This is the story of Hugo the Hippo. His adventures start when his family is forcefully moved from their home to the harbour of Zanzibar to stop a group of sharks. They succeed but are quickly forgotten by the humans that used them. The hippos are all wiped out except for Hugo himself, who flees to the mainland and befriends the children there. But trouble is still following Hugo, for the children's parents think that Hugo is a thief and a waste of time.
The story starts in Zanzibar, a growing port metropolis with a thriving clothes industry. When sharks invade Zanzibar's shores and stop the trading ships from getting their cargo, the Sultan's advisors are stumped at how to stop them. Then the Sultan himself receives a vision on the perfect solution: the hippopotamus. He sends out his right-hand advisor Aban-Khan to the mainland to find the beasts that can defeat the sharks.
Aban-Khan('s men) do find a group of hippos, and among them is little Hugo. Despite their king's efforts to stop them, the hippos are rounded up and transported to Zanzibar, where they are dumped in the harbour. They defeat the sharks and are celebrated as heroes.
But the hippos' heroism is short-lived. As Zanzibar grows and prospers, the people forget why the hippos are there in the first place. Neglected, hungry and desperate, the hippos climb on shore and eat the farmer's crops. The enraged farmers bring their woes to Aban-Khan, who decides to swiftly cull the hippos in the dark of night.
Hugo, the youngest of the hippos, ends up being the only survivor. He escapes to the mainland of Dar Es Salaam, where he meets Jorma, a playful and kind boy who immediately becomes his friend. Jorma's classmates then learn of Hugo's existence and the times are good. But once again, Hugo's happiness is short-lived with the childrens' parents learn of his existence and he is deemed a threat to their livelyhood.
I grew up with this movie. I remember watching it as a child and only understanding the basics of the story, and I
also remembering enjoying it for the heartbreaking familial love and friendship that are the themes of
the show. I forgot about this movie for many years before recently regaining it through the
addiction blessing that is ebay, and watching with grown-up eyes has been a wonderful a
and occasionally bewildering experience.
It's a psychadelic movie, that's for sure. The artwork of Hugo the Hippo is a blend of bright colours and shapes, making it dizzying for a grown-up but well tolerable for a child. It's a like a multi-coloured candy box that has gained a life of its own. And this bizarre style goes beyond the artwork and seeps into the storytelling itself. The movie is full of cartoon symbolism that people either love or hate. Personally, I think that some of their approaches were brilliant, because how else would you depict the brutal slaughtering of hippos in a family movie?
Like many other kid's movies of yesteryear, there are lengthy sequences that serve little purpose to the plot but seem to be put there for the sake of playing up the emotion of the moment. The perfect example would be the twirly colourful song sequence where Hugo and the children play together in something that looks like it could have easily belonged to a number from Electric Company. Another example is the doubly-crazy sequence where Jorma helps Hugo escape from the ev1l vegetables. None of it is meant to be taken literally... Perhaps that is how Hugo sees things with his hippo understanding? That said, a movie like this is more palatable to a child than to an adult who needs a literal interpretation of stories in cartoons. I remember it making more sense when I watched it as a kid, that's for sure.
The bright colours distract from just how thoughtful the underlying story is. Hugo the Hippo could have easily turned out to be too dark if it weren't for the crazy artwork and storytelling. It's really a story about how people use animals without thinking, and how the animals are always the ones who end up suffering for the actions of the people who've used them. Hugo acts as our eyes, watching as he and his family are snatched from the home, used and then swept away. The only ones who help Hugo are the children who see him as the lonely orphan that he is.
Hugo is surprisingly effective as the lead character despite him not having any dialogue at all. None of the animals talk, lending a unique angle of a realism to a hyper-non-realistic movie. We watch how the human characters respond (either positively or negatively) to animals that are just acting like animals. Aban-Khan is the target of our boos and hisses; while most of the other grown-ups are just as bad, he's the one who actively hates the hippos for being hippos. On the flipside there's Jorma, he boy who trusts Hugo and loves him for being himself.
The way they've set-up the movie is as though it's a true story, or at least, a legend that exists in the real world. I don't know whether it is a real folk tale, but it would be interesting if it were. The morals don't get slathered on any thicker than this. Whatever the case, I will always remember this as the movie that taught me, as a child, how to spell hippopotamus. :D