Saturday, April 30, 2016

Z is for Zéró

Last day of the 2016 A to Z Challenge! Thank you all for visiting and leaving comments! Come back on May 9th for the Reflections!

When legendary criminal cat Zéró decides to sell a national park forest (and gated community) for profit, he can only be stopped by a Captain on the verge of retirement, the forest president's little granddaughter, and a handful of enthusiastic friends.
Az Erdő Kapitánya (Captain of the Forest, 1988) is a feature length animated movie that promotes the importance of the environment (among other things). It plays a lot on police movie tropes, such as "two weeks from retirement."

Once again, the cats are the bad guys: Zéró is the head of a crime network, and keeps evading capture by the upstanding members of the Police: The Captain (a dog), Ede the Corporal (a mouse), and the Emergency Signal (an owl). This formidable team is aided by Goliath, a flea, who is supposed to spy on the cats, but gets himself captured and sent back to the police under a stamp on an envelope. He finds out enough, however, to know that Zéró's aim is the Forest, so the Captain fakes retirement to get temporary housing in the gated community (since they are outside the city's jurisdiction).

At the forest, Captain makes friends with the granddaughter of the Forest President (an old and strong bear lady). Dorka is super excited about being friends with a real life cop. He also befriends Dini, the Bat, who helps him build a house on the island assigned to him - and obviously he builds it upside-down, but the good-natured Captain doesn't complain. We also get to encounter Pimpike, the Blue Bird of Happiness (a former wolf who ate a whole lot of poisonous shrooms and got an identity crisis).

All kinds of excitement ensue - chases on land and water, kidnappings, mayhem. Zéró almost succeeds at selling the entire forest to a landscaping company for immediate demolition... but in the end, the Captain stops him. After the excitement is over, the Captain decides to actually retire, and move into the Forest permanently.

This is a very adorable movie, and one of my favorites. I wish there was an English dubbed version...

Friday, April 29, 2016

Y is for a Young Sparrow

I know I say this a lot, but this one is actually one of my top favorite Hungarian cartoons.

When a boy pisses off the Sparrow Fairy by shooting at birds, he gets turned into a sparrow himself, and has to learn what life is like for tiny birds in a bid city.
Vili, a veréb (Willy the Sparrow) is a 1989 feature length animated movie. It is not only gorgeously drawn (featuring recognizable Budapest scenes and buildings as the backdrop), but also geniously animated - you can tell that the creators spend serious hours watching sparrows... do sparrow things.

The Sparrow Fairy only turns Vili into a sparrow to teach him a lesson (and prove that she is actually a fairy, and not just a silly old woman). But her magical spray can malfunctions, and she has to go back to the Headquarters to get it fixed, so she leaves Sparrow-Vili alone in his room. Unfortunately, the family's much-tortured cat takes this opportunity to avenge herself on the kid, and Vili has to flee out of the apartment and into the park. And so the adventures begin.

In the park, Vili makes friends with a flock of actual sparrows, who are at first very surprised why he can't fly - and then save him from the cat and take him to a wise old sparrow, Cipur, for flight training. Vili confesses to Cipur that he is actually human, and they make a deal: Cipur teach Vili to fly, and Vili teaches Cipur to read and write (because the old bird has a crush on the Sparrow Fairy). In the process, Vili learns a lot about sparrows, and also a lot about friendship and bravery.

One of the things that the birds often do is rivalry for leadership. Their loud and aggressive leader, Spagyi, keeps yelling "WHO'S STRONGER?!" at every newcomer, and they all put their heads down and say "YOU!" Whoever is the strongest gives the orders. One of the most quotable lines of the movie comes from these situations:

"Any questions? No questions? Let's go!" - he always says it fast enough that no one can get a word (or question) in.

Whenever one of them says or does something dumb, they get called a "dongó," which means bumblebee. "Csures, you are bublebee" is a great way of dissing someone.

My favorite piece of wisdom, however, comes from Cipur: Every time he leaves Vili alone, he says "One eye, one ear, is always alert." While this is supposed to reflect the way tiny birds live, it is also a very handy quote for parenting in general. My mother says it a lot to me when I set off on a trip.

In addition, there is also a scene where Vili touches on the basic problems of academic writing. I blogged about it in detail here.

SOOO... this movie exists on YouTube with English subtitles... but also Russian dubs, for some godforsaken reason...

Thursday, April 28, 2016

X is for the Checkered-Eared Rabbit

Plush Rabbit Square-Ears?...
This is as close as I'm going to get to X, so bear with me.

A plush rabbit lives in an attic and spies on people until his services are needed, at which point he uses his large ears to helicopter down and save the day.
A kockásfülű nyúl (The checkered-eared rabbit) is an animated TV show that aired 26 episodes between 1974 and 1976. I actually am not sure if the rabbit is a he or a she, or something else, because Hungarian language is gender-neutral, and also no one speaks in the entire show. Therefore, it is easily watchable for children of any language.

Once again this is a show that is mostly known for the ridiculous adorableness of its main character. You can buy Checkered-Eared Rabbit plushies in several stores in Hungary, and people recognize them as part of their childhood. Rabbit always carries a large spyglass, and looking through it sees children getting into trouble - ruining a birthday cake, losing a drawing, being bullied, etc. Rabbit then helicopters down with his large checkered ears to help them solve the situation. The episodes are short, and come with cheerful music (that can get a bit repetitive). It is great fun for smaller children.

Watch episodes of the show here.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

W is for the Water Spider

America has Wonder Woman. Hungary has Wonder Spider.

A strange new spider moves into a little pond: He prefers to build a crystal palace of air bubbles under water, and wears another air bubble for pants when he swims around. He makes friends with creatures both on land and water, among them the grumpy, sarcastic Cross Spider. (Hey, this works as a pun in English!)
Vízipók-csodapók (Water Spider - wonder spider) is an animated TV show that aired 40 episodes between 1974 and 1984. It was made to educate children about life in sweet water ponds, and also various insects and creatures in and out of the water. The show was created with the collaboration of Bálint Ágnes, writer, and Dr. Kertész György, a biology professor from the Eötvörs Loránt University in Budapest. Thanks to their work together, the cartoon is not only adorable and colorful, but also biologically very accurate.
(Legend says the water snails were modeled on the professor's PhD students at the time).

What I love about this show is that each episode introduces fascinating, tiny creatures that you don't usually hear about - and they all exist in your own backyard! Water snails, sharp-edge snailssweet-water hydras, backswimmers, one-eyed copepods, caddisflies, dragonflies, color-changing flower-spiders, mole crickets, and more - and yes, I had to look all of those up in the English dictionary.

I am endlessly happy that I grew up with a cartoon like this. I always loved animals and nature (I also grew up reading Gerald Durrell's books), and Water Spider introduced me, and thousands of other children, to the tiny miracles right under our noses. I think it is the most amazing cartoon show Hungary has ever done.

Watch episodes of the show (in Hungarian) here.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

V is for Vuk

Once again, a film that miraculously does exist with English dubs! (Although a little hard to track down.)

After his family is killed off by a hunter, tiny fox Vuk is raised old fox Karak, and uses his skills and brains to take revenge on the Human and his hunting dogs.
Vuk (The Little Fox) is a feature length animated movie that premiered in 1981 (you are probably seeing a pattern here, our golden age of animation ranged from the 70s to the early 90s). It is based on a famous novel by Fekete István, published under the same title, in 1965. You can buy the book in English on Amazon, it is worth the read.

Vuk is known for its ridiculously adorable main character, a fox cub that has a lot to learn about... well, being a fox. After his family is taken by the Smooth-Skin (which is what forest animals call humans) and his Barkers (dogs), Vuk is left all alone - he only survives because he sneaked out and went hunting against his parents' orders. The most heartbreaking moment of the cartoon is the tiny baby fox sitting in front of the empty den, muttering "I am alone... I am tiny... I am hungry... Someone help Vuk the tiny fox..."
(This line is often quoted by people who are sad or tired)

Things turn for the better when old fox Karak shows up and adopts the cub. It soon becomes clear that Vuk is very gifted (has a sense of smell like no one else), but also has a lot to learn (he jumps on a hedgehog). Karak patiently trains him in the art of hunting, until Vuk grows up and becomes the smartest hunter in the forest. He spends his time stealing chickens from the Hunter's home right under the dogs' noses like his father did. On one of his trips he also meets an imprisoned girl-fox, falls in love, and rescues her from her cage.

Vuk is a classic in all senses of the word - a great story, lovable characters, and beautiful animation. I high recommend this movie to everyone.

Monday, April 25, 2016

U is for an Unusual Snow White

Brace yourselves, this one's gonna get trippy.

Created in a laboratory after her mother's untimely death, a super-strong albino Snow White lives flees the court of the new Queen Arrogance, and moves on to wreck the life and home of seven dwarves.
Hófehér (Snow White, usually translated to English as Slow White) is a feature length cartoon movie that premiered in 1984, and became known as probably the trippiest product of Hungarian animation to date. It was never intended as a children's movie, and instead walks the line between satire and sheer surrealism.

The film begins with a sequence of queens stabbing their finger with the embroidery needle and wishing for kids. Then we get to Queen Constance Frigidaire, who is just lying in bed, reading trashy novels, attended to by his gorgeous and sneaky handmaiden, Arrogance (the other two handmaidens, Epidemia and Claustrophobia, have been poisoned on the Queen's orders to "model die" for the latest crime novel). Arrogance reports to the queen that the neighboring king just had a son.

Queen: "Do we have a child?" 
Arrogance: "Not that I know of, milady." 
Queen: "Did he die?" 
Arrogance: "You have never given birth, milady." 
Queen: "Give birth? Me? You are crazy. What are servants for? Go order a baby from the Professor."

Arrogance convinces the Queen that, following tradition, she has to stab her finger with a needle. Then hands a poisoned needle to her. Queen Frigidaire dies, but before she does, she wishes for a child whose hair is white as snow, and eyes are red like blood.

In order to cover up the murder, Arrogance orders a baby from the castle's crazy scientist, and decides to keep the Queen refrigerated until they can announce that she died in childbirth. The plan works, and Arrogance becomes the new queen, marrying dirt-old Leo Lion-stink, The Last Of His Name (who only eats grass and is obsessed with his pet chicken). Soon after the king also dies in an "accident" and Arrogance becomes queen.

The lab-created baby turns out to be a white-haired, red-eyed girl who has supernatural strength and can eat iron nails for snacks. Since she can't legally kill her, Arrogance decides to have her worked to death "under the forced labor law" (legality is important). Then she goes on to build an empire:

Queen: "We need a cause for war."
Professor: "I'll design a provocation boomerang. We throw it across the border, then it comes back and intrudes on our lands."

She also wants to marry the neighboring king's son, Alfonse the Short-Sighted, but Alfonse proposes to Snow White by accident. Arrogance orders the Huntsman to get rid of Snow White, but he fails to do so - the girl thinks he is coming on to her, and slaps the **** out of him. Then she goes to live with seven dwarves. The dwarves are named after the days of the week, and work in the mines putting stolen gold and gemstones back into the ground. At one point, one of them starts singing "Hey-ho!" and another one clamps a hand on  his mouth:

"Are you crazy?! This is copyrighted!" 

Snow White does not only get all the dwarves drunk, she also accidentally ruins the entire house. The dwarves tell on her to the Queen, who shows up to kill the girl, but taking a bite out of Snow White's apple pie knocks her out dead (she's not a good cook). Alfonse shows up, revives the Queen, falls in love with her, and they ride off together into the sunset. Snow White makes peace with the dwarves and they live happily together.

You can watch the movie in Hungarian here. There are also English subtitles available on some websites.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

T is for Tádé and Raisins

Manócska, the little gnome (goblin? dwarf? leprechaun?...) single father lives in a large gourd, patiently raising a passive-aggressive green piglet and a ridiculously adorable baby guinea pig.
Mazsola és Tádé is a puppet TV show that aired between 1969 and 1973; it has 2 seasons and a total of 23 episodes. It is a children's classic (then again, all the movies and shows mentioned in this A to Z are).

The genius of this series lies in how accurately it portrays children's behavior. Mazsola, the green pig and Manócska's first adopted child, is a moody and rowdy four-year-old, while Tádé is a baby that barely talks yet, and has to be... well, babied. Mazsola exhibits a lot of older sibling jealousy, and goes out of his way to get Manócska's attention. But he is a king piglet at heart, and really cares for baby Tádé.

The show is both funny and adorable, and has quite a few very quotable moments. My favorite one happens in a winter episode, where Mazsola goes outside and digs a path in the snow with his snout - then comes back in, and all through the episode keeps repeating to Manócska that "Mazsola shoveled the snow! Mazsola shoveled the snow!"
My family usually uses "Mazsola shoveled the snow!" when someone makes a big deal out of doing a basic household chore. If you pay attention, you might see husbands/wives/offspring doing this from time to time...

Another one that comes up a lot in casual conversation is the episode where Mazsola does something bad, and tries to get Tádé to take the blame. He teaches the baby to say "It was my idea!" When Manócska questions Tádé, the conversation goes like this:
"Tádé! Whose idea was this?!"
*sniff* "... mine."
"How could you think of something like this?!"
*sniff* "... Mazsola told me."

There is also an episode where Mazsola accidentally says something bad about Tádé, and Tádé finds out. She (he?) spends the rest of the episode whining in a pathetic little sniffling voice:
"Mazsola! What did you say about me...?"
We usually quote this when someone accidentally says something about you that they didn't mean.

Mazsola, by the way, means Raisin.

Friday, April 22, 2016

S is for Szaffi

A young baron raised by Gypsies, a Turkish girl raised by a swamp witch wise woman, an eerily clever cat, an Italian assassin, and an evil knight search for buried treasure in post-Ottoman rule Hungary.
Szaffi (1984) is a feature length animated movie based on a novel written by famous 19th century Hungarian author, Jókai Mór. Fun fact: Johann Strauss wrote an operetta titled The Gypsy Baron, based on the same novel - the cartoon, in turn, based its music on Strauss'. It is one of the most memorable film scores in Hungarian animation.

Turkish rule is ending in Hungary; the Emperor's armies are pushing the Ottoman forces out. The last Turkish stronghold is the castle of Temesvár, held by Ahmed pasha. When the pasha sees that all is lost, he sneaks out of the castle with his baby daughter and all his treasures, and runs to his Hungarian friend, Botsinkay Gáspár, who has a little son (the two kids are engages from birth). They bury the treasure and run - the Hungarian nobleman also has to flee since the Emperor will punish everyone who lived in friendship with the Turks. As they flee, they lose the baby in a flood. She is fished out by a kind, wise old woman.
The two noblemen flee to Turkey - where Ahmed is beheaded for losing Temesvár, and Gáspár dies of illness. His little son, Jónás, is found and raised by Gypsies. When the Emperor declares amnesty for all fugitives, he returns home with his scroll proving nobility, to claim his father's estate. However, the knight that governs the lands is not happy - he has been looking for the pasha's buried treasure, and had his eyes on the estate as well.

Shenanigens ensue. Jónás finds the estate in bad repair. The knight sends an Italian assassin after him. Jónás runs into the old woman and think she is a witch; he also meets Szaffi, who shares a name with a black cat, and thinks that she is a shape-shifter. The wise old woman tells him that he will find "the treasure" when he gets married. Jónás goes off to propose to a rich (and horrible) lady, and promptly gets kicked out. The knight still hunts him (he also wants to marry the rich lady). But with the help of the Gypsies that raised Jónás, and the knowledge of the old woman, everything turns out fine in the end.

Some quotable moments:

The Knight is planning to get rid of Jónás, talking to the assassin:

Knight: "Now you go after him, and stab him in the back!"
Assassin: "Oh no, no, no! I'm an intellectual. Forgery, poisoning, counterfeit money, movie reviews, but murder?! Nooo, I can't look at blood..."

Jónás flees from the dungeons dressed in a dead bear's skin, and helped by the bear's keeper, who is a Gypsy friend of his. A guard finds the discarded bear skin, and goes to report to the Knight:

Knight: "What the devil is that in your hands?"
Guard: "A bear skin, sir. As far as I can tell, it's Goliath's."
Knight: "Whaaat? And where is the bear's keeper? The Gypsy?"
Guard: "He took Goliath for a walk."
Guard: "Well, um, it's very hot outside, I thought..."

You can watch the movie (in Hungarian) here. It is also possible to find English subtitles for it on some subtitle websites.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

R is for Rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, rabbit, dog

A family of six rabbit siblings adopts a stray puppy, and tries to teach him how to be a bunny instead of a dog. The dog, in return, teaches them how to be brave. Cuteness ensues.
A hetedik testvér (The Seventh Brother) is a 1991 feature length animated movie. It was made in a Hungarian-German collaboration, and once again, like most international cartoons, is available in English!

While a very cute story in itself, this movie is also an exercise in cultural translation.

I just noticed this as I was writing the post: The English version of the movie starts out very differently than the Hungarian one. In the version I was used to, a little girl asks her mother to tell (once again) the tale of how their puppy ended up with the family. In the English version, an owl with a strange accent talks through the fourth wall, promising to narrate the story of a very brave little dog.
Go figure.

The Hungarian movie begins with a tiny puppy being tossed out of a nameless car to the side of the road, and then the car drives away; it is clear that they wanted to gt rid of the puppy. It takes some time for the rabbits to convince him that his owners are not coming back. At the end of the movie, he is adopted by a little girl and her grandfather.
In the English version, however, the puppy starts out living with the girl and the grandfather, and he only gets lost in the woods because he is chasing a frog in a storm. At the end of the movie, he makes it back to his owners.

The music is also different - and I have to say, the English songs are a lot less nerve-grating than the Hungarian ones...

You can watch the Hungarian version, for comparison, here.

What do you think these differences say about cultural translation?

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

Q is for Queens, Kings, and History

Medieval chroniclers narrate legendary moments of early Hungarian history, illustrated with gorgeous animation based on painted miniatures.

Mondák a magyar történelemből (Legends from Hungarian history) is a 13-episode cartoon series that first aired in 1986. It aimed to educate people about the historical stories every Hungarian should be familiar with - our first kings, ancestry, journey to the Carpathian basin, etc. It was created by historians and artists together, and often it presents multiple accounts of the same events.
While the narration never introduces the people telling the story, you can often recognize them from the animation - miniatures from medieval chronicles represent early writers of our history, and the weird hooded dude that looks like Voldemort represents our Anonymous, author of the Gesta Hungaroroum. Every once in a while, a historian also makes an appearance to chime in.

Apart from the historical and educational content, once again this show excels in animation. They take images, motifs, and pictures from traditional sources, from miniatures to paintings to pieces of decorative jewelry, and merge them all into beautiful, colorful visuals that not only tell a story, but also represent the aesthetics of the time. The animation style gives an air of authenticity and an air of legend to the stories, all at the same time. While the episodes are short (10-11 minutes) and there are only 13 of them, it is still a gorgeous, classic cartoon series I am happy to have as a Hungarian.

The series also happens to feature some of the stories I used last year for 26 Ways to Die in Medieval Hungary.

You can watch all 13 episodes (in Hungarian) here.

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

P is for Pom Pom

A very talkative tuft of hair walks a girl to school every morning, telling her colorful stories on the way.
Pom Pom meséi (Pompom's tales) is a cartoon series that aired 2 seasons and 26 episodes between 1979 and 1980. It features Pom Pom, a mysterious fuzzy creature, who tells really good stories, and Picur, a cheerful young girl who is always almost late for school, but loves the stories.
Each episode of the show is an individual story, featuring a cast of strange, colorful, outrageous characters.

First things first: What exactly is Pom Pom?
We are not entirely sure. The intro to every episode, he introduces himself (itself?) thus:

"No one really knows me, because sometimes I'm this, and sometimes I'm that. I can change my shape amazingly - if I want, I'm like a tuft of hair, or a wig, or an inside-out fur mitten, or a paintbrush, or a pompom on a slipper's nose. Right now, I mostly resemble a fur hat, as I sit on a branch, a nice long branch, up-down... since the wind is making the branch swing."

And that's what Pom Pom is.

Every morning he asks Picur if he can accompany her to school, and when they get there (after the story is told) he always says goodbye with the same thing:

"Picur, may I wait for you?"

And she answers, with a smile:


It is often an inside joke for people on a date.

By far my favorite character in Pom Pom's tales (and Picur's life) is Gombóc Artúr (Rotund Arthur), the overweight flightless bird, who is a chocoholic. His story talks about how we went on a diet, giving up everything but chocolate (a person's gotta eat something, after all) but still got so fat that he couldn't fly south for the winter. Instead, he tries to take a train, and then a plane, but he is too heavy, and finally he gets on a boat... but he weighs it down so much that by the time they get to Africa, it is time for him to go home. He never migrates again, and gets some winter clothes instead.

Artúr's most iconic monologue is the one where answers the question "What kind of chocolate do you like best?":

Yes you can get this t-shirt, here
"Round chocolate, square chocolate, long chocolate, short chocolate, round chocolate, flat chocolate, solid chocolate, perforated chocolate, wrapped chocolate, naked chocolate, whole chocolate, leftover chocolate, sweet chocolate, bitter chocolate, tube chocolate, chocolate with hazelnuts, milk chocolate, chocolate with liquor, last year's chocolate, this year's chocolate, and ALL KINDS OF CHOCOLATE MADE IN THE WORLD."

This is something I can personally relate to.

You can watch Artúr's episode here:

Monday, April 18, 2016

O is for the Owl doctor

Dr. Bubó, the quirky owl, tries to cure the good folks of the forest from all kinds on injuries and illnesses, and goes to great lengths to try alternative solutions... up to, and including, making heroin in his own doctor's office.
Kérem a következőt! (Next!), more commonly known to everyone as "Dr. Bubó," is a 3 season, 39 episode cartoon TV show that was made and aired between 1974-1983. It follows the adventures of Dr. Bubó, the owl doctor of the forest, and other supporting characters, such as Ursula the bear-nurse, Officer Hawk, the chief of the forest police, and the Messenger, who just happens to be a tortoise.

This show was, once again, written by Romhányi József, out legendary punster-poet, and as such, it is as full of animal-based puns as it is humanly possible. The opening theme, in itself, is yet another one that my generation can probably sing by heart. It begins with Dr. Bubó becoming a doctor, his diploma granted by the university's Boa Constrector. It is a mish-mash of botched medical statements, such as:

"Foot salts for snakes, dentures for birds,
The patient dictates, and the doctor scribbles"

"The squirrel is rheumatic, it can only be helped by the psychologist"

And finally:

"The reptile lied, the old fool, he is as much a rector as I am a doctor."

Who wouldn't trust a guy like this with their life?

The entire show is fairly trippy, as much from the puns as for the general visual aesthetic. And talking about trippy, as promised: here is the most infamous episode:

A koala comes to the doctor's office, OD'd on heroin. While Ursula takes care of him, Dr. Bubó and the Officer discuss the possibilities of investigating the drug trade in the forest - while they smoke up some pine cones sent by a grateful patient, and get incredibly high themselves. Turns out the pine cones were laced with opium. The next day, sobered up, they go to investigate where the drugs could have come from. They end up at the harbor, where drugs are being brought in via sea trade, in the form of packets of hashish hidden in bales of cotton.
While they are investigating the boat that brought the bales, the sailors toss packets of heroin into the water, where the Messenger mistakes them for sugar, and eats a large amount. Since they can't catch whoever is causing the drug epidemic in the forest, Dr. Bubó comes up with an idea: They themselves make heroin, distribute it, and lure out the cartel trying to eliminate the competition. In order to test if the heroin is high enough quality to compete, Ursula takes a dose and gets incredibly high. Once she sobers up, Bubó sends her to sell the drugs, as bait. Sadly, they forget to tell the Officer, who immediately concludes that Dr. Bubó and Ursula were the dealers to begin with, and arrests her. Meanwhile, Dr. Bubó is kidnapped by the Jackal, the real drug kingpin, who wants him to make high quality drugs for him. Ursula and the Officer beat information out of the Kangaroo, who is a henchman to the Jackal, and arrive just in time to save Dr. Bubó from his fate.

I would just like to point out that this cartoon pre-dates Breaking Bad.
If you don't believe any of this, you can find the episode here.

Not all episodes are quite this trippy, obviously... A lot of them just deal with weird animals having weird illnesses and problems. My favorite part of the show, by far, is Ursula, the kind and proactive bear nurse, who has a crush on the doctor, and is large enough to deal with any kind of a rowdy patient. It is not unheard of for people to refer to strong and/or large nurses as "Ursula."

Saturday, April 16, 2016

N is for the Nesting Dragon

The Multi-headed Dragon tells bedtime stories for his three-headed baby offspring, about a heroic knight named Krisztofóró and his none less heroic steed, Seven of Clubs.
Krisztofóró is a claymation TV show that aired between 1989 and 1994. It has 52 episodes most of them around 5-8 minutes long. They used to air these as bedtime stories, so I remember the song and the sleepy baby dragon quite well. Every episode is narrated by Papa dragon, and they all end with one of his 13 heads shushing the others: "Shhhhhhh! They are already asleep!"

Also, each head of Baby Dragon gets its own pacifier. Obviously.

Most of the stories are short and silly, detailing the adventures of Krisztofóró and his talking horse. In the "Big-Tooth Monster," for example, they end up venturing into a castle where people are very proud of everything (chicken, garbage dump, the city in general) claiming they are all gigantic even though they are normal sized. They "honor" Krisztofóró by designating him to fight the Big-Tooth Monster, something so terrible that all the people of the castle flee at the mere mention of it... The monster, obviously, turns out to be a mouse, which Seven of Clubs chases away by making cat noises. The mouse runs away yelling "Did no one inform them that I am terrifying?!"

You can find this episode, and some others, on YouTube.

All in all, it is a cute and silly children's show, with fun claymation, narrated by a dragon. What's not to love?

Friday, April 15, 2016

M is for Magyar folktales

Magyar népmesék (Hungarian folktales) is probably the best known cartoon series in Hungary. It sports a whopping 9 seasons and 100 episodes, each between 6 and 10 minutes long, each adapting a well-known Hungarian folktale into gorgeous animation.
The series began in 1977, and concluded with the last batch of 11 episodes in 2011. It has become a classic, both in story and in visual style, for thousands of Hungarian children and multiple generations. Recently, an artist has even re-imagined Star Wars in the artistic style of Hungarian Folktales.

The style itself is very recognizable. It is colorful, full of traditional Hungarian imagery (such as folk costumes and embroidery patterns), and highly symbolic, playing on the hidden meanings of the oldest folk- and fairy tales we have. The narration is also famous, done by excellent actor-storytellers, and the opening music of the episodes, along with the embroidery-based framing motif, is truly iconic.

Good news: Some episodes of the series are available with English subtitles on YouTube! Here is an entire playlist of them!

Here are a couple of examples of my favorites:

Palkó Lily-of-the-Valley
A prince who is born a dwarf guards the grave of his dead mother every day. On the grave the king planted a flower, a lily-of-the-valley, that soon turns out to be an enchanted Princess of the Dwarves, hiding from the wrath of Tündér Ilona, the fairy queen. The prince and the princess fall in love, and try to escape from the queen's revenge...

The star-eyed shepherd
A shepherd refuses to say "bless you" to a king when he sneezes, and the king decides to get rid of him in the most creative ways. The shepherd, however, manages to survive all the trials, and even marries the king's daughter in the end. 

The fairy of the pond
This is, essentially, our version for the Grimms' Nixie in the millpond fairy tale. The animation is especially pretty in this one.

This entire series is an endless source of wonder and entertainment. If you only watch one thing recommended in this A to Z theme, definitely look into this one :)

Thursday, April 14, 2016

L is for Lúdas Matyi

Now here is a classic tale of revenge every Hungarian kid is familiar with.

When Matyi the Gooseherd boy resists the baron who tries to take his geese, he receives 25 lashes with a stick as a punishment. He swears an oath that he will return the beating threefold - and fulfills his promise in the most creative and entertaining ways.
Lúdas Matyi (Matyi the Gooseherd Boy / Matyi of the Geese, 1975) is a feature length animated film based on a very famous Hungarian literary epic poem from the 19th century. It even has its own TV Tropes page!

Döbrögi, the tyrannical lord of the land, wants Matyi's geese (or, in the case of the film, one quirky goose). Matyi refuses, claiming justice is justice and the law is the law, to which Döbrögi responds "Here, I am the law," and orders his henchmen to give Matyi 25 lashes with a stick. Matyi swears that he will repay it three times, but everyone laughs at him.

A couple of years later, Döbrögi is building the new palace (the building scene itself is hilarious without words, worth watching), and a mysterious Italian master appears in his court. He is immediately "hired" (threatened) to design the palace, but tells everyone that more wood is needed for the project. Taking everyone to the forest and putting them to work, he is finally left alone with Döbrögi, whom he asks to help measure the circumference of a large oak tree. While Döbrögi hugs the tree, the master ties him to it, and then reveals himself as Matyi, giving the lord the first round of 25 lashes.

Döbrögi is taken home and he takes ill from the beating. Doctors are brought to him but none can help, until a mysterious German doctor is brought to court. He claims he can heal the baron, but he needs specific herbs... for which he sends out everyone in court, and is left alone with the ailing lord. You guessed it: He ties Döbrögi to the bed, reveals himself as Matyi the Gooseherd, and gives him another 25 lashes.

Not the lord is both furious and paranoid. On market day, he sends out an entire army to search people, claiming that "anyone who doesn't look like Matyi is suspicious." Matyi, looking exactly like himself, mingles with the crowd, and makes a deal with a boy that looks like him. The boy leads the army on a wild goose (heh) chase on his legendary fast horse, and while the henchmen are after him, Döbrögi is left alone at the market... and Matyi fulfills the last part of his promise with another 25 lashes, reminding everyone that rich people don't have the right to make their own law without repercussions.

The film is full of quotable moments, mostly because it is hilarious all the way through. One that is very often quoted is from the scene where the "Italian architect" first appears in court, and Döbrögi demands to know what he is saying. His advisor, who obviously doesn't speak languages, answers:

"He says... he says... It is said in foreign-ish!"

This one is much quoted as a joke about people who don't speak languages. He even speaks to the Italian very loudly and very slowly... but still in Hungarian...

Another legendary part of the movie is Aunt Biri (Biri néne), the witch that is summoned to cure Döbrögi after the first beating. The castle guards are told not to let in anyone who is Italian, but to their question of how they can tell whether someone is, they are just told by the advisor "If you can understand them, they are not Italian, but if you can't understand them, then they are Italian." When Aunt Biri arrives, the following exchange occurs:
(There are a lot of puns in there that can't be translated, but I tried...)

"Halt! Who are you, Aunt Biri?! Answer me! Who are you?"
"The same as I was, the magical Biri. Your godmother, my beloved child. I came, I flew, to help our great lord with his ailment."
"Answer this! Are you Italian, or not?!"
"Italian? Wouldn't even think of it! I am a gentle soul. I didn't even have a husband, but even he is dead now."
"Not Italian! You may enter."

"Are you Italian, Aunt Biri?!" is kind of a legendary cartoon quote in Hungary. Often quoted when talking about language learning, and also Italians in general.

You can watch the movie (in Hungarian) here. Even without the language, knowing the basic story, and a lot of visual humor, makes is extremely entertaining.