Simon Brand reviews a hidden animation classic
Despite an Oscar nomination and a short film Palm D’Or, it is rare to hear the name Marcell Jankovics outside of hardcore animation circles (although I understand he is well loved in his home country of Hungary). None of his work is as criminally underrated as the visual powerhouse, Fehérlófia (meaning “The Son Of The White Mare”).
The story is simple, well-structured and refined from a mishmash of folk tales from around the globe. This makes the plot accessible to all, with familiar elements popping up (such as princesses captured by dragons) and very little culturally inaccessible material. The plot concerns itself with Treeshaker, the third son of a goddess-like horse. His aim is to avenge his mother for the injustices that she received from the 77 dragons of the underworld and free the three princesses held in glorious rotating castles by the most powerful of the monsters. Along the way he encounters many fantastical creatures, from his two brothers who can move mountains and forge powerful weapons in seconds, to the Seven-Hearted Lobahobgoblin with a taste for porridge and a beard which gives him wondrous powers.
Almost everything in the film comes in multiples of three: the three sons, three castles with three princesses and three dragons and so on. The numbers are an interesting device, but one which has a meaning beyond my grasp, if there is one. Alongside the number three, others appear many times, mainly seven and twelve. Perhaps these have numerological significance in Hungary, but that is just speculation on my part (it would be greatly appreciated if somebody could clear this up).
As interesting as the structure and lore of the film is, the main focus is on the visual aspect. The art style is incredible: pastel and clashing colours are everywhere and are used to paint very trippy, beautiful art. The animation is fluid; shapes morph into others and back seamlessly; a road becomes a snake, the gap between two faces changes into a goblet, but these must be seen to grant them their full justice. The music mainly consists of ambient electronics and low vocal chants which add greatly to the majestic and otherworldly feel of the film and help strengthen the hypnotic quality of the visual art.
Fehérlófia is a beautiful and unique film which is sure to amuse children and amaze adults. It is a real shame that it is nearly impossible to get hold of a physical copy, as this would be a fantastic addition to any collection. The whole film is available in nine parts on YouTube (I cannot vouch for the copyright aspects, and do not condone the upload if it breaches these), but if you ever get a chance to purchase this work, don’t hesitate.
Image credit – mononukleoza