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Creator / Marcell Jankovics

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"Why would one imitate reality? Just leave it to living actors! Earthbound reality is not for animation. Animation is a stylized, fantastic world."
Marcell Jankovics, explaining his usual Deranged Animation style

Marcell Jankovicsnote  (October 21, 1941 - May 29, 2021) was a Serbian-Hungarian animation director and animator, art historian, an expert on religion, mythology and folklore, an illustrator, author and briefly a politician. He experienced political tension at a young age as Hungary's Soviet-connected regime attacked his family, even blocking his original career choice of an architect. Jankovics begrudgingly became an animator in the 1960s and discovered he had a passion for the craft.

Part of the second generation of Pannonia Film Studio's cartoon creators, he quickly became one of the nation's most revered animators thanks to works like Gustavus, Hungarian Folk Tales, and the country's first feature-length animated movie Johnny Corncob. His short films enjoyed international acclaim, including an Oscar nomination and a Palme d'Or, for which the international press has labeled him the "Hungarian Walt Disney" or "Hungarian Hayao Miyazaki". His animated works are characterized by social commentary, a love for mythology and old folk traditions, nationalism, adult imagery, and deeply Deranged Animation. Jankovics called animation "the art of arts," arguing it shouldn't be about just entertainment and money and that it should target all ages. He greatly disliked escapist futuristic Science Fiction, special effect-driven blockbusters, conventional Disneyesque art, and 3D graphics, and he continued to draw his art on paper even after his works had transitioned to digital.

His main obsession was metamorphosis, transforming characters, objects, places, colors, or entire scenes via hypnotically flowing animation and constant motion to express meaning in ways only animation can. Because of this, his works were routinely described as psychedelic or trippy, a reaction he dismissed as superficial, maintaining that his visuals were always designed with serious artistic intent.

Animation was just one side of his life though, which was otherwise defined by his fight for cultural preservation, conservative nationalism and religious-mythological studies. A staunch traditionalist, he wrote innumerable papers, published and illustrated a myriad of books, and held presentations on the meaning of folk tales and primarily European myths, as well as on Hungarian history from nationalistic points of view. His main philosophy was that all values should be derived from humanity's cultural past as opposed to progressive ideals. Such concepts influenced many of his animated works, as most of them were based on ancient myths and classic literature.

In spite of his early successes, Jankovics had to deal with massive production and distribution hardships, declining mainstream attention, clashing with studio heads, and somehow always missing out on his award ceremonies (of his 30+ awards, he only received one in person). The final message of The Tragedy of Man, which took over twenty years of struggle to complete, may as well be his personal mantra: "The end is death, life is a struggle. And man's end is the struggle itself."

Yet, his works proved popular within arthouse circles, he remained a well-respected cartoon creator in his home, and internationally he is probably Hungary's most famous animation director.

List of works



  • Gusztáv (Gustav aka Gustavus, 1964-1979)
  • Hungarian Folk Tales (1980-2012, worked on a number of episodes as a director, animation director, or writer)
  • Tangram (1986)
  • Mondák a magyar történelemből (Tales/Legends from Hungarian History, 1986-1988)
  • Toldi (finished in 2020, released posthoumusly in 2021)


  • Jónás és a cet (Jonah and the Whale, 1963)
  • Szilveszteri legenda (New Year Legend, 1965)
  • Tendenciák (Tendencies, 1967)
  • Hídavatás (Inauguration, 1969)
  • Álmok szárnyán (Dreams on Wings, Air India commercial film, 1970)
  • Mélyvíz (Deep Water, 1970)
  • Az élet vize (The Water of Life, 1971)
  • Mással beszélnek (The Line is Engaged, 1971)
  • Add tovább aka Add tovább, szamár a végállomás! (Dirt, 1973)
  • Sisyphus (1975)
  • Kuzdok (The Struggle, 1977) (won a Palme d'Or for short film)
  • Prometheus (1992)
  • Teremtés (Genesis aka Creation, first episode of an unproduced Bible movie/series, 2015)
  • Scenes from The Tragedy of Man have also been released as separate shorts with preliminary voice work between 1990 and 2009

Other notable contributions

Marcell Jankovics provides examples of:

  • Absurdism: Beyond being a recurring theme of his films, it also holds true for his career. His Oscar-nominated short Sisyphus, wherein he both animated and voiced the eponymous mythological character, was created to vent his frustration over Johnny Corncob's draining production. Much like Sisyphus' task in the short, his later movies just became harder and harder to complete.
  • Adaptation Expansion:
    • In Son of the White Mare, the entire opening scene, the Mare's backstory and the ending are his additions, and he also embellished the story with a lot of symbolism and even a twist reveal. All this was done to preserve some part of his original ideas for the film that were rejected by the censors.
    • The Tragedy of Man: The 20th century "Wheel of Misfortune" scene that demonizes modernity and pop culture was of course not part of the original play, which came out in the mid-1800s. The phalanstery scene was also expanded with allusions to dystopian tropes, with Nineteen Eighty-Four cited as an influence.
    • In Toldi, he added an extra scene of the titular hero's mother tending to his son's wounds as he's on the run and hunted for murder. Jankovics felt it was a huge oversight that this was omitted from the original poem, as it weakened the family bond between the two. The role of Toldi's mother also had to be expanded because the story only had two female characters. Many short dialogue-free scenes were also added for pacing reasons and to showcase more of the setting and the characters.
  • Art Shift: While finding stylistic unity between background art and character animation has been one of his main goals as an artist, he likes to throw different art styles around a lot too. The best example is probably The Tragedy of Man, in which every scene has its distinct art and animation style.
  • Book Ends: His directorial career began and ended by adapting major works of 1840's Hungarian literature: Sándor Petőfi's Johnny the Valiant (aka Johnny Corncob) in 1973 and János Arany's first Toldi story in 2021. As a bonus, Petőfi and Arany were close friends and greatly influenced each other in real life.
  • Creator Thumbprint: Lots.
    • High regard for history and old traditions.
    • Cynical outlook on modernity and the downsides of progress.
    • Deliberately un-Disney-like art styles.
    • Fantastical and dreamlike imagery that often crosses over into surrealism or psychedelia.
    • Unabashed depictions of artistic or naturalistic nudity, but no eroticism, not even in sex scenes.
    • Ludicrous amounts of symbolism and deep themes, which always take precedence over things like plot, characters or pacing. He admitted the characters in his works were of secondary importance.
    • Unexpected cartoony humor.
    • And most of all, an obsession for metamorphosis.
  • Deranged Animation: Almost everything he touched, since he didn't think animation should strive for realism. Son of the White Horse in particular has been lauded as one of the most unusual looking animated films ever made.
  • Disappeared Dad: In his youth, Hungary's Communist regime sentenced his father to lifelong forced labor under fake accusations of crime. Though he was thankfully freed during the 1956 revolution after only a few years of imprisonment, Jankovics was sent to a boys-only Catholic school in the meantime to get a patriarchal upbringing.
  • Doing It for the Art: One of his most defining traits, and one that has caused him to fall out of favor with some of his higher-ups who wanted more mainstream appeal and bigger box-office returns. Even after Hungary's traditional pre-capitalism studio system had gone under, he spent decades of his life bringing The Tragedy of Man to screens. He's gone on record to say he was not out for fame, but to do what appealed to him, even if he had to struggle and suffer for it. He also admired his late colleague György Kovásznai, who had rejected medical treatment for his illness to focus on his art instead.
  • "Eureka!" Moment:
    • Was already an experienced animator when Air India commissioned his studio to animate their airline commercial, and one representative suggested a scene transition where one setting morphs into another. Jankovics claims animation finally "clicked" with him on that meeting, and from that point on, presenting ideas via transformation and metamorphosis became his lifelong obsession.
    • It was during his work on Johnny Corncob that Jankovics discovered his passion for folklore and the meaning of folk symbols, the study of which went on to define the rest of his life and career.
  • Good Old Ways: His core belief was that values and virtues come from the past. Jankovics was all about culture, tradition, religion and their preservation, mainly of European Christianity but his art and writing also delved into the Paganism of more ancient times. He found pop-culture, escapist entertainment, modern social/political trends, the intermingling of different cultures and religions chaotic and at times outright terrifying, and he feared for the white man's future. The "Wheel of (Mis)Fortune" scene from The Tragedy of Man, a unique addition to the source material on his part, represented his abjectly cynical feelings on where society is headed. Son of the White Mare likewise associates technological progress with evil dragons and the diminishment of old values and traditions. Further, he outright hated modern blockbuster films and futuristic Science Fiction, believing they divert people's attention from the preservation of old cultures. With regards to his art, he mainly stuck to old-fashion pencil and paper as opposed to digital tech.
  • Green Aesop: Together with our old traditions, Jankovics feared for the preservation of the environment, and this formed part of the framework for Son of the White Mare where the clarity of Sun Gods and constellations is contrasted with pollution and destructive technology.
  • Humans Are Flawed: Given his love for old mythology and religion, this theme comes up a lot in his films, whether to shine a light on concrete social issues or more abstract concepts about the nature of artistic endeavor and people's personal struggle. The central message of The Tragedy of Man is that humanity will never be able to find the perfect ideology.
  • History Repeats: Was a proponent of this idea, hence his urging for people to take their values from the past. Originally this would have been the central theme of Son of the White Mare too, until Communist censors stepped in and forced him to tone it down.
  • It's Not Porn, It's Art: While nudity and sexual themes did feature in his films, he deliberately avoided eroticizing them in any way, to preserve their artistic (or, on occasion, comedic) nature. That said, nor did he sugarcoat them — Son of the White Mare is chock full of phallic and yonic imagery and multiple characters prominently have their "parts" showing as part of the film's symbolism. Johnny Corncob disguises its love-making scene as a series of suggestive but playful symbolic images and turns raping and pillaging into gags. The Tragedy of Man approaches prostitution and adultery in a matter-of-factly way and its uncensored, deliberately obscene classical Roman orgy scene is performed by creepy, decaying, but historically appropriate statues.
  • Mandatory Unretirement: He never gave up on animation, but the 2011 film The Tragedy of Man was said to be his final film as a director. In the late 2010s, as no other suitable director took on the task, he was "roped in" one last time to helm the series Toldi, which Jankovics definitely considered his final directorial work, and he was sadly proven right, passing away shortly after its completion. A theatrical recut of the series was planned while he was alive, which is set for a posthumous 2022 release.
  • Metaphoric Metamorphosis: His primary focus as an artist and animator, it shows up in practically all of his works. Characters, objects or entire sceneries are often in flux to express meaningful themes and ideas in visual form.
  • No True Scotsman: Had his own standard of what he counted as "art" or even "people". He famously said 3D CGI is not art, merely trickery. This distinction lead to a lot of arguments when working with a younger animation crew. To him, blockbusters and special-effect centric entertainment films were not true cinema. When it came to viewers, he differentiated between the connoisseurs of high-brow art and traditional cultures and the consumers of low-brow pop culture. He considered entertainment seekers and fans of popular media franchises not to be humans, but rather primitive "manimals".
  • Patriotic Fervor: Politically, Jankovics was in a rough spot. He felt strongly about his nation's history and identity, all the way from the Hungarian people's (and their relatives') ancient pagan roots to their Christian traditions. His first feature film Johnny Corncob was met with scorn by Soviet distributors for its blatant nationalism and up until 2021 it wasn't even released in the West apart from Italy. Jankovics held presentations, supervised exhibits and authored books about Hungarian history, and held connections to Hungary's current right wing government party. He believed Hungarian cultural sovereignty and pride have been going downhill since their ancestors came to Europe in the 800s, and supported the country's fiercely nationalistic post-2010 politics. Yet, he was often blasted by other conservatives as being too liberal, and as relayed by Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, Jankovics was not a patriotic extremist, focusing more on his art than aggressive politics — despite admitting he wanted to use Jankovics as a political asset.
  • Public Domain Soundtrack: Listened to classical compositions, mainly Mozart's Requiem, to get inspiration for The Tragedy of Man, and these compositions ended up in the finished film itself.
  • Public Domain Stories: Almost all of his films are adaptations of folk tales, ancient myths or 19th century literature.
  • Renaissance Man: In his eulogy, Hungary's Prime Minister named Jankovics one of the last true polymaths.
  • Shown Their Work: As a folklorist and art historian, he could most assuredly back up every stylistic choice in his films with literally thousands of pages of research and quite a few books. He'd even won an award for his folklore essay he made in preparation for Son of the White Mare. He always took part in his films' animation process (sometimes animating as much as a third of his movies) and has single-handedly crafted a number of black and white shorts as well, all so that he could point to a shot or a scene and rightfully proclaim "all that you see was me".
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: An outsider would say he leaned more toward the cynical end, but given his career's difficulties and his experience with life under Communism, that's not too surprising. In fact, the constant fight between idealism and cynicism is the main theme of The Tragedy of Man, and similar subjects crop up in almost all of his works: there's hope for humanity, but they keep messing it up. Though a staunch theist, Jankovics didn't believe in a happy afterlife, and he's had a similarly down to earth disposition about his life and works, using the time allotted to him to keep creating as long as he can, to live as a struggling artist. He couldn't stand fairy tale cheese and happy endings that characterized many Disney classics, nor did he believe that underachievers deserve the same treatment as talented people — for example, he got mad at the Academy Award winning Hungarian short film Sing for its unrealistically positive and altruistic message. As for his outlook on humanity and culture itself, on people's relationship with their old virtues and with nature, he was not too fond of their trajectory but he never gave up hope.
  • Sliding Scale of Realistic vs. Fantastic: Despite veering far into fantastical territory with his themes and especially his animation styles, which almost always aim to be as detached from reality as possible, the underlying messages and symbolism of his films are very much tied to reality in some shape.
  • Sliding Scale of Silliness vs. Seriousness: Apart from Gustavus and some other early comedic shorts (which nonetheless dealt with serious issues), he was mainly preoccupied with respecting and adapting old myths and literature in a serious manner. He resented that Disney retooled their dramatic Kingdom of the Sun into a comedy, and The Tragedy of Man might be one of the bleakest, most no-nonsense animated films ever made. Yet, occasionally his absurd comedy and visual gags do shine through in some of his other works if the material allows for it, like in Johnny Corncob, Son of the White Mare.
  • Sliding Scale of Animation Elaborateness: His films may not have pristine, technically elaborate animation (Johnny Corncob often feels clunky and crude, most of The Tragedy of Man looks half done and relies strongly on Limited Animation, and even Son of the White Mare has many rough spots, all due to their incredibly troubled productions), but on a sheer artistic and creative merit, they rank among the most elaborate animated movies ever made. It's no wonder many have described his works are top-level psychedelia. During the production of White Mare, the animators actually threatened to quit and at least one of them even cried because the animation and art style were so unlike anything made before. His monochrome short films too are artistic and stylistic marvels in their own right.
  • Take That!: The transhumanism scene from The Tragedy of Man, in which Lucifer gradually dismembers and reassembles Adam into a space vessel heading into nothingness, only for Adam to reject it at the urging of Mother Earth, was Jankovics's way of saying that science fiction dealing with space travel and other futuristic concepts (in particular the Star Wars film series) is all meaningless bollocks that only gives humanity false promises. The criticism of the ideals of Lenin, Hitler, Stalin and 20th century communism in general, were also his personal additions to the story, as they came about long after the original play the film was based on. The Wheel of Misfortune scene is likewise a giant "Take that!" at pop culture, late 20th century trends and events and modernity.