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Animation / Heroic Times

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Heroic Times (original title: Daliás idők) is an obscure, experimental 1984note  Hungarian animated historical drama. A production of Pannonia Film Studio, it was animated almost entirely with elaborate oil paintings by a mere ten artists under the direction of József Gémes. It is also notable for having only a single first person narrator, a musical score with little to no sound effects, a strong reliance on still, picturesque images, and no named characters.


The film is actually a drastically compressed and somewhat re-imagined adaptation of 19th century poet János Arany's Toldi Trilogy, a series of stories about legendary folk hero Miklós Toldi, based on a real historical figure from the 14th century — though heavily fictionalized and embellished. Toldi is a poor rural man deprived of his noble heritage's benefits, has superhuman strength and a fierce code of honor but a volatile temper, and is plagued by constant hardships. Running away from home after killing a man in anger, fate leads him through a whirlwind of knighthood, war, murder, betrayal, hope, tragedy and disillusionment, as he witnesses the degradation of the honorable life of glory he had always sought but only ever achieved for a few fleeting moments throughout his bitter existence.


The film was sadly a huge critical and financial failure as audiences in Hungary rejected its unusual style. Internationally, though, it received acclaim by animation historians, claiming the "Best Feature Film" award at the 1985 Annecy Animation Festival. A different animated Toldi adaptation was proposed in 2014, to be rejected due to its absurd production costs. Another animated project, this time a series rather than a film, one which only adapts the original Toldi book, is set to be released in 2021, helmed by former Pannonia Film Studio giant Marcell Jankovics.


Features examples of:

  • Actor Allusion: Having already utilized his knack for folklore-based storytelling, dramatic delivery and playing seasoned, wise old men quite a few times, Gyula Szabó lends his talents to yet another Pannonia film, this time as the sole voice actor.
  • Adapted Out: Many characters. However, since none are named anyway, you can just imagine some of the extras to be them.
  • All for Nothing: Most of Toldi's life, his goals, his idealistic drive, his struggles. This is more blatant in the original stories, where the first ends on a relatively positive outcome and the second deals with Toldi's death, making the third entry chronicling the unseen parts of his life end on a foregone conclusion.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Alluded to. Toldi tries his best to remain honorable even when serving his king, but the acts of those he serves with disgust him.
  • Big Damn Heroes: What the combatants believe is the returning spirit of Saint Ladislas helps turn the tide when Toldi's army is on the losing end in one scene. Near the end, Toldi himself rides to the rescue of the current Hungarian King and his army, armed with only a lash.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Certainly not from the perspective of the hero and his ideals, but the ending shows the country around him is on a prosperous path.
  • The Black Death: Hits the country near the end.
  • Black Knight: The Czech knight with the bull horns.
  • Blinded by Rage: At times Toldi can't help himself and turns murderous.
  • Born Unlucky: Toldi. Though he has many a Hope Spot, they eventually crumble down around him.
  • Charles Atlas Superpower: Toldi can lift and throw a millstone a good distance by himself and can hold a massive wooden pole with one hand horizontally.
  • Compressed Adaptation: Three book's worth of poetry crammed into a ~80 minute film. The entire second book (chronologically the last) is stuffed into the final few minutes.
  • Crapsack World: 14th century Hungary from Toldi's point of view, due to all the wars and human vices. Then comes the plague...
  • Cruel to Be Kind: Toldi once poses as a different knight he feels sorry for to win him a tournament, only to fall in love with the princess whose hand was the prize. The unworthy knight takes the woman and turns on him. Toldi's attempt to clear the truth eventually spirals into chaos and leads to the deaths of the other man and he never gets the princess.
  • Crushing Handshake: Toldi destroys the bull-horned knight's armored gauntlet with his bare hand.
  • The Cynic: Life seems to be forcing Toldi to be this.
  • Despair Event Horizon: At the very end, when Toldi murders a bunch of jesters in rage for making comedy out of what he believes should be noble knighthood, he realizes there's no place in the new world for him anymore.
  • Deus Angst Machina: Toldi often invokes the will of God to muse why things are the way they are.
  • Deus ex Machina: When lightning strikes one of the people hunting him down for murder, Toldi rationalizes the event as such.
  • Dirty Coward: The bull-horned knight reveals himself to be this upon witnessing Toldi's physical superiority.
  • The Dog Bites Back: When the torment of his brother's men pushes him over the edge, Toldi hauls a massive millstone amidst the group and crushes one of them.
  • Downer Ending: Toldi dies a bitter old man disgusted with society and wanted for murder, though with his last breath he still begs for forgiveness.
  • From Bad to Worse: Toldi's entire life. First he loses his father in a war, and has to work his ass off in the fields, while his jerkass brother inherits their father's high status. After accidentally killing one of his abusive brother's men, things just get worse for him, until by the end he feels rejected by the entire world.
  • Good Is Not Soft: He may have a hopeful spirit, a wish for noble camaraderie and love, but Toldi is a tough-as-nails, brutal man.
  • Grievous Harm with a Body: In one of the story's signature scenes, Toldi batters a couple of jackals defending their cub to death with each other, to save his own life.
  • In the Back: The bull-horned knight tries to stab Toldi in the back after conceding defeat.
  • Jerkass: The hero's elder brother who abuses him despite knowing he has issues.
  • The Jester: When a new age of prosperity sets in and sparring matches go out of fashion, jesters entertain the now peaceful masses by spoofing the rites and knightly habits of Toldi's time. They meet a sorry end when the elderly Toldi sees their show too.
  • Kick the Dog: Toldi is troubled enough as-is and his anger issues are common knowledge, yet his well-off brother and his gang use the poor sap as target practice.
  • Knight in Shining Armor: What Toldi wishes to be, only to keep discovering the "heroic times" he has imagined are fleeting at best. The story partially deconstructs this trope.
  • Life Isn't Fair: A running theme.
  • Light Is Not Good: Toldi holds royal authority figures in high respect, but learns they can be just as sinful as any folk.
  • Limited Animation: Selectively used. Some shots are nothing but pans and zooms with still or minimally animated backgrounds or characters, and effects like smoke are also simplistically animated. Due to the story being told through narration, there's little to no facial movement. But all actual animation very strongly averts this, as it is meticulously detailed and often high framerate.
  • Mickey Mousing: Music accompanies every action, and the handful sound effects were also performed via instruments. Originally there would have been only music and no voice acting, but Executive Meddling changed that.
  • The Narrator: The entire film is Toldi poetically reminiscing on his life. Actually a late addition, the director would have wanted no voice acting at all. The film was therefor released abroad without it.
  • No Name Given: No one is named, not even the lead. At best they only get descriptive designations like "my brother" or "the bull-horned knight". One has to be familiar with the source work to identify the characters.
  • Off with His Head!: How Toldi punishes the knight with bull horns after he tries to backstab him. Later the king orders the decapitation of another ruler he has defeated, to claim his wife.
  • Opt Out: Toldi at one point abandons his king's army out of disillusionment over their actions.
  • Out of the Frying Pan: Some of Toldi's problems are indirectly caused by his acts of self preservation, his moral code, or mere attempts at kindness.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Follows the beats of the original epic poems, but rushes through or simplifies things due to the running time, leaving out characters and combining scenes.
  • Pragmatic Hero: Toldi, though he's often tormented by vile deeds he has to commit, either due to his combustible temper, self defense, or on command.
  • Rape, Pillage, and Burn: All in the day's work for Toldi's fellow knights, which disgusts him to no end.
  • Revenge: The children of the horned knight Toldi kills eventually come back for him.
  • Secret Identity: Toldi poses as another knight as a gesture of kindness, to win him a contest. He's haunted by the feeling of dishonor and the ramifications for a long time.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: While Toldi did experience the glory of being a knight and the approval of his king, he ultimately lived to see his ideals crumble and his hope crushed, dying as a wanted man.
  • Stock Footage: Given the extremely elaborate art style that's particularly difficult to animate, numerous shots and scenes had to be reused, often to depict Toldi's memories or his hopes.
  • A Taste of the Lash: How the daughter of the knight he's killed tortures Toldi. Toldi later rides into battle with one, and demolishes the enemy.
  • These Hands Have Killed: Though you might say it was justified, Toldi is horrified for a long time after killing one of his tormentors.
  • The Tourney: Several take place. By the end, they've become a clown show performed by jesters, which enrages Toldi fiercely.
  • Tragic Hero: Toldi is a classic example.


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