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GRANDPA CHILLIE CHALLA [A Varázsló] and THE MAGIC OF THE KITE [Cerf-Volant du Bout du Monde] (1969/1958; Just For the Hell of It).

This colorful, live-action duet of overseas children's oddities kicks off with the Hungarian fantasy GRANDPA CHILLIE CHALLA, based on a popular fairy tale by Sándor Török and centered around the misadventures of 11-year-old troublemaker Billy Balog (Ferenc Laluja), who lives in the city with his parents and toddler brother. He also has a magical grandpa (though the literal translation is "Uncle," not "Grandpa") named Chillie Challa, who appears and disappears amidst trippy colored lights and gives spoiled Billy whatever he desires, regardless of the consequences. First up, Billy lies to a friend about having a pet horse in his apartment and calls on Chillie Challa. Poof! There's a talking horse in his home, annoying Billy's folks and neighbors. Next, Billy is pissed about studying and begs Chillie Challa to create a robot duplicate who can take his place at school. No surprise, this computerized show-off goes on the fritz. Finally, in the weirdest episode, a living snowman waddles into Billy's home, upset that the kid never finished making him, and Billy's family lets the melting little creature stay in their fridge. At the end of each segment, insufferable little bastard Billy promises he'll be good from now on, but hasn't actually learned a damned thing. Eastern Bloc children's fare often has an offbeat eccentricity, and this is no exception. Billy is a liar, a cheat, a slacker, and a lousy friend -- imagine if Dennis the Menace was a deceitful asshole without any redeeming qualities. The adult characters are either clueless nitwits (his parents) or exasperated victims of Billy's mischief (neighbors and teachers), while his ever-supportive grandma seems vaguely senile. Along the way, director György Palásthy utilizes several cool physical effects (e.g. moving walls and floors, when Billy wishes for a larger apartment) and maximizes the story's surreal qualities.

It's double-billed with the tepid, English-dubbed, children's fantasy-travelogue THE MAGIC OF THE KITE, a 1958 French-Chinese co-production directed by Roger Pigaut and first released in the US in 1971 through "Xerox Films," to coincide with the People's Republic of China's upcoming membership in the United Nations...When young Peter and his Parisian pals retrieve a colorful Chinese kite caught in a tree, they discover a hidden note. Following some tedious juvenile hijinks involving a scrawny bully, an inscrutable antiques dealer informs the kids that the painting on the kite is Sun Wukong, The Monkey King from Journey to the West (though this print's crappy English-dubbing calls him "King of the Magicians") and belongs to a boy living in Peking (now Beijing). That night, as Peter and little sister Nicole sleep, the tiny Monkey King leaps to life and transports the siblings to China on their flying bed. Landing in the middle of Tiananmen Square, they're initially chased in their pajamas by spear-wielding ancient soldiers, but eventually befriend an assortment of eternally-smiling, modern-day Chinese kids who take our pair on a tour of Peking's crowded streets, searching for the kite's original owner. The film's moral? Friendship has the power to transcend international barriers, even if they're dreaded Commies! Despite all of its beautiful scenery, captured by cinematographer Henri Alekan (Cocteau's BEAUTY AND THE BEAST), it's essentially 74-minutes of insipid twaddle.

© 2012 by Steven Puchalski.