|Director: Bruno Bozzetto
|Screenplay: Bruno Bozzetto, Guido Manuli, Maurizio Nichetti
|Stars: Maurizio Nichetti (The Animator), Maria Luisa Giovanni (The Cleaning Girl), Néstor Garay (The Orchestra Director), Maurizio Micheli (The Presenter)
|MPAA Rating: PG
|Year of Release: 1977
It takes some gumption to make a simultaneous parody of and homage to Walt Disney’s Fantasia (1940), considered by many to be the pinnacle of mainstream animation, but that’s exactly what Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto did with Allegro non troppo. What is all the more amazing is that the film’s animated segments are just as lyrical, just as spellbinding, and in many ways more meaningful than those in the Disney film. Despite the crudity of some of the animation and the obviously lower budget, Allegro non troppo is an amazing piece of work.
Like all children who grew up in Italy in the 1940s and 1950s, Bozzetto grew up on the films of Walt Disney. He has said that he learned about ecology from watching Bambi (1942) and classical music from Fantasia (1940), films that fed his imagination and his love of film and art.
At that time, no one in Italy was producing feature-length animation, so Disney’s offerings were all that were available. When Bozzetto made his feature directorial debut with West and Soda (1965), an animated parody of American Westerns that coincided with the rise of the spaghetti western genre, there had not been a feature-length animated film produced in Italy in two decades. He quickly followed it with The SuperVips (1968), another parody, this time of comic-book superheroes. At the same time, he was producing dozens of commercials for Italian television and using the money to fund his own short films.
Allegro non troppo still stands as Bozzetto’s most ambitious project. Borrowing the structure of Fantasia, Bozzetto constructed the film out of six dialogue-free animated episodes, each of which is scored to classical music. He also used the idea of incorporating live-action interludes involving the orchestra playing the music, but whereas Disney’s use of Leopold Stowkowski and the Philadelphia Orchestra was distinguished and stately, Bozzetto’s live action, which was shot in dingy black and white, is more comical and slapsticky than the animation itself. And, like the animation, there is a dark slant to it, as much of the humor derives from the abuse heaped on a bespectacled animator (Maurizio Nichetti) and the orchestra, which is composed entirely of chattering elderly women, by the orchestra conductor (Néstor Garay), who is depicted as a gruff, overbearing bully.
Unfortunately, these live-action sequences are the film’s greatest weakness, as the pratfalls and physical comedy grate against the beauty and elegance on display in the animation, as well as their heady themes of life and loss. The live action also plays too much as meta-apology, with the film’s presenter (Maurizio Micheli) expounding on the grand idea of wedding beautiful images with classical music and then taking an unexpected griping phone call from “Prisney or Grisney--some American.” Considering the gumption it takes to make a film inspired by Fantasia, one can see why Bozzetto felt the need to wrap his film up in meta-jokes, as if he’s afraid we’ll think he thinks he’s getting away with something.
But, even the tackiness of the live action isn’t enough to detract from Bozzetto’s accomplishments in the realm of animation, and it is here that Allegro non troppo soars. Like Bozzetto’s short films, each of the film’s animated segments has a social theme woven into the humor and beauty. The opening segment is a perfect example, as Bozzetto humorously explores vanity and the shallow pursuit of youth and beauty in the story of a squat, aging satyr who attempts to win the affections of the naked nymphs around him by looking more youthful. His attempts are pathetic and therefore sad, yet it’s hard not to laugh at the satyr’s expense because he is so silly and vain.
The film’s most visually rapturous segment is the evolution sequence scored to the steady beat of Ravel’s “Bolero.” Beginning with the amusing idea of life being spawned from the remnants on an intergalactic soda bottle left behind on earth, it builds steadily in scope and grandeur, showing us absurdly fantastical creatures emerging from the remnants of others. (The overall style and look of this sequence is reminiscent of Gerald Scarfe’s haunting animated sequences in Pink Floyd The Wall). However, despite the beauty of the sequence, one cannot escape Bozzetto’s clearly despondent view of evolution, which shows Darwin’s “survival of the fittest” ethos in the creatures’ constantly trying to eat or stomp on those that came before them. Evolution is less about progress than simple survival, which is the progenitor of war, pollution, and other human senselessness, all of which Bozzetto has critiqued relentlessly throughout his career.
The most haunting sequence features a bright-eyed cat slinking around the remains of a burnt-out house, imagining the family that used to live there. The quiet poignancy of this segment stands in contrast to the vivacious hilarity of one of the final episodes, scored to Stravinsky, in which Adam and Eve refuse to eat the apple, so the snake decides to eat it instead, unwittingly unleashing on himself an overwhelming universe of sin.
The beauty of Allegro non troppo is the way in which it maintains such a diversity of approaches, both visual and thematic, but still coheres as a larger-than-life statement about life itself. Unfortunately, like Fantasia, it was not commercially successful, and Bozzetto has yet to attempt another feature-length animated film. In the meantime, though, he continued to make animated shorts, some of which are among the best ever produced. However, Allegro non troppo will likely be his true legacy.
|Allegro non troppo DVD|
|Audio||Italian Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo
10 short films by Bruno Bozzetto
The Worlds of Bruno Bozzetto TV documentary
|Distributor||Home Vision Entertainment|
|Release Date||February 3, 2004|
|Allegro non troppo was available on laser disc in the mid-1980s in an English-dubbed version that was also missing 10 minutes of footage from the live-action sequences. This new transfer by Home Vision is of the complete cut of the film, and it looks very good. The animated sequences are lively and colorful, with good saturation and fine detail. There is little in the way of print damage to be found. The black-and-white live-action sequences look quite dark, but I can only assume that this is due to the original cinematography.|
|The soundtrack is presented in two-channel stereo and sounds good, as well, although there is some noticeable hiss and some popping during the film’s quieter moments. This release marks the first time the film has been available in the U.S. on home video in its original Italian language.|
|In addition to the film, this disc contains an hour’s worth of Bozzetto’s best short films. There are 10 in all, including the Oscar-nominated Grasshoppers (1990) and Mister Tao (1989), which won the Golden Bear Award at the Berlin Film Festival. Longtime fans of Bozzetto’s work won’t see anything new here, but people who are just getting acquainted with him will be astonished at the depth and breadth of his themes, the way his films can start off silly and jokey and end up making a significant statement about the world. My favorite, though, was the poignant Baeus (1987), in which a tiny bug falls in love with a woman whose husband has just left her.
Also included on the disc is The Worlds on Bruno Bozzetto, a 42-minute Italian TV documentary made in 2002 about Bozzetto’s life and work. It features an extensive interview with Bozzetto, interviews with several of his colleagues, and clips from his most famous works.
Overall Rating: (3)
All images copyright ©2004 Home Vision Entertainment