pretty much crushed. The Hungarians started negotiations to break from the Axis and surrender, but Hitler noticed and quickly ordered his soldiers to occupy, appointing a Nazi governor; at this point the Holocaust in Hungary kicked up a gear and the Nazi-backed Hungarian government deported hundreds of thousands of Jewish people to the death camps. To brush over a messy story, within a year the Soviets counter-invaded and destroyed the fascist government, establishing Hungary as in the Soviet sphere of influence in the aftermath of the war. The Hungarian communist party, which had existed despite its ban during the war, joined forces with communists from Moscow… uneasily.

After briefly playing with elections, the Soviets reorganised Hungary as a single-party Leninist state. The new government set about the whole show-trials-and-purges-and-statues-of-the-leader routine, attacking his rivals as spies in the pocket of the Americans, or maybe Big Trotsky. A lot of messy intra-party politics took place while the country struggled economically, attempting to copy Stalin in dismantling the peasants and building heavy industry. In the 50s, a certain prime minister Imre Nagy won popularity by relaxing some of the state control and closing labour camps and so forth, but this put him at odds with Moscow, and he was attacked as a right-deviationist and driven out of politics. But not for long…

(Did you think that was an end to the antisemitism btw? Lmao no of course not. In 1953 the government tried to frame three random Jews for the abduction of Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish industrialist who saved thousands of people during the Holocaust, who in reality died in a Soviet prison. That whole affair abruptly stopped when Stalin died.)

In 1956 it all came to a head with the ‘Hungarian Revolution’, started by students, which like all such uprisings was messy but broadly was pro-Nagy and anti-Soviet. Nagy, who had only recently been returned from political exile in the wake of the ‘Khruschev Thaw’, took control of the party with his allies. He went so far as to announce that Hungary might even withdraw from the Warsaw Pact. ‘Excuse me?’ said Khruschev, and sent in the Red Army tanks to remove Nagy and his supporters, killing about 20,000 people in the process. This is one of the two incidents that led to the coinage of the word ‘tankie’, originally meaning someone who defended Khruschev’s intervention.

The next guy, János Kádár, started out by attacking the participants in the 1956 uprising, but changed his tune and declared an amnesty in the 60s, establishing a relatively relaxed set of policies nicknamed ‘Goulash Communism’ which encouraged foreign trade and consumerism. As such, it’s this period where Hungary started making a bunch of animated films.

Gif source: @fritillary

Because yeah this is a post about cartoons actually!

In the 60s, Hungarian animators - funded by the state - were following in the footsteps of the Zagreb School, with its unique approach to timing and design philosophy. But eager ot put their own spin on it, they started introducing bright colours and textures to the UPA style, in films like Duel (1960) and Ball with White Dots (1961).

In 1968, Sándor Reisenbüchler, a colleage of Jankovics at Pannonia Film Studio with a wildly improvisational method, released his first short film The Kidnapping of the Sun and Moon, created with the assistance of his wife. The film is an absolute riot of shapes and colours, all relating a story of a many-headed dragon which devours all the stars until a hero comes to slay it. For Reisenbüchler it’s an anti-war metaphor. Despite being controversial back home, the government eagerly started spreading it abroad in Russia and US alike as a symbol of cool shit being made in Hungary.

Reisenbüchler would go on to make many more films, such as The Year of 1812 (Az 1812-es év) in 1972, but he’d still hold a special place in his heart for Kidnapping.

The British film Yellow Submarine dropped in 1968, and sent major waves into both Hungary and Yugoslavia. For Hungarian artists like Jankovics, it was the inspiration they needed to find a third pole of animation, distinct from both the Disney tradition and the UPA style. He appreciated the space it offered for inconsistency - character designs would no longer need to be identical in every shot, the messiness could be part of the style.

In 1973, Jankovics directed the first feature-length Hungarian animated film, titled Johnny Corncob (János Vitéz). Based on an 1845 epic poem, it tells the story of the worldwide adventures of a young soldier separated from his over, completed over a period of 22 months at Pannonia. The film was a huge undertaking, and its style is unlike pretty much anything before or since, with something of a Western flavour, and uniquely Hungarian outfits…

The next year, Jankovics released a much smaller project, the two-minute long Sisyphus. Jankovics was determined to constantly reinvent his style, lest his films get lost in the shadow of the ones before.

In contrast to the bright colours and textures, Sisyphus, completed in just six weeks, keeps things about as simple as possible: pure black and white silhouettes with a brush texture. Most of the 1800 drawings were by Jankovics himself, and much of the rest by Edit Szalay, who would soon become a key part of White Mare. Into the myth of Sisyphus, Jankovics channeled his own struggles with the nigh impossible task of creating the country’s first animated film. And this film proved wildly popular, running around the world from Yugoslavia to Iran. It threatened to overshadow everything else Jankovics did, and so he changed his style up completely for White Mare.

As the 70s went on, the films just got more experimental. Honeymation (Mézes-táncos) in 1975, directed Ferenc Varsáyani, decided to do a stop motion film entirely with gingerbread people. It was photographed by Gábor Csupó, who would later leave Hungary to America and co-create the Rugrats series. Eventually he would reunite with Varasáyani who would come to work on Rugrats too…

The 70s also saw the wildly popular TV series Rabbit with Checkered Ears, dir. Zsolt Richly and written by Veronika Marék. The two became friends while writing for a childrens’ magazine, and that magazine style would adapt perfectly to depict the clumsy, floppy rabbit. In a big cabin in the yard of Pannonia, Zsolt Richly oversaw the creation of the series for years. You can read more about the story here.

And of course this whole thing was a massive success in both Hungary and pretty much everywhere else, launching both into animation. The floppy plush main character reminds me a little of Marumi from Paranoia Agent, but this one isn’t so sinister. It’s just a very cute bunny in an appealing style. All the episodes are entirely wordless, relying on the expressive movement and music to convey the story. This person seems to have uploaded the full series on Youtube, albeit not really organised into a playlist, so check it out ^^

As then we enter the 80s, Jankovics got the studio working on their biggest project, Son of the White Mare, bringing all these threads together into one massive project, the magnum opus of the Hungarian school at large. So that’s what we’re going to watch tonight! A whirlwind tour of Hungarian animation’s important short films, and Son of the White Mare. (I would show Johnny Corncob as well, but it’s late and it’s proving slow to download, so another week.)

Eventually of course the Soviet Union fell, and Hungary’s Leninist state apparently transitioned to a regular capitalist one relatively gently. Pannonia continued to function, making films up to around 2011 with the final film of Jankovics, The Tragedy of Man, but ultimately closed its doors in 2015. Jankovics himself passed away in 2021. I would love to investigate some of this later Hungarian animation, but I’ll have to save that for another day…

And so! Animation Night 157 will go live in just a minute at twitch.tv/canmom, and I plan to begin showing films on the hour (22:00 UK time)! I’d love to see you there!! Let’s check out a corner of animation history that is far too unknown, and watch a film that’s said (by someone somewhere) to be one of the best animated films of all time…


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