Another Glance at Hungarian Animation: Commercials and Shorts by Attila Dargay

In a previous article, I decided to watch and write about a bunch of Hungarian cartoons I’d had sitting on my laptop for two years, originally downloaded from the Hungarian National Film Archive’s Vimeo page before they were taken down. As I mentioned then, it turned out that I only had cartoons by either Gyula Macskássy or Attila Dargay, and covered Macskássy’s short films in that article. Now I’ve come back to discuss the rest of the cartoons, which are directed by Attila Dargay.

(These cartoons have long since been taken down from the Vimeo page and can’t be found on accessible video viewing sites, so I unfortunately can’t show them to you. If they do get posted on a more official, permanent basis in the future, I’ll edit the article and link them accordingly.)

Attila Dargay Overview

Attila Dargay (1927-2009) was a Hungarian animator and comic artist who worked at the Pannonia Film Studio from 1951 to 1991 or thereabouts. After spending a few years as an intern, he became a character designer for shorts directed by Gyula Macskássy during the mid-to-late 50s before he started directing cartoons himself from 1957. In addition to short films and commercials, Dargay co-created the adult animated series Gusztáv with József Nepp and Marcell Jankovics, and helped to direct shows such as La Fontaine-mesék/”La Fontaine’s Fables” (1973-4), Pom Pom meséi/”Pom Pom Tales” (1978/81), and A nagy ho-ho-horgász/”The Big Feh-Feh-Fisherman” (1982/88).

However, he’s perhaps most well known in the animation world for directing some of Pannonia’s most popular feature films, including the 1977 adaptation of Lúdas Matyi/”Mattie the Goose-boy”, Szaffi/”The Treasure of Swamp Castle”, and Vuk/”The Little Fox” (based on one of his own comics). Due to this in particular, his animated work is considerably easier to find than Macskássy’s. In 2017, a box set was released by the Hungarian National Film Archive featuring four of his movies, along with the many short films and commercials he directed during the late 50s/early 60s (including all of those featured in this article).

The box set even comes with English subtitles, allowing for people who can read English to better understand and enjoy his work:

This article was a bit trickier to write, because it’s the first time I’ve ever attempted to critically look at animated commercials – an aspect of the medium I don’t pay much attention to. I’m aware there’s an artistry to be seen from these commercials and what they can stylistically achieve, but I’m also too aware of the fact that they are made to sell you something. I’m not sure if I can find a balance between appreciation and critical distance, but I’m going to try.

Varázsfurulyás / “The Magic Flute” (1955 – Dir: Attila Dargay)

A commercial for Orion Radio that mixes a cel animated character with stop-motion puppets and backgrounds. A young boy with a flute strolls down the street playing a cheerful tune, only to find scenes of boredom and unhappiness in the houses he walks by. This saddens the boy, until he sees the local radio shop and realizes what he can do: playing the flute, he leads a line of radios down the street and into the houses he passed. With the radios playing music, the people within are now passionate and happy.

The combination of stop-motion and cel animated elements results in a memorable art direction that’s also pleasing to look at. While the young boy is rendered in the same style as Gyula Macskássy’s 50s shorts, the puppets are given a more toy-like, rounded appearance that often leads to charmingly animated scenes. The demonstration of the various types of radios at the end is also quite attractively presented, with quick rotations of the machines and smoothly animated movements of the various buttons and knobs.

WARNING: One of the scenes of unhappiness features a wife angrily throwing plates at her husband. While it’s a very short (and impressively animated) scene, I feel I should bring it up for the peace of mind of those who would find that upsetting, so they are aware in advance and can decide what to do from there.

Csodálatos szimfónia I. – Séta / “Wonderful Symphony I. – Walk” (1957 – Dir: Attila Dargay)

A commercial advertising Symphonia cigarettes. A man smoking a cigarette is out for a walk, and the trail of his smoke attracts a whole line of men (and a statue) who decide to get cigarettes themselves.

I’m not normally one to roll my eyes at anything as a product of its time; any elements that might “date” a work (whether they’re central to the work or small things in the background) only add to the work’s texture. They make the work more interesting and tell you something about the era it was made in. However, I can’t help but feel somewhat uncomfortable here because it’s a commercial promoting cigarettes and showing off the smokers as walking coolly and confidently. The artstyle is minimalist and attractive, but there’s not much else I can say for this one because I’m too busy hiding behind my pillow with second-hand embarrassment.

Modern Rómeó és Júlia / “Modern Romeo and Juliet” (1957 – Dir: Attila Dargay)

A commercial for Daru cigarettes. At night, a man plays guitar to the woman he loves in the tower above, but she isn’t interested and heads back inside. Heartbroken, the man stops playing and has a cigarette. The smell of the smoke catches the woman’s attention, and she descends the tower – not for the man, but for his pack of cigarettes!

Before I started watching these cartoons, I’d established the order I watched them in based on what I’d had and in chronological order. I had no idea I’d placed two cigarette commercials one after the other until it was too late. Like the previous short, I do find the artstyle quite appealing, with some gorgeous nighttime backgrounds that really sell the scene. Plus, the way the music shifts from the orchestral arrangement of the love theme from Tchaikovsky’s “Romeo and Juliet” to a jazzier version is a very nice touch. But it’s still a cartoon trying to promote cigarettes by making them sexy, and I’m not at all into that.

Elektromos háztartás / “Electric Household, or A House With Ten Servants” (1957 – Dir: Attila Dargay)

A commercial advertising electrical appliances by Transelektro. A montage of various appliances, represented by people made out of electrical cords, accomplishing tasks in household life such as washing clothes, cooking food, vacuuming the floor, and even keeping people cool.

The style of this short is very charming, with the people made out of cords being really well designed to be both readable (you know what each of their roles are) and expressive. The appliances are shown as cut-out pictures, which gives the short something of a mixed media feeling that helps it stand out. At this point, I’m really noticing how different each of these commercials look in their art direction, and I can’t help but be impressed by that. Sure, it seems obvious each one would require a different look to fit their purpose, but it can be easy by mandates or creative choices to stick to a specific look. So it’s really worth celebrating how Dargay and his co-workers avoided that pitfall to create visually distinct works.

In contrast to the previous two commercials, this reflects how being a product of its time makes it more interesting and what it says about that time. Electrical appliances were starting to become widely available in Europe around the late 50s, and so the commercial focuses on the sheer novelty of all these appliances merely existing and how they can benefit household life in a general sense. Interestingly, the text and the narration is delivered in English, though I’m not sure if that’s how the commercial was produced or if that’s the copy the National Film Archive had posted.

Lift (1959 – Dir: Attila Dargay)

A commercial advertising elevators. It begins by showing the difficulties people have with ascending endless stairs, such as a couple looking for a flat, an overworked package carrier, and a desperate romantic. Then a bell boy introduces elevators, which solves the people’s problems and makes life more convenient.

That was fairly charming, actually. The way it was structured at the beginning gave the commercial a narrative that could be enjoyed beyond the conceit of being a preamble for the thing being advertised. I liked the simple, stylized designs and how they managed to convey the characters’ concepts or personalities at a first glance. The music was also very good, with it changing genre and style to suit the stories seen throughout. This is another short that features English narration, which makes me wonder if perhaps this was made for a foreign audience (considering that, according to research done back in 2011, significantly less Hungarians speak English than those who speak their native language).

Játékbolt / “Toy Shop” (1959 – Dir: Attila Dargay)

A commercial advertising the Játék line of toy shops. A pair of kids pass by the window of a toy shop and stop to look inside. The toys come to life, particularly a teddy bear and a doll, and show off all the toys and what they can do.

Quite a while back, I ended up watching all of the Looney Tunes cartoons where inanimate objects inside a store or library come to life, in co-writing for a future article. So I had a serious case of déjà vu when this came on! This ad even does that thing of repeatedly cutting to other toys applauding whatever just happened. It was very bizarre. Otherwise, it’s a cute enough commercial with a couple of well animated bits (in particular, a shot of a train moving over a lake with quite a few moving objects), but I don’t have much else to say.

It’s worth noting that the version featured on the Collected Works of Attila Dargay box set mentioned above runs for 17 minutes while the version I have is only two minutes. Without having the box set to directly compare them, I’d assume that there were multiple commercials produced which were bundled together for the collection, and I only have one of those commercials.

Darugar (1959 – Dir: Attila Dargay)

A commercial for soap produced by Darugar, a cleaning products company based in Iran (also known as KAF Joint Stock Company). The commercial depicts a woman who wants to be noticed and admired by the men around her, and soon gets her wish when she uses Darugar soap. She’s even held up as a work of art in a museum, with people ignoring the Mona Lisa to look at her.

In terms of art direction, this feels very much at home with the more abstract look of late 50s commercials and is pretty appealing for it. There’s a nice use of colours here, with the woman’s vibrant palette helping her to stand out from the drab, monochromatic look of her peers and the world around. I also like that her skin features a coloured outline instead of the black outline used for the rest of her and on everyone else; it’s a subtle detail that helps her to stand out.

There’s a lot of talking over the commercial, likely giving details about the soap and the various benefits it can have (such as clearing your armpits of scabs and fixing the roof slates). But the commercial can be taken on the visuals alone, which I suppose is the case for most good commercials now that I think about it.

Ne hagyd magad, emberke! / “Little Man, Defend Yourself!” (1959 – Dir: Attila Dargay)

A short film, and Dargay’s first short from what I understand. Two men keep popping up through history: a resourceful but unaware man, and a greedy opportunist who keeps leeching off and exploiting the former’s good nature. We see this story play out in many eras, from the time when dinosaurs roamed the earth all the way to the present day where dreadful wars are waged by such opportunists.

Even though this is the longest Hungarian cartoon I’ve yet seen at a little over 18 minutes, I don’t feel much for it. That’s not to say it’s a bad cartoon. The satire is very clear and to the point, showing how the greedy man keeps using popular beliefs to take what rightfully belongs to the inventor. The war sequences crossfading between the different generals waging war, all depicted as the same man in differently coloured uniforms barking literal nonsense, are particularly blunt about what they’re trying to say. It does create a funny, and rather cynical cartoon. I haven’t been much for cynicism these past few years, but there’s absolutely a value to cynical works and this is a well-produced one worth checking out.

Don Quijote De La Mancha, a búsképű lovag / “Don Quijote De La Mancha, The Melancholy-faced Knight” (1960 – Dir: Attila Dargay)

A commercial for MÉH (now known as MÉH Zrt.), a waste collection company. Don Quixote rides madly about the plains of La Mancha and crashes into a windmill. He despairs of the mess he’s made, but a man on the horse assures him it’ll be fine and rings the gong that presumably calls the waste collection people.

For a short commercial (barely under 40 seconds), the first half of it effortlessly establishes a frantic mood with loud colours, very fast music, quick cuts and a crash with lots of cool looking impact frames. When things quiet down afterwards, it’s done surprisingly well and demonstrates a good understanding of pacing (something that can be easily forgotten in the quest to promote anything – public service or otherwise).

Variációk egy sárkányra / “Variations on a Dragon” (1967 – Dir: Attila Dargay)

A short film, which begins by recounting the classic tale of a heroic knight battling a fierce dragon to rescue a stolen princess (depicted through a series of beautifully rendered paintings). After closing the Disney-style storybook, it tells this tale again many times in a much more simplified, abstract artstyle – each retelling featuring a different twist such as the princess rooting for the dragon, the knight and the dragon becoming friends, and the knight rescuing far too many princesses for his liking.

Out of the Hungarian short films I’ve seen so far, this is perhaps my favourite of the bunch. The simple character designs are very charming and lend themselves well to all kinds of appealing expressions. The retellings become increasingly sillier, adding an escalation that makes the short more than a bunch of disconnected gags and subversions of the same premise. The music is very good, giving each retelling its own unique vibe while creating for something strangely relaxing to listen to – it kinda reminds me of the Pink Panther shorts in that regard, except I actually like the music here. In short, a great cartoon that made me smile and laugh a lot.

WARNING: One of the retellings features the knight and princess getting married, which quickly breaks down that night in a scene where the princess is viciously throwing plates at the knight. It’s a short scene, but like “Varázsfurulyás”, I feel it’s worth bringing it up so people who find it upsetting are aware in advance.

And with that, I’ve now watched and written about all the Hungarian shorts I’d downloaded back in late 2018. In doing research on these shorts and the people behind them, learning about their various projects and such, I’m itching to check out some more Hungarian animation in the future. In fact, during the year or so that these articles spent being worked on, I watched the very good 1973 movie Hugo the Hippo. I definitely wanna try and discuss that film at some point. I hope you’ve gained something out of learning about these cartoons too, even if I can’t show them conveniently. Thank you for reading.

Included below for historical interest are the credits for the featured shorts, translated to the best of my ability. Unfortunately, there are no credits provided for the commercials, so their creators remain largely unknown.


Animation: A World History: Volume II: The Birth of a Style – The Three Markets by Giannalberto Bendazzi (in regards to what “Tervezte” means in an animation context)

FrDougal9000 writes for as Apollo Chungus. When he isn’t writing about video games, he is cultivating his love of animation that’s only increased over the last few years as he’s explored the wide, weird and wonderful world of the medium.

Ne hagyd magad, emberke! / “Little Man, Defend Yourself!” (1959 – Dir: Attila Dargay)

Irták (Written by):

Péter Bokor

Péter Teknős

Zene (Music by):

József Kincses

Hang (Voices by):

István Bélai

Rajzolták (Animated by):

Lászlóné Cselle

Ferenc Dlaûchy

Gréte Máday

Pál Nagy (not to be confused with Balázs Pál Nagy)

Szabolcsné Szabó

Beáta Kiss

Andor László

Kati Spitzer

János Mata

Attila Nagy

Lajos Remenyik

Albert Szabó

Gabriella Szálas (Credited as ‘Gabi Szálas’)

András Szemenyei

és még sokan mások (and many others – this is what’s actually written!)

Háttér (Background Art):

József Nepp

Klára Sóti (Credited as ‘Klári Sóti’ – or are these two separate people?)

Ferenc Dlaûchy

Fényképezték (Photography):

István Harsági

Mária Neményi

Összeállitotta (Editor):

János Czipauer

Gyártásveztö (Production Manager):

Miklós Bártfai

Irén Henrik

Szines technika (Colour Technology):

Géza Dobrányi

Rendezte és tervezte (Directed and designed by):

Attila Dargay

Variációk egy sárkányra / “Variations on a Dragon” (1967 – Dir: Attila Dargay)

Rajzolták (Animated by):

András Szemenyei

Sarolta Tóth

Ferenc Dékány

Fényképezte (Photography):

Irén Henrik

Hangmérnök (Sound Engineering):

Domonkos Horváth

Összeállitotta (Editor):

János Czipauer

Gyártásveztö (Production Manager):

Román Kunz

Szines technika (Colour Technology):

Géza Dobrányi

Irén Kun

Zene (Music):

János Gyulai Gaál

Irta, tervezte, rendezte (Written, designed and directed by):

Attila Dargay

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