History of Hungarian animation

The history of Hungarian animation begins in 1914 and carries through to the modern day. Starting with short promotional cartoons prior to the two World Wars, Hungarian animation underwent a sporadic and halting development during the turbulent war years which were characterized in large part by the emigration of much of the field's top talent. This exodus slowed dramatically during the 1950s when the Hungarian Communist Party took power and the Iron Curtain took shape.

With Communism came nationalization of the Hungarian animation studio—a fact that was to prove a mixed blessing for the nascent industry. While political pressures would strongly dictate the kinds of topics that animation could cover in the early years, state funding meant that even the relatively small postwar nation would be able to prove itself on the international stage.[1][2] Indeed, subsequent to the 1956 revolution, the softening effects of Goulash Communism helped enable artists to begin to express themselves such that by the late 1970s, Pannónia Film Stúdió would rank among the top 5 major cartoon studios alongside Walt Disney, Hanna-Barbera, Soyuzmultfilm, and Toei.[3]

With the end of Communism in 1989, state control of the animation industry dropped away and market forces prompted the rise of numerous independent animation studios. Lacking state funding and receiving mixed international response, Hungarian animation studios today have had to develop financing strategies consisting largely of working as production and development companies performing labor-intensive animation activities such as compositioning and inking for foreign studios. Despite this, Hungarian films continue to be produced every few years.


The history of Hungarian animation extends from its origin in István Kató Kiszly's 1914 cut-out caricatures to the modern time. Although a few boldly experimental films were made in the early years, it would not be until the 1930s that actual animation studios would be formed (under figures like Gyula Macskássy and János Halász) to produce promotional material in the form of newsreels and advertisements. International conflicts during both world wars as well as turbulent political climates in the pre-Iron Curtain period led to the emigration of many of Hungary's animation artists who famously established themselves in places like France, the U.K., and America. During the Communist era, all animation efforts are nationalized first as Magyar Szinkronfilmgyártó Vállalat in 1948 and later as Pannónia Film Stúdió in 1959. State control of animation on the one hand constrained artistic freedom of expression while simultaneously ensuring the survival of the medium.[3]

During the 1950s, the first modern generation of Hungarian animators came to prominence, creating primarily short animations depicting the Hungarian folk tales and legends that would be a politically safe mainstay of Hungarian animation output throughout the Communist era. This generation would be responsible for creating the first colored animation. A second generation of animators would emerge in the 1960s under the less repressive system of Goulash Communism, and sociopolitical sentiment was for the first time gently hinted at as cartoons developed philosophical themes characterized by morbidity and black humor. Foreign animation studios began to reach out to Pannónia Film Stúdió during this period to subcontract some of the more laborious elements of cartoon production such as compositioning and inking. This introduced the concept of cartoon series/serials, and soon a number of Hungarian serials were created introducing the country's first recognizable cartoon character stars. This period also saw the production of the first adult animation. The 1970s saw the rise of a third generation of animators even more intent on commentary on the social conditions in the country. Animations during this period were often marked by a muted subsurface emphasis on anxiety and a claustrophobic fear of persecution while the animation works of older (first and second generation) animators tended to emphasize morality and a development of the grotesque. This third generation would see the emergence of the country's first feature-length films as Pannónia Film Stúdió rose to international renown as one of the top 5 major cartoon studios alongside Walt Disney, Hanna-Barbera, Soyuzmultfilm, and Toei.[3]

The 1980s would prove to be a peak of Hungarian animation efforts. Increasingly bold use of irony and allegory portrayed the Hungarian condition under Communist rule and during this period a number of Hungarian films received high accolades and prestigious awards including Ferenc Rofusz' 1981 Oscar for A Légy ("The Fly").[4] The decade would also mark a renaissance in technical experimentation with the exploration of many non-traditional graphic media such as plasticine, sand, coal, textiles, and computer animation. During this period the first feature-length films based on serials were created and proved to be quite popular.[3] In 1989, Communist rule was cast off and with it State control of the animation arts in 1990. Due to free market pressures, a number of independent animation studios sprang up in the wake. The novel issue of commercial financing proved to be a complex one as new studios struggled to make ends meet. A variety of solutions were adopted ranging from the active courting of foreign contract work, to specialization in the labor-intensive traditional hand-animation forms, to employee ownership.[4] In 2002, the new Hungarian government began to take a role in the medium as well with funding from the Ministry of National Cultural Heritage going toward the development of further animations of Hungarian folk tales and legends which since the Communist era have become a source of national pride.[4]

Pre-animation history

Early animation efforts

The earliest period of Hungarian animation was marked by experimentation and the development of the first animation studio headed by pioneers, Gyula Macskássy and János Halász.[10] Animations were primarily promotional in nature although throughout the 1930s more and more complex narrative structures were developed. Between 1932 and 1945, 150 promotional cartoons are produced including Családi kávépótló ("Family Coffee Substitute"), Estétől reggelig ("Evening to Morning"), A láthatatlan vendég ("Invisible Visitor"), Zeusz inkognitóban ("Zeus in Cognito"), Vidám suszterinas ("The hilarious shoemaker's boy"), Szerencsés flottás ("Lucky Jim"), and Izzó szerelem ("Glowing Love")[3][11] During the lead-up to World War II and the turbulent war years, Hungary saw an exodus of artists and filmmakers, particularly among the Hungarian Jewish population. Seeking to continue their art in less politically fraught climates, several Hungarian cartoonists began to establish studios abroad.[3][12]

Modern animation

First generation animation

Folktale animation is common and this period sees a rise in Hungarian animation establishing such animators as József Nepp, Attila Dargay, Tibor Csermák, Gábor Kovásznai, József Gémes, Szabolcs Szabó, György Várnai, Marcell Jankovics, Péter Szoboszlay, Zsolt Richly, Sándor Reisenbüchler, Béla Vajda, Tamás Szabó Sipos, János Mata, and also puppet animators like Ottó Foky and István Imre.[3]

Second-generation animation

Foreign animation teams begin to reach out to Pannónia Film Studio as a way to cut costs on some of the more labor-intensive aspects of cartoon production. In domestic productions, however, with the artistic community under strain from an authoritarian Communist government, morbidity and black humor become more common as cartoons were used to hint at and reflect the philosophy and conditions of the day. Due to Western influence, such cartoon serials emerged as Gyula Macskássy and György Várnai's Peti és a gépember ("Peti and the Robot"), Marci és a Cső ("Marci in the Jungle"), Vili és Bütyök ("Vili and Bütyök"), Üzenet a jövőből ("Messages from the Future"), Kérem a következőt! ("Next, Please!"), Varjúdombi mesék ("Tales from Crow Hill"), Tamás Szabó Sipos's Magyarázom... ("Let Me Explain..."), and Ottó Foky's Egy világhírű vadász emlékiratai ("The Magic Snake"). With the emergence of cartoon serials came the country's first recognizable cartoon character stars such as Gergő, Peti, Gustav, Frakk, Kukori and Kotkoda, Mirr-Murr, Elek Mekk, Dr. Bubó, Mikrobi, Kockásfülű nyúl, TV Maci, and Mézga család, each of whom featured in several cartoons. Animation for adult entertainment also emerged during this period with such series as Gyula Macskássy and György Várnai's Ember és ember ("Man and Human").[3][12]

Third generation animation

With the artistic community still under government pressure, a third generation of films is marked by a muted subsurface emphasis on anxiety and a claustrophobic fear of persecution. Older (first and second generation) animators tended to emphasize morality and a development of the grotesque.[3]

The 1980s

A decade considered to have been responsible for the peak of Hungarian animation, the 1980s would see increasingly bold use of irony and allegory in portraying the Hungarian condition under Communist rule and would mark a renaissance in technical experimentation with the exploration of many non-traditional graphic media. Of particular note, several new experimental serials emerged during this period including Sándor Békési's Vázák meséi ("Tales of Vases"), Csaba Varga's Szekrénymesék ("The Wardrobe's Tales"), and plasticine animations including Csaba Varga's Auguszta ("Augusta") and Ferenc Cakó's Zénó. Feature-length films were made of a number of serials from the 1960s and 1970s, including Szabolcs Szabó and József Haui's Vízipók-csodapók ("Water-Spider, Wonder-Spider"), Ottó Foky's Misi Mókus kalandjai ("The Adventures of Sam the Squirrel"), Attila Dargay's Vuk, and Pál Tóth's Leo és Fred ("Leo and Fred"). New series were also launched including Attila Dargay's Pom-pom meséi ("Tales of Pom Pom") and A nagy hó-hó-horgász ("The Grrreat Angler"), Ferenc Cakó's Sebaj Tóbiás ("Never Mind Toby"), László Ujváry Jr.'s Mesék Mátyás királyról ("Tales about King Matthias"), Marcell Jankovics' Mondák a magyar történelemből ("Hungarian Historical Legends"), Zsolt Richly's Fabulák ("Fables") and Kíváncsi Fáncsi ("Curious Fáncsi"), Tibor Hernádi's Animália ("Animalia"), Líviusz Gyulai's Tinti kalandjai ("Tinti's Adventures") and Kentaurfi kalandjai ("Adventures of Fanny the Elephant"), Tamás Baksa's Trombi és a tűzmanó ("Trombi and the Fiery Imp"), and Ferenc Varsányi's Csepke ("Droplet"). Animators making a name for themselves in this period included Ferenc Varsányi, Miklós Kaim, István Kovács, Elek Lisziák, Zsolt Richly, Kati Macskássy, Béla Ternovszky, Tibor Hernádi, László Ujváry, Ferenc Cakó, László Hegyi Füstös, Csaba Varga, Ágnes Pásztor, Mária Horváth, István Orosz, and Ferenc Rofusz.[3]

Current animation industry

The end of the century saw the end of Communism in Hungary. Although state support for Hungary's one animation studio (Pannónia Film Stúdió) came to an end, the free market quickly prompted the development of a number of independent animation studios. In order to gain funding in the absence of the state, studios such as Kecskemétfilm Kft turn to employee ownership strategies while other studios work primarily as contractors for foreign markets doing work such as compositioning and inking.[2][4] Yet other studios such as the American-Hungarian joint venture Studio 2 have focused instead on traditional hand-drawn cell animation techniques to preserve this now niche animation style. Among other animation studios that were founded since the withdrawal of state control are included Pannónia rajzfilmgyártók, Videovox, Funny Film, Animex, Dana Film, Reflex, Puppet Film, Aladin stúdió, Firka, and the German-Hungarian joint venture Loonland. Several feature-length films have been released since the late 1980s including Albert mondja... ("Albert Says...") and Majmok kastélya ("Monkey Castle") among others. Animators who have risen to prominence since the end of the Communist era include Péter Szoboszlay, László Hegyi Füstös, Mária Horváth, Líviusz Gyulai, István Orosz, Dóra Keresztes, László Haris, Péter Molnár, Zoltán Szilágyi Varga, Árpád Miklós, Gizella Neuberger, Béla Weisz, and László Ujváry.[3]


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