Arbelos Films: Son of the White Mare (1981) - Reviewed

Sadly, in 2021, Hungarian artist Marcell Jankovics passed away but he left an amazing legacy of beautiful and spectacular animation. Arbelos Films has put together a gorgeous Blu-ray package that includes a 4K restoration of his psychedelic masterpiece Son of the White Mare (1981) as well as a restored version of his first feature length film János Vitéz aka Johnny Corncob (1973). 

Son of the White Mare (1981)

Based on the poem of the same name by László Arany, Son of the White Mare is one of the most eye-popping and fantastical animated films ever made. The story follows Treeshaker, the youngest son of the Snow Queen. When times were good, the Snow Queen ruled over an expansive kingdom by the side of the fearsome Sky King. The Sky King had three sons who were wed to three princesses. 

Terror befalls the kingdom when the princesses open the forbidden locks and unleash three terrible dragons who kill their husbands and whisk them away to the underworld to be their brides. The Snow Queen disguises herself as a white mare to escape and raises her youngest son in secret. Treeshaker grows up to be a powerful deity and goes on a journey to find his brothers and free the princesses from the underworld.



It is hard to express just how colorful and mind-melting the visuals are in this film--from beginning to end it is a kaleidoscopic menagerie of sights and sounds. Jankovics is fond of transformation and transitions with the characters and even the very backgrounds morphing into different shapes, their forms nebulous and temporary. In spite of all this shifting, smart use of color-coding keeps the visual confusion down with each of the three brothers having their own hue and silhouette assigned to them. 

Son of the White Mare heavily employs visual symbolism and interestingly a large portion of it is sexual. Vaginas and vulva abound in this film, mostly as symbols of nature and safe havens. Treeshaker's giant sword is incredibly phallic, especially the golden hilt sitting assuredly erect at all times at his groin. There is a sexual playfulness to everything with a bit of nudity thrown in as well.



The latter half of the film seems to be a critique of war and urbanization as each "dragon" has a decidedly post-modern form, with one resembling a tank and the last one taking an angular Atari sprite style look. It's an intriguing contrast to the first half of the film which has a fairy-tale and fantasy aesthetic and firmly cements the Eastern Europe style that many attribute to the animation of the region. The music is lush and symphonic, often choosing to blast the visuals with long angelic chords and elctro-sounding pads.

Son of the White Mare is an underseen masterpiece that deserves to be in the collection of anyone that has a love for animation. 


Son of the White Mare looks absolutely immaculate thanks to the resoration, all of the colors are super saturated and the animation looks clean and sharp. János vitéz didn't get quite the same treatment but it too looks excellent even if the print is much older. The short films included look crisp as well.


Three short films are included: Oscar-nominated Sisyphus (1974), The Struggle (1977), and Dreams on Wings (1968). There is an illuminating thirty minute interview with Jankovics himself in which he talks about how he got into animation and his work over the decades. Roundng out the supplimental material is a short vintage news reel about János Vitéz and the US trailer for the release of Son of the White Mare. 

 --Michelle Kisner