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Allegro non troppo

Allegro non troppo
Home Vision Entertainment
1977 / Color + B&W / 1:33 flat full frame / 85 75 min. / Street Date February 3 2003 / 29.95
Starring Maurizio Nichetti, Néstor Garay, Maria Luisa Giovanni, Maurizio Micheli
Cinematography Luciano Marzetti, Mario Masini
Film Editor Giancarlo Rossi
Written by Bruno Bozzetto, Guido Manuli and Maurizio Nichetti
Produced by Bruno Bozzetto
Directed by Bruno Bozzetto, Maurizio Nichetti

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

This fully-packed animation disc from Home Vision gives us a perfect (and uncut) version of the original Italian Allegro non troppo, plus two more hours of content about animator-producer Bruno Bozetto: ten of his best short films, plus a 42-minute Italian television documentary that's equally fascinating.

The feature Allegro non troppo has always been liked more by animators and art students than general audiences. In 1977 they expected anything animated in a theater to be about fuzzy animals and preferably with the name Disney on it. But a good version of this classic has been awaited for a long time, and I can report that it's finally here.


A crazy producer who never heard of Walt Disney assembles a crowd of old ladies for an orchestra and summons an animator from a dungeon, to make an animated film blending art and classical music. Various comedic scenes transpire in the theater, as the conductor tries to keep his orchestra and his animator in line. The animated selections - Debussy: Afternoon of a Faun Prelude to an Afternoon of a Faun. Dvorak: Empire Builders. Ravel: Evolutionary March Bolero. Sibelius: Feline Fantasies Valse Triste. Vivaldi: The Birds and the Bees.Allegro Stravinsky: Paradise Lost The Firebird.

Trashing some Disney while honoring other Disney is a big theme these days, with the present disliked status of the Eisner-run studio a big factor (of all the studios to work at, younger employees loathe and fear it the most). Detractors often point to the 1940 Fantasia as classical art crushed down to digestible kitsch for middle America (which declined the patronizing gesture). Fantasia was repopularized in reissues, only to fall victim to the neo-Disney backlash, especially after the Fantasia 2000 show, and the typical arrogant studio marketing nonsense about the original 'changing,' so we'd better buy it now, blah blah blah.

Well, there are some marvelous things in Fantasia that have still not been bettered, even by computer animation. In 1977, an Italian semi-spoof did lukewarm business, probably because theatrical animation was at a low ebb. The fact that Allegro non troppo placed itself in the shadow of the Disney film didn't help.

It sprung from the imaginative world of Bruno Bozzetto, a Milanese animator making his third feature. More than half of its running time is a live-action wraparound comedy skit shot in B&W, another thing that viewers noted in the negative sense. The animation is of the clever conceptual kind, not the full-dimension miracle work that Disney was doing before WW2, but often brilliant in design and much more dimensional than the previous non-Disney benchmark, Yellow Submarine original DVD announcement. The animation in Allegro non troppo really amounts to five or six short subjects similar to his earlier stand-alone shorts.

Bozzetto's brand of humor is definitely Italian, definitely adult (there's plenty of material her that's not for kids, but in a very gentle way) and both sardonic and sentimental at the same time.

The episodes are a mixed bag, with three or four being truly memorable, and the others coming off as fragments that wouldn't have stood alone as short subjects. There's a quickie piece to Dvorak music that shows the growth of civilization from cave dwelling to ugly cities, but it's a trite concept done with little imagination.

The winners are captivating. A Debussy piece is often compared to Fantasia's Beethoven sequence, but succeeds in standing alone. An optimistic senior-citizen faun is frustrated in his attempts to interest the nubile nymphs that all the younger satyrs so easily bed - he tries a makeover, but every contact with the wood-babes is an erotic frustration. The animation is cute and clever, and the adult content is both appropriate and classy. With his bad eyes, limp and paunch, the little faun resembles a worn-out version of a cartoon series once seen in Playboy. He gets our sympathy in an odd way - the short seems to say that sex is for the young, but male egos just don't see it that way.

The most famous piece riffs from Disney's Rite of Spring piece, the one about evolution, with the dinosaur extinction pictured as a 'shuffle off to Buffalo' in a sunbaked desert. Bozzetto overcomes the imitation factor with his excellent choice of music. Ravel's Bolero is a majestic march that Bozzetto uses as a solid background for his jokes. Instead of a faithful evocation of evolution, in troppo starts with an incident of interplanetary litterbugging, that results in a drop of ooze morphing into more and more illogical but hilarious crawling, jumping, and flying creatures, each more ambitious and hungry than the last. They hop and drag themselves around, gobbling each other up. About halfway through, a joker enters the picture, a malevolent ape that delights in malicious mischief like using the discovery of fire to burn up the other wildlife, just for laughs. Some of Bozzetto's critical short subjects criticize pollution, war and other modern folly in fairly trite ways, but this episode ends on a sinister note that connects well with Kubrick's ape-astronaut similie in 2001.

Also frequently praised is the kitty-cat sequence done to a mournful Sibelius dirge. A cute kitten wanders in a crumbling ruin of a house, remembering the life and happiness that once lived there. The artwork is excellent here, and cat lovers were surely reduced to tears. Since Bozzetto gives the cat a huge set of wet eyes similar to the animals and children in those awful kitsch-art paintings (thanks to Martin Zimmerman - the artist I couldn't think of is Margaret Keane) I have to think that Bozzetto intended a measure of parody or even criticism here. The piece doesn't develop beyond its one nostalgic effect, however.

Also fun but perhaps a bit obvious is a comedic sequence where an (anatomically correct) Adam and Eve refuse the apple proffered them by the snake, who eats it instead. The the music of Stravinski, the snake is the one to suffer the wrath of original sin instead (see the cover illustration). It has its cute points.

Animation fans tended to react just as strongly to the finale montage, which consists of dozens of strange one-joke skits, many of them hilariously sadistic. A long distance runner is sliced like cheese by the finishing-line wire, the lips of two kissing heads are ripped off, etc. They remind us of the majority of Bill Plympton's work, which might have developed at the same time, but seems derivative.

Allegro non troppo is rewarding but plays as a collection of shorts separated by a lot of one-joke live-action material. Co- writer and director Maurizio Nichetti is a fine clown as the animator, but the material still plays like spotty skit work. Fortunately, the disc comes with an amazing extra, ten of Bozzetto's short subjects, that stay consistently inventive throughout his career. They aren't as inventive with animation technique than, say Film Board of Canada work, but they're far less likely to be academic or boring, and most of them are funny in the extreme, even the 'socially relevant' morality plays that don't work so well in the feature. Some are one-jokes, but good ones. He makes history into a funny parade of aggression in Grasshoppers and spoofs mosquitoes trapped in a Horatio Alger fantasy in Self Service. Dancing is a cute blackout about Death, and Mister Tao a good zinger about God. Striptease is somewhat derivative of Tex Avery, but Baby Story takes a potentially tasteless idea and makes it charming.

The surprise was A Life in a Tin, which I saw as a film student in Westwood in the early 70s. The audience applauded madly for its perfect little evocation of the transcendant joy of life, which only appears for brief moments. It's one of his more minimalist works and has a great musical score. The little scribbled character succeeds wonderfully.

Very helpful to the uninitiated is a longform Italo TV docu The World of Bozzetto which covers his career from playing with an animation stand his father made him from an ironing board, through commercial success to his features. We see a sampling of his live-action work, and some intriguing clips from shorts not included on this disc - especially an (I think) educational short that uses the idea of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde to present theories on personality disorders. Bozzetto is seen with his collaborators and at home, where he ponders a life spent in creative distraction. In the 90s he showed where his heart was by coming home from work (where he stopped doing the physical animation decades ago) to animate minimalist films on his computer with the Flash program. Creativity is creativity.

Home Vision's disc is attractively laid out. The transfers are all immaculate; both Allegro non troppo and A Life in a Tin play much better at 1:33 than the way I saw them, matted to 1:85. Sound is crystal clear as well, highlighting Bozzetto's creative composers. The film is in the original Italian with removable subs, but there's no dialogue in the animated sections. We can easily tell this is an unaltered Italian version - there's even cards to cue up part one and part two. (Italian movies were often shown in halves, to facilitate a mid-feature consession stand break.) Film Threat's Phil Hall provides liner notes. If you've skipped down here to read about the extras, this time they're discussed up in the body of the review.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, Allegro non troppo rates:
Movie: Excellent
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: The Best of Bruno Bozzetto: Baby Story, Sigmund, Grasshoppers, Striptease, Self Service, A Life in A Tin, Big Bang, Dancing, Baeus, Mister Tao; TV docu The World of Bozetto (42 Min)
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: January 30, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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