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Animation / Johnny Corncob

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János vitéz (Johnny Corncob) is a 1973 animated musical adventure epic directed by Marcell Jankovics, and the first ever Hungarian animated feature. One of the many adaptations of Sándor Petőfi's 1845 epic poem of the same name (known as John The Valiant in English), it was produced to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the poet's birth. Fittingly, all of the dialogue is written in verse.

The story follows the titular Kukorica Jancsi (Johnny Corncob or Johnny Grain o'Corn in the poem), an orphan shepherd banished from his home and separated from his sweetheart Iluska (Nelly). With nothing to live for, he joins the hussar cavalry on a campaign across bizarre version of Europe to liberate France from the Turks. He returns home only to find Nelly dead, which prompts him to set off into magical lands and face miraculous challenges to reunite with her beyond the End of the World.

Much like the director's later and more internationally famous Son of the White Horse, the film displays bright, creative and oftentimes very abstract animation, loads of symbolism and some suggestive content. Though this time there's an added pop-art flair, as the visual style is a direct copy of the Cult Classic Yellow Submarine, right down to the distinctive character designs. The traditional folk-music inspired soundtrack features songs by Hungarian-Greek singer Gjon Delhusa, with lyrics by famous playwright and rhyme-master József Romhányi.

Partially due to its significance, popular source material and political backing, the film was an enormous success in its home country, though it remains little-known elsewhere.

This film provides examples of:

  • Acid-Trip Dimension: The Country of Darkness, home of witches, demons and the Devil. A precursor to the style later used throughout Son of the White Horse. Also a divergence from the source poem: there, the place is merely a realm ruled and kept shrouded in darkness by witches, while in the movie it's an analog to The Underworld.
  • Adaptation Explanation Extrication: In the poem, John unwittingly brings Nelly back to life by throwing a rose from her grave into Fairyland's Healing Spring. In the movie, she is already the Queen of Fairyland with no real explanation, other than that Fairyland could be Heaven itself.
  • Adaptational Modesty: Inverted, the film is stuffed with way more nudity and sexuality than the more straightforwardly romantic (and of course non-visual) poem.
  • Adaptational Wimp: In the poem, the sultan dies fighting and it's his cowardly son that flees with the princess in tow. Here, the sultan's the one who tries to ride away, only to be dealt a more comical end.
  • Adapted Out: Superfluous characters who deliver exposition, like the farmer and old fisherman, were removed to streamline the story, as were repetitive adversaries like the giants' sentry and the three bears and three lions guarding Fairyland. The Saracen king who's on good terms with the Hungarians and stops the Tartars from killing the hussars and the sultan's son that John doesn't deem worth killing are also left out.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: Much of the dialogue is lifted directly from the 1845 epic poem without any modernization.
  • Artistic License – Geography: The farther John journeys from Hungary, the more fictionalized the places get. Traveling west, the hussars cross portions of what is now Russia, Poland, the frozen-over Venice, the boiling hot mountains of India, then France. Petőfi famously did not care about accuracy as long as he could tell a fancy story with imaginative settings. The plot's second half therefor explicitly takes place in a Magical Land.
  • Back from the Dead: Nelly at the end, though she's no human anymore.
  • Backwards-Firing Gun: A seriously hungover bandit tries to shoot John, unaware he has his pistol pointed at his own face.
  • Bad Boss: Nelly's stepmother, who works her to death in John's absence. It later turns out she's a genuine witch, hence why John has no qualms about killing her.
  • Bandit Clan: John joins one, only to hastily leave once the temptation to steal their loot kicks in.
  • Beast Man: The dog-headed Tartar people.
  • Black Comedy Rape: Happens to one poor Frenchwoman when the Turks take over France. She's all smiles once it's over.
  • Bloodless Carnage: The hussars dismember the Turks in all kinds of ways, but it's all played for laughs and nationalism.
  • Canon Foreigner: The devil trapping souls in his cauldron and the non-witch ghouls celebrating him. In the original story, there's just witches and no evil ritual.
  • Cat Folk: Italian litters are carried by giant anthropomorphic cats on ice skates.
  • The Cavalry: John joins the hussar army on an assault to liberate France.
  • Composite Character: The sultan and his son were combined into one.
  • Covers Always Lie: Even vintage Eastern European movies have misleading vintage Eastern European posters. This one by artist István Bakos would pass for artwork made for the original poem more than the film, as none of the characters look like their animated counterparts and the winged serpent is an Advertised Extra at best.
  • Damsel in Distress: The French princess kidnapped by the Turks.
  • Delicious Distraction: The hussars escape the Tartar dog people by throwing bones at them.
  • David Versus Goliath: John kills the Giant King by smashing his face with a rock.
  • Deranged Animation: Imagine Yellow Submarine with a smidge more down-to-earth plot, a more earthly color palette, and actual symbolism tying the visuals together.
  • Dirty Coward: The Turkish Sultan.
  • The Dragonslayer: John becomes one by the end.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: A classic example, John and Nell are forced apart by their cruel stepparents, war and even death, but through love, perseverance and magic helpers, John eventually finds happiness.
  • Flat World: Alluded to, with Fairyland explicitly stated to be at the end of the world where the sea stops.
  • Flying Broomstick: Standard mode of transport for witches.
  • Forced Perspective: Heroic characters are always drawn with the giant-legged designs of Yellow Submarine's Beatles, making them appear to tower over others.
  • G-Rated Sex: The love-making scene between John and Nelly in the beginning, which becomes a cavalcade of folk art, pastoral scenes and amorous birds.
  • Gravity Screw: The challenge of scaling the mountain of India isn't the fact that it's vertical, as the horses keep marching uninterruptedly. It's the temperature.
  • Giant Equals Invincible: Averted, John kills the king of the rock giants with a well-directed stone to the head.
  • Good Is Not Soft: The gentle lover John has to learn to be vicious and calculating with his adversaries.
  • Half the Man He Used to Be: Numerous Turkish soldiers are cut into two or more pieces, including the Sultan, whose terrified halves react by hopping away in opposite directions.
  • Heaven: Fairyland is basically this.
  • I Am a Humanitarian: The giants threaten to crush John and use him to spice their rock food.
  • Incorruptible Pure Pureness: John, at least by the end.
  • Kill It with Fire: The only way for John to escape the bandits is to set their bushy coats aflame.
  • Land of Faerie: John's ultimate destination where he and Nelly become fairies and live happily ever after.
  • Magical Land: Not that the setting was ever realistic, but the story's last part after the twist takes John to purely fantastical lands, like the Country of Darkness, the Land of the Giants, the mythical Operencian Sea and Fairyland.
  • Meaningful Name: John was found, orphaned, in a field of corn, hence his moniker.
  • Our Centaurs Are Different: The battling hordes of Turks and Hungarian hussars literally merge with their steeds.
  • Our Giants Are Bigger: The inhabitants of the Land of the Giants, who take on the forms of mountains and weather phenomena when inactive.
  • Patriotic Fervor: The first major animated event film of its country, based on the highly nationalistic work and commemorating the life of a poet often romanticized as the "greatest Hungarian", featuring patriotic hussars battling vile Turkish stereotypes? The scene of the two clashing armies merging to form the Hungarian flag was even deemed controversial for its blatant nationalism, something the Soviet censorship was not happy about. Yet, despite all this, the movie subverts the trope in the end, as John leaves his home to find happiness in the land of fairies.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Some of the poem's scenes were combined or dropped for the better flow, though at times things like logic and continuity went with them. Mainly, John's somewhat aimless, multi-year long wanderings were shortened and given clear direction by following a trail of ghosts heading to the afterlife.
  • Rhymes on a Dime: Everyone, given that the script was lifted straight from the original poem.
  • Ritual Magic: The demons and witches of the Country of Darkness conduct a dance to trap deceased spirits in the Devil's cauldron.
  • Scaling the Summit: The hussars have to climb the vertical, sun-seared mountains of India to reach the bordering France.
  • Shout-Out:
    • The art style itself is a huge tip of the hat to Yellow Submarine.
    • A tiny snippet of Night on Bald Mountain can be heard as the Devil reveals himself, watching the dance of witches and lost souls.
  • Slippy-Slidey Ice World: Italy, where it's always winter.
  • Unholy Ground: The Country of Darkness. Ghosts also spook and attempt to kill John as he nears the end of the world in the original story, but the movie places the scene into a regular cemetery.
  • Visual Innuendo: The lengthy love scene between John and Nelly, featuring rising hills, blooming flowers and to drive the point fully home, mating pigeons.
  • Weird Moon: The crescent Moon takes on the shape of whatever's nagging Johnny, be it the French princess he cannot bring himself to love or Nelly's evil stepmother.
  • Wicked Stepmother: Nelly is cursed with one, a "heartless old bitch" as the poem tells us.
  • Witch Classic: The denizens of the Country of Darkness, specifically of the Wicked Witch variety (especially Nelly's evil stepmother).