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Animation / Son of the White Horse

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Marcell Jankovics's 1981 Animated Adaptation of steppe nomad legends and the work of László Arany (based on Hungarian folktales), featuring the eponymous Fehérlófia (Son of the White Horse), or more accurately Fanyűvő (Treetearer or Treeshaker), the superpowered son of a white mare.

Shortly after he's born, his mother tells him a story: long ago, there was happiness and peace as Father God and Mother Goddess ruled the world; hovewer, their sons grew restless, and wished for wives. But this soon proved to be to their ruin, as the princesses they were given became curious about that door they were never supposed to open, and unwillingly set the evil dragons free. The dragons immediately seized power over the world, killing the three brothers and taking the princesses as their wives. Only Father God escaped, but with greatly diminished power. Mother Goddess was, however, captured, while trying to escape in the form of a white mare. While in captivity, she gave birth two times, with both of her sons disappearing. When she became pregnant a third time, she was told that if this son disappears as well, the world will lose its last chance of being saved…

After the death of his mother, Fanyűvő sets out to find his similarly superpowered brothers, Kőmorzsoló (Stonecrumbler) and Vasgyúró (Ironkneader or Ironrubber). It is up to them to overthrow the dragons' rule and bring balance back to the world.

The film is mainly notable for its highly experimental and artistic visuals, extreme color palette, unique character designs and flowing animation, as well as its surreal and trippy atmosphere. Objects, characters and backgrounds shift and contort into one another, and all is held together by a heavy dose of Eurasian folk iconography and an overload of symbolism.

Upon its release, the film flopped at the box office, and beyond being turned off by its unconventional visuals, some viewers also slammed it for its unfaithfulness to the classic Fehérlófia folk fables. Though highly obscure abroad, the movie nonetheless received some amount of acclaim, being named the 49th best animated movie ever made at the 1984 Los Angeles Animation Olympics. More recently, thanks to the internet, it's also being discovered by animation enthusiasts the world over. Of Jankovics's three feature-length animated movies, this is the most widely known outside of his home country.

This film provides examples of:
  • Adapted Out: Certain versions of the tale include scenes where the brothers visit a town, defeat a bull and hunt down a boar. These don't happen in the film.
  • Adaptational Heroism:
    • In the original tale (meaning Arany's), Hétszűnyű Kapanyányimonyók is a villain. Here, he's The Hero's father in disguise.
    • In Arany's tale, Fehérlófia's servants, including Fanyűvő, do betray him by leaving him stranded in the Underworld. In the film, Fanyűvő and Fehérlófia are one and the same, automatically stripping him of his villainous role. But even in other versions of the fable where Fanyűvő is the protagonist, his partners clearly betray him. Their animated incarnations on the other hand aren't villains, they try their best to lift Fehérlófia/Fanyűvő out of the Underworld and only let him fall back because the rope isn't strong enough.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The backstory regarding the origin of the dragons, the rulers and forerunners of the three brothers are unique additions.
  • Adaptational Modesty: Inverted with the Fall Princess, who proudly displays her boobs and her bush. The original tales don't go into detail.
  • Anthropomorphic Personification: The brothers represent sunrise (Vasgyúró), midday (Fanyűvő) and sunset (Kőmorzsoló), while the princesses are personifications of spring, summer and autumn. Then there are the Rain King and Snow Queen.
  • Antiquated Linguistics: Most of the dialogue was taken verbatim from several hundred year-old fables, so a lot of the terms uttered by the characters would nowadays be used mostly by rural countrymen.
  • Bittersweet Ending: On one hand, the dragons have been killed, balance restored, love found. On the other, the closing words mean this is a never-ending cycle. Another sad vision is shown during the credits: the world may become a polluted, metropolitan hellscape, or in the director's own words, America. Such endings are a staple of the folk literature the film was inspired by.
  • Bizarrchitecture: The three castles rotating on giant bird legs from the Underworld.
  • Blonde, Brunette, Redhead: The princesses.
  • Butt-Monkey: Poor Kőmorzsoló.
  • Chromatic Arrangement: Yellow for Fanyűvő, blueish-green for Vasgyúró, red for Kőmorzsoló. Also holds for the the princesses.
  • Composite Character:
    • In most versions of the original folk tale (including László Arany's), Fehérlófia and Fanyűvő are separate characters.
    • The film tells us that Fehérlófia's mother is an ancient, dethroned goddess, the Snow Queen, and the Kapanyányimonyók is his father, the Rain King, in disguise. In Arany's telling of the tale, deities aren't explicitly referred to, the King is a human ruler, and Fehérlófia's only relative is his mother mare. Looking at it from another angle, the film's characters are closer to the depictions seen in other variations of the tale, primarily the one called Fanyűvő, Vasgyúró, Hegyhengergető — however in that version, Fanyűvő's mother is a human woman instead of a horse.
  • Damsel in Distress: The princesses, but mostly the second. The first keeps his captor at bay by charming him, and the third actually helps the hero defeat the dragon.
  • Dark Is Evil: All the dragons are colored a dark shade.
  • Deranged Animation
  • Design Student's Orgasm: What the movie is most notorious for, and something of a Creator Thumbprint for the director, an expert in folk iconography and symbolism. The wild colors and lack of outlines mean the characters don't stand out too much from the backgrounds, which the director disliked about most other animated works.
  • Dragons Prefer Princesses: All three dragons keep a princess captive.
  • Evil Sounds Deep: The dragons.
  • Gag Penis: The name of Hétszűnyű Kapanyányimonyók, AKA the Kapanyelű Facika, is usually translated as "Seven-Hearted Lobahobgoblin" in English versions of the tale. In actuality, his name is a combination of archaic Hungarian words that in essence mean "Huge Balls and Huge Dick". Thankfully, the movie focuses on the length on his beard (itself a masculine symbol) rather than any other bits, though the beard does become Fanyűvő's Phallic Weapon for a while in the film's second half.
  • God Couple: The Rain King and Snow Queen.
  • Gravity Screw: In the Underworld, everything is upside-down, sticking to the "ceiling", but objects in the vicinity of the hole leading to the Upper World still fall the normal way.
  • Green Aesop: Shoved in during the end credits, of all places, though not expressed beyond the visuals.
  • Heroic B.S.O.D.: Fanyűvő has two: A brief one when he kills the first dragon, and another one after he tries to kill his brothers because he thinks they betrayed him.
  • History Repeats: Was supposed to be the main message of the film, until the censors curtailed it.
  • Hollow World: The Underworld.
  • Humongous Mecha: The second dragon.
  • Light Is Good: Almost all non-evil are drawn in bright colors.
  • Living Structure Monster: The twelve-headed dragon. The three rotating castles also seem to possess some sentience.
  • Living Weapon: The seven-headed dragon is a 20th century war machine.
  • The Lost Woods
  • Love at First Sight
  • Ludd Was Right: The evil dragons represent technological progress.
  • Mind Screw: The "logic" of the film's world follows the folk tales of yore, and the literal depictions of old-timey Hungarian expressions may also leave foreign viewers scratching their heads.
  • Minimalist Cast
  • Monster-Shaped Mountain: The film's obsession with sexual symbolism extends to the world itself, where various mountains seem to resemble female hands and legs, with a river appropriately flowing from between these.
  • Mooks: The smaller dragons that combine into a chain and a snake.
  • Nervous Wreck: The Spring Princess, who is the representation of woman hysteria. But considering who her husband is...
  • New Technology Is Evil: The three dragons symbolize technological advancement, with the most powerful one representing urbanized modernity in general. Hungary's censorship at the time didn't think too kindly of such a message, so the dragon was made into a computerized city, diverting the censors' attention from the criticism of metropolitan life to computerization.
  • No Name Given: Only the hero and his brothers get nominal importance, however the credits give designations for most other characters, save for the dragons.
  • Our Dragons Are Different: No kidding. The first dragon is a three-headed caveman, the second is a Humongous Mecha made of World War II war machines, and the third is a fluid metropolis.
  • Our Gryphons Are Different: Mr. Griffin looks like some cosmic entity, his head being a moon and his features being the shadows on the moon.
  • Phallic Weapon: Fanyűvő's sword, not subtle in the least. Also leads to a number of visual innuendos. The tank-turret penis of the seven-headed dragon is another example.
  • Pragmatic Adaptation: Unavoidable, given the inconsistent nature of the original folk stories. At first, the movie was meant to combine even more old folk tales, but Hungary's communist censors rejected this proposal and forced Jankovics to focus on adapting only one or two myths. Some people deem the film an In-Name-Only adaptation at best, referring to its liberal interpretation of Arany's tale. In reality, the film is an amalgamation of Fehérlófia and other stories about the same characters. In particular, it's more faithful to the story Fanyűvő, Vasgyúró, Hegyhengergető than the tale it was named after. It is also a unique adaptation in that it takes place entirely in a bizarre magical realm, whereas the original tales were more based on the real world.
  • Power Trio
  • Really Was Born Yesterday: Not much time seems to pass between Fanyűvő being born, and being able to walk and talk (and trying to run away from home). Possibly justified in a way, since he was born from a horse.
  • Rule of Three: Three brothers, three princesses, three dragons...
  • Screaming Warrior: Vasgyúró seems to be this.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: The dragons, before the princesses let them out.
  • Secret Test of Character: That business with Hétszűnyű Kapanyányimonyók asking for porridge could have been this… except he still wants to beat Fanyűvő when he tells him not to eat all of it. But then again, Fanyűvő did find the entrance to the Underworld as a result.
  • Shapeshifting: Everybody seems to do it just due to the animation style, but the three dragons stand out.
  • Snakes Are Sinister: The giant snake that threatens the gryphon's chicks. It's a recurring but rare entity in the tales the movie takes inspiration from, for instance in Arany's more famous version of the story, bad weather takes the place of the snake.
  • Spared by the Adaptation: Fehérlófia kills Vasgyúró in Arany's retelling of the story, and Kőmorzsoló and Fanyűvő simply die of fright upon being informed about this. In this film, Fehérlófia is Fanyűvő, and he spares his two brothers' lives.
  • Static Character: In theory, everyone. The director purposely wanted to avoid character development, arguing that folk story heroes are constant heroes with unchangeable roles in their tales. However, Fehérlófia does receive some development at the very and, when he spares his brothers instead of resorting to his usual violent tactics.
  • Stripperiffic: The Fall Princess is extraordinarily underdressed in her Underworld home, and even her regal outfit leaves her breasts bare.
  • War Is Hell: The second dragon has the body of a tank, and uses BFGs.
  • World of Symbolism
  • World Tree