Hugo the HippoPacific Cinematheque
Hugo the Hippo (Hugó, a víziló)

Hungary/USA 1975 Director: Bill Feigenbaum Colour, 35mm. 86 mins.

Date and Venue 18 Mar @ 1pm | Pacific Cinematheque, 1131 Howe Street, Vancouver

Reviewer Ed Farolan

It's interesting to come up with animation that is not only Disney or Pixar. This animated feature is foreign, Humgarian, with a director and actors from the USA. And voice-over stars who had quite a name in the 70s: Burl Ives, Paul Lynde, Marie and Jimmy Osmond with their "groovy" tunes.

Presented by Pacific Cinémathèque’s Education Department, Cinema Sunday is an afternoon film program for children and their families. Every month, movies like this are presented and followed by discussions, activities, and games intended to be fun and to stimulate critical and creative thinking among the young ones, and their parents/grandparents, naturally.

Little-known "cult curio" you might call this delightful "cartoon" as the term was used in the past to refer to animated films. Hugo the Hippo is one of those films that was beautifully crafted and perhaps, an offspring of an LSD user."Psychedelic" is perhaps the best way to describe the colors and the the surrealist animation which was perhaps influenced by Yellow Submarine, and another Beatles favorite LSD ("Lucy in the Sky with Diamonds").

We must remember that the 70s was the psychedelic period in the world's history, when LSD and marijuana were common substances especially among the hippies. Today's yuppies and 21st century generation still carry on what their grandparents began in the 70s, mostly as a protest against the Vietnam War with their famouse slogan "Make Peace, Not War".

The story takes place in Zanzibar, where a cigarette-smoking gang of mean sharks inhabits the harbour. Twelve hippos are brought in to defeat the sharks. After the deed is done, the hippos become heroes and are fed everyday until the time came when they were considered a nuisance and finally are gotten rid of. Only little Hugo escapes and he is left to fend for himself, as he faces countless dangers, (and this where the imagination of the Hungarian animators come to play). They create as obstacles of Hugo a banana octopus, corncob artilleries, and a wizard who practices "hippo-notism."

Animated behind the Iron Curtain in Hungary at that time, financed by the perfume company Fabergé, and directed by New York animation designer Bill Feigenbaum (his only feature film), this unusual production was simply never embraced by the American mainstream and so fell into obscurity. It is still without an official English digital release, leading lovers of Hugo to form online communities to share in their search for the lost treasure.

“Feigenbaum is lending us his personal 35mm copy to screen here and commented: "About ten years ago, I started receiving renewed interest in Hugo. Now, almost every day I receive word from somebody who has loved the film.”

© 2012 Ed Farolan