Judge Kristin Munson thinks The District! is the greatest Hungarian export since Franz Liszt.
"The following film includes disturbing material—both audio and visual."
The District! has been described as a European South Park. This isn't really true. Both may feature foul-mouthed kids, minimalist animation and political send-ups, but that's where the similarities end. The District! is a straight-faced satire that rarely goes for the obvious laugh, and its musical numbers are delivered in clever, catchy rhymes that are saltier than anything sung by Eric Cartman.
Facts of the Case
Richie Lakatos loves Juli Csorba but there are a few obstacles in his way. He's a gypsy, she's the daughter of a coke-snorting pimp, and their fathers hate each other. Money can buy peace between the families, but Lakatos is broke. Luckily, Richie and his gang have a plan. They'll create a time machine, travel millions of years into the past, bury a load of prehistoric beasts under their neighborhood, return to the present, and become oil barons. Easy!
Don't let The District!'s low budget look fool you; it may have taken 15 Hungarian animators $500,000 to create, but it's anything but cheap. What look like paper dolls with crudely photoshopped faces from one angle become shadow puppets from another and 3-D models from yet another. A lot of effort and creativity went into the movie's unique look. A look that's showcased in an amazing time machine sequence, where the teens travel through history as the German Blitzkrieg, a Roman march, and a medieval siege—all running backwards at double-time—speed past with paper figures leaping out of the animated background.
As inventive as the visuals may be, the movie's main draw are its songs. Ranging from minute-long novelties to freestyle battles, they transition scenes, underscore family feuds, and never fail to impress. Characters spit lyrics so fast the subtitles need to be a screen crawl, but thanks to the power of rewind you can zip back to catch the animated mayhem you missed while trying to keep up or banging your head to the beat. A trio of prostitutes singing into a black dildo about their hard-knock hooker life is one of the movie's filthiest, funniest moments, but because this is a family site I can't quote a word of it. I'm not a hip-hop fan by a long shot but some of these tunes have been stuck in my head for days, especially the guitar-laden opening theme.
The problem is the animation has more dimension than the plot, a paper-thin retread of Romeo and Juliet that's merely a setup for the visual effects and wicked rhymes. There are also so many characters crowding the neighborhood that you need a chart to keep them and all their connections straight and many of them serve no purpose. Why exactly are the Buddhist and the Britney Spears fan there, and what do they add to the plot? By the final act, the story is something to kill time between songs (Yay!) and naked animated breasts (Yawn). As a satire it doesn't bite as hard as it could and so the farce falls flat, especially at the "blah" conclusion.
You'd think a satire about lower-class Hungarians would have limited appeal but The District! (Known in its native land by the infinitely cooler title, Nyócker!) has spent the last two years cruising the international festival circuit, picking up awards, and is still going strong. There are some comedy ingredients that simply transcend cultural barriers. Crooked cops, inept politicians and giant breasts are some of those things. With Bin Laden selling bombs from a kid's basement, and Putin, Blair, and G. W. Bush putting in an appearance, it's a global, rather than local, send-up.
The DVD's audio mix is clear but irregular; it will have you scrambling for the volume controls each time the normal dialogue becomes blasting music. The video transfer suffers from the same problem. What looked great on my television became so muddy on my computer monitor that I couldn't snag a single decent screencap. If you want a peek at the animation style, you'll have to check out clips on the movie's MySpace page, sans subtitles.
Call it offensive. Call it one of a kind. Call it Romany and Juliet. For all its flaws The District! is still a unique animated experience and well worth your time, or would you prefer another multimillion CGI spectacle about sassy penguins?
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