Friday, August 24, 2007

Childhood Cartoons, Hungarian Style

Today on a lark I started typing in some of my old favorite cartoons on YouTube to see what would come up, and was nearly moved to tears by the results. Why? Because unlike most of you people reading this I spent a decent amount of my childhood watching Hungarian cartoons rather than the normal American ones, and I hadn't seen them in years. They were also generally cute and awesome in a way only animations of the communist era ever were (you think I kid), so there was a lot to miss.

Unfortunately, Hungarian cartoons have suffered greatly in the past decade, and on my last trip to the country all I could find on the TV were dubbed versions of SpongeBob and the like. It's such a pity, really, because those cartoons were decidedly unique and undoubtedly revealed more about the Hungarian psyche than any case study ever would.

So what are the cream of the crop as far as animation goes in a small Central European country? Here are the ones I most fondly remember-

Esti Mese- This translates literally into "Nightly Story," which was aired every day in the evening right before little kids were supposed to go to sleep. The program was 15 minutes long, and consisted of the TV Maci, or"TV Bear," (seen above) going through his bedtime routine before and after the brief cartoons. Back when there was only one Hungarian channel this was a rather big deal, as it wasn't like there were many other cartoons on, and he doomed several million children to being nagged by their parents because he never complained about going to bed or brushing his teeth! (TV Maci was decidedly cool, however, so we forgave him.)

Vuk was originally a beloved Hungarian novel about a little fox named Vuk, but became a movie in the early 1980s (starting here). This actually was such a popular movie that it got dubbed into English, so you guys might've seen it... anyway, it's completely adorable, and watching it is filled with moments of incredibly pleasing memory. It's also filled with great lines about how the evil "smooth-skins" (people) take advantage of everything, and how the dogs are trecherous sycophants to be hated, and how the foxes are members of the just, free society. But hey, what kind of Hungarian movie would it be without at least a few subtle ploys towards patriotism?

Kotorka actually originated in Czechloslovakia as a little mole known as Krtek. However, he's universally popular in Central and Eastern Europe even today, partly because the cute animals never actually used real words and instead just want around acting cute. The above clip probably makes that amply clear; there are loads more on YouTube if you search for him under "Krtek."

Mézga család- The best way to describe this one is that it's a combination of The Simpsons and Dexter's Laboratory: the dad bumbles, the mom manages, the sister tries to act sophisticated, and the brother is a genius. They would also regularly contact their relative in the 30th century, named MZ/X, who would give them technology that would wreck havoc in the family's daily affairs. This wonderful show aired during the 1970s, and while there aren't many clips of the cartoon proper I did find the intro, which has to be the best cartoon theme song sequence ever. The lyrics to the chorus-

Be silly sometimes, just a little,
Gray worries fly away, the sky is clearing,
(There is something alluring
If your belly is quivering!)
Pleasures are taking wing like a duck to the sky,
Be happy, be tough, act like a kid,
Toot your horn, play something loud,
Even in trouble don't lose your humor
Don't even listen to what the top guns say
I think that one's crazy, who says those things,
Who writes you off, who says you're the clown!

If you've a moment, watch this segment of the show as it's really cleverly done and you don't really need to understand Hungarian to see what's going on. It's rather Flatland-ish, and the general plotline is that Aladar (the brother) is watching from 3-D as a scientist in a 2-D world is being persecuted for discovering the vowels "a" and "o" when only "e" is known (a more detailed description, plus full text, is on the side). Clearly Hungarian kids had no choice when it came to the option of becoming geeky! Must be why Hungarians disproportionately become scientists later in life- while kids in other countries had cartoons focusing on violence and asinine behavior, ours were focused on the natural order and being persecuted for heresy in a two-dimensional plane. Just a thought.