Notebook Primer: Hungarian Animation, 1915–1989

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From its birth through influential émigrés, the great Pannónia studio, and feature-length hits, an overview of a thrilling animated world.

By Jennifer Lynde Barker

For the past several years, the Hungarian National Film Institute has been celebrating 120 years of Hungarian cinema with film restorations, including a generous selection of animation. These films run the gamut from experimental to commercial and reflect well the rich variety of animation that has been produced in Hungary since 1915, with a special focus on the golden years of animation at Pannónia filmstúdio. Hungarian animation from this period steadily built up an international reputation for excellence, imagination and an intriguing mixture of traditional and modern storytelling, with Pannónia becoming a central and influential studio. Hungarian animators also wielded a great deal of influence as immigrants, a testimony to the irrepressibly international nature of animation.

THE BIRTH OF HUNGARIAN ANIMATION

The earliest known Hungarian animator is István Kató-Kiszly, a graphic artist whose first film, Ödön Zsirb (1915), was made from paper cut-outs featuring a stock comedic character: a greasy bucket. Like most Hungarian animators from this period, he was trained as an artist (others were painters or graphic designers) and his work reflects his visual talents. Like many early animators, Kató-Kiszly made advertisements, newsreels and educational movies in addition to narrative and comedic shorts. He animated a range of stories, from folktales and political satire to literature, including a 1916 adaptation of Sándor Petöfi’s epic Hungarian poem “János vitéz” (1844). He also made a beetle version of Romeo and Juliet (1921) crafted in the style of silhouette animation, and the beautifully and delicately detailed Beetle Orpheum (1932). While Kató-Kiszly made hundreds of animated films, most were lost during the Siege of Budapest in 1945.

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