Director – Marcell Jankovics – 1981 – Hungary – Cert. 12 – 86m
Based on Hungarian folk legends, tells the story of three sons of the white mare who must free three princesses from their dragon husbands and restore the kingdom from chaos – from the Annecy 2021 Animation Festival in the Special Screenings – Annecy Classics section
This has a script sourced from Hungarian folk tales. While it’s very cinematic, the writing is similar to religious texts like the Bible or mythological stories like the Iliad where events are related in a paired down, straightforward way no matter how far removed from everyday experience they might be. Thus, there’s a prologue about three princes begging their father for their inheritance so they can marry, only for their foolish new brides to disobey the patriarch and explore all the castle’s locked doors until they unwittingly unleash a dragon and are sucked into its domain.
In the ensuing chaos, the only hope comes when the white mare births two sons then escapes into the woods pregnant with a third. She weans him for eight years until her milk makes him strong enough to uproot a tree. Drained of milk, she dies. Treeshaker sets out to find his brothers Stonecrumbler and Irontemperer, of whom it turns out Treeshaker is the strongest. The three decide to enter the underworld, rescue the three women from their now dragon husbands and restore the kingdom.
If this were made as a contemporary Hollywood movie, it would probably boast massive (and costly) photorealistic special effects and play out as yet another tedious effects movie. Yet what Jankovics came up with in 1981 is nothing less than extraordinary. The amazing thing about this movie is its constantly inventive visual design.
The only thing I can think of that’s remotely like it is the equally colourful Yellow Submarine (George Dunning, 1968), the big difference being that Yellow Submarine uses a variety of styles that coalesce into a unified whole whereas Son Of The White Mare uses a single, consistent style throughout. Yellow Submarine has been described as both groundbreaking and a masterpiece. It also appealed to the hippie culture of the time with its unspoken echoes in its visual design of psychedelic drug use. It’s a film you can watch over and over again without tiring of it. To my mind, Son Of The White Mare is on a par with Yellow Submarine on all those levels.
It feels as if every frame, every scene, every sequence and, indeed, the whole thing has been elaborately designed in terms of pleasing shapes and colours. Not a second passes without it being a delight to the eye. Symmetry and simple geometric shapes are often to the fore. It’s completely baffling to me that this film isn’t more widely known: like Yellow Submarine, it’s a cinematic landmark and an incredible, intoxicating experience.
Son Of The White Mare played in the Annecy Animation Festival 2021 which took place in both online and hybrid editions this year in the Special Screenings – Annecy Classics section.