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Willy the Sparrow (Hungarian: Vili, a veréb) is a 1988 Hungarian animated film directed by József Gémes. It was released in Hungary to critical acclaim and it won the Prize of the Audience at the 3rd Kecskemét Animation Film Festival. The English adaptation was directed by Scott Murphy. Voice actors included Sarah Schaub, Barta Heiner, Rick Macy and Aaron Bybee.

Plot

The film starts with Willy sick at home from school and pretending to be a hunter. Using his imagination to see his cat, Sissy, as the tiger, he torments Sissy with his water gun. He then shoots a BB gun at a sparrow flock at the local park outside his bedroom window, scaring them from the scene. Willy’s action angers an elderly lady named Sparina, who is the Sparrow Guardian. Sparina magically enters Willy's apartment unnoticed and turns Willy into a sparrow in hopes of teaching him to respect living things. However, she lacks enough spray to enable Willy to fly, making him defenseless against danger. Sparina quickly leaves to refill her magic hair spray. While Willy makes himself comfortable in his sparrow form, Sissy appears and sees Willy as food instead of her master. Sissy nearly eats Willy since Willy is unused to walking like a sparrow, but Willy’s younger sister, Tonya, saves him and puts him outside his window. Willy meets two other young sparrows, Red and T.J., who consult an elder sparrow named Cipur to teach Willy to fly. The three sparrows carry the flightless Willy to safety, escaping an incoming attack from a persistent, hungry Sissy.

Meanwhile, Sparina and Sissy both seek Willy.

In Cipur's nest, inside an attic, Cipur tells Willy that he wants to read and write like a human because human knowledge and technology fascinates him, but he keeps this secret in fear of the other sparrows shunning him. Cipur bargains to teach Willy how to fly if Willy teaches Cipur how to read. During the flying lesson, Sissy finds Willy and Cipur and attacks. Before she can eat Willy, Cipur intervenes and lures an angry Sissy atop the roof where he traps her head under a ceiling hatch. Guarding Willy, Cipur teaches him how to fly. Willy, in return, teaches Cipur how to read and write. One day, when Cipur goes to find food, Willy decides to leave the attic and explore the outer world after learning how to properly fly. He flies to the park and joins a young sparrow flock, which Red leads. They show Willy the barn that they once owned until Blackie, a big, black cat, overtook it.

The young sparrow flock, including Willy, flies across the city to the barn, unaware that Sissy was trailing them. Inside the barn, Willy sees a mouse waking Blackie and alerting him about the sparrows in the barn. Blackie attacks the sparrows and nearly eats one of them, named Amy. Willy, not leaving his new friend, drops a light bulb onto Blackie's head—distracting him long enough for Amy to flee the scene. After Willy escapes from the barn, Sissy appears. She becomes acquainted with Blackie, and since they both share a taste for sparrows, they want to eat Willy.

Willy flies to his apartment and writes a note to his worried family that he is fine and that he will soon return home. Willy then returns to Cipur's nest, but finds Cipur mad at him for not telling Cipur about an item called “The Elixir of Knowledge”. Willy is confused and does not know about this “elixir”, but Cipur both verbally and physically expels Willy from the nest, and then flies from his nest. Willy follows Cipur to a bar, and learns that he has been drinking alcohol with two rats who have convinced him that the alcohol will give him knowledge. The alcohol, however, only intoxicates Cipur and worsens his condition. Willy quickly returns Cipur to his nest, but Cipur still is mad at Willy for leaving him. Willy sadly leaves the nest and sees Amy flying to him. Willy flies to Amy and she tells him that Red is mad at Willy because he thinks Willy woke Blackie. Willy and Amy then settle into an indoor roof nest to seek shelter from a storm.

The next morning, Willy and Amy return to the park to find their friends, who all await them, only to see an angry Red. T.J. says that Willy must lose two feathers as punishment. When Willy refuses to take punishment, Red angrily fights Willy to make him submit. Willy, however, used to fighting as a human boy, easily beats Red and is made the flock’s leader. Sparina and Sissy find Willy, but Willy does not yet want to turn back into a boy until he helps his new friends. Willy then leads the flock back to the barn, with Sparina and Sissy trailing them.

Under Willy's leadership, the sparrows silence and bind the mouse who worked with Blackie, and then bind a sleeping Blackie in a sneak attack. The sparrows start eating the grain, but Sissy arrives at the barn ahead of the Sparina and frees Blackie. Blackie fights the sparrows and knocks them unconscious, and Sissy catches them and places them onto a sheet to prepare to eat them, eventually leaving only Willy to fight Blackie. Cipur then comes and helps Willy fight Blackie, but Blackie subdues them both and tries to eat them. Sparina saves Willy and Cipur via repeatedly hitting Blackie with a broom, permanently driving him from the barn.

Sparina wants to turn Willy back into a boy so that he can return to his home where his family is worried about him. Willy, however, refuses to be turned back into a human and would rather stay a sparrow if Cipur is not also turned into a human. Sparina then grants Willy to be the Sparrow Guardian. With little hesitation, Willy accepts. Sparina uses her magic spray to turn both Willy and Cipur into humans. The retired Sparina joins Cipur, who now wants to learn more about the human world, for something to eat. As Sparina and Cipur leave the barn together, Cipur reminds Willy that people never stop learning.

Willy, and the reconciled Sissy, walk home—and the young sparrow flock follows them.

Characters

Willy/Vili - A 10-year-old boy who, out of boredom, tries to shoot at a sparrow flock with his BB gun—for which Sparina, the Sparrow Guardian, turns him into a sparrow. His world is quite different as a sparrow, and he soon learns kindness, respect for living things, and appreciation for knowledge.

Sissy/Cili - Willy's pet cat. In the film’s original version, Sissy sees Willy as a meal after he is turned into a sparrow. She becomes the film’s main villain, wanting to eat Willy instead of helping Sparina teach Willy a lesson, and tries to eat him in some parts of the film. In the end, Sissy reconciles and learns a lesson about respecting living creatures, including sparrows—as does Willy. (The film shows Sissy freeing the other sparrows instead of eating them.) In the English version, Sissy pursues Willy because she wants to teach him a lesson, and also to avenge him for tormenting her at the start of the film.

Sparina/Verbene (The Sparrow Guardian) - An elderly woman who guards and oversees sparrows. She turns Willy into a sparrow to teach him to respect living things.

Cipur - An old sparrow who secretly wants to read and write like humans. Willy teaches him how to read and write in return for Cipur teaching him how to fly. While Willy is a sparrow, Cipur serves as his teacher.

Blackie/Krampusz – A bad black cat who likes eating sparrows. He controls the barn that the sparrow flock once owned, and whenever they enter the barn, a mouse who works with Blackie wakes up the big, black cat and alerts him about the sparrows.

Tonya - Willy's younger sister who, while caring about him, often tattles on him. She stops her cat, Sissy, from eating Willy.

Red/Spagyi - The bossy, boastful, impatient, but well-intentioned leader of the young sparrow flock—until Willy beats him in a fight—after which Willy becomes the new leader.

T.J./Csures - Red's second-in-command of the young sparrow flock. He is nice and helpful, but can be a smart-aleck.

Specs - As his name implies, this member of the young sparrow flock wears glasses. He is intelligent, rational, and logical.

Stubby - This member of the young sparrow flock looks unattractive, and he sometimes argues with Tubby.

Tubby - Per his name, this member of the young sparrow flock is obese, and he loves food.

Julie - This member of the young sparrow flock sometimes flatters the other flock members, and says that Willy “is cute” when she first meets him.

Amy - This friendly, helpful member of the young sparrow flock says that she enjoys singing (though she does not do so in the film). The evil cat Blackie almost eats Amy before Willy saves her from him.

Otto/Zsozso - The thin drunk rat.

Skinny/Degesz - The babbling fat rat.

Songs

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