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Sunday, March 3, 2024

Watch This Obscure Animated Classic. Never Recover

Americans have Fantasia. And because every culture must find its own way to torture innocent children, Hungarians have Fehérlófia.

Lucky them. Released in 1981, it’s a freaky phatasmagoria about—who the fuck knows. A mythical horse-boy or something. Point is, it’s sublime, like glimpsing the majesty of hell while being spared damnation. For years it has lurked underground, in the form of ripped discs and fuzzy YouTube uploads, sans subtitles. But at long last, ye patient seekers, a 4K restoration has risen. May your psyches never recover.


Beyond the trip hellward and its throbbing harmony of sound and image, Fehérlófia is not actually all that Fantasian. There’s light talking, for one thing; for another, heavy spanking. Just imagine if Walt Disney had, at a tender age, gotten lost in a magic forest, dropped acid, and made hallucinatory love to a white mare.

That’s what the title means, in English: Son of the White Mare. Not saying its creator, Marcell Jankovics, shtupped Sally. He didn’t have to, Hungarian folklore being fecund enough on its own. Jankovics does with animation what Disney never could. He reaches deep into prehistory and pulls out the pure, forbidden stuff. Watching this, his first feature-length attempt at adaptive cosmogony, you’re forced to contemplate your own origins. You’re made to think, sometimes sickeningly, about how you were made.

Starting at the beginning, with conception. What are you when you’re born, beast or man? In a spastic neonatal sequence, our young hero flickers between both. Then comes nursing, and the embrace of humanity. The titular son of Son of the White Mare suckles at the teat of the titular horse for 14 years. Years! By the time he’s ready for high school, he’s sucked poor mama dry. She literally shrivels up and dies.

The boy doesn’t go to high school. Now a very large adult son, on account of all that cosmic calcium, he’s also very strong. So strong he can uproot his hometree and swing it around with nothing but his big arms. Or bury his two brothers in combat. Which he does, in order to win their loyalty on his quest to slay dragons and save maidens in the underworld. They call him Treeshaker.

Along the way, domestic duties are divvied up, and a flying gnome torments them. When one brother botches supper, the other two pull down his pants and whack his cheeks. This happens twice. It’s not cute.

Nothing is, in Fehérlófia, though it rarely pays to parse the particulars of its puerile plot. Free spirits should consider skipping the subtitles entirely. Without them, it’s pure trip, all funk and feel. Oneiric and onanistic. With them, it’s like downloading a physics engine for your dreamworlds. Logic needn’t intrude there. Let the mind do what—go where—it wants.

Like back to breastfeeding. Fourteen years, you guys. It’s outrageous. I think I was breastfed for closer to 14 days. Then again, I did not grow up to be terribly strong. No trees shook in my presence.

If anything, I shook in theirs. When I dwell on my childhood, what jumps out are the night terrors. They were caused, I’m convinced, by movies not unlike Fehérlófia, strange and unreal. Spirited Away. Dark Crystal. Anything stop-motion, like Chicken Run. I hated them all and went so far as to make up a list, titled “The Grotesque.” Deviant deviations, they were, out to sour my soul. Disney, too, was well represented: Pinocchio, Nightmare Before Christmas, Fantasia.

Then something flipped. As I got older, the scares fell away, and the Grotesque became, perhaps inevitably, my favorite genre. Where nightmares once reigned, now there was nourishment. (Shush, Freud.) Disney couldn’t keep up; Fantasia had to be traded in for something else. For Tomm Moore and Nora Twomey. For Isao Takahata and Satoshi Kon. For the psychedelic psychotica of Marcell Jankovics. In the world of mature animation—only a sliver of which is American—he ranks near the top. Or else at the very bottom, the base of all things.

That is the gift of Fehérlófia. It is, in its soupy essence, a source of life. It feeds you and feeds you. Its forceful command: Keep sucking.

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