(1976) Directed by Bruno Bozzetto; Written by Bruno Bozzetto, Guido Manuli and Maurizio Nichetti; Starring: Maurizio Nichetti, Maurizio Micheli, Néstor Garay, and Marialuisa Giovannini; Available on DVD
Rating: *** ½
Allegro Non Troppo, derived from a classical music term, is roughly translated as “fast, but not too much.” It’s a fitting title for director/co-writer Bruno Bozzetto’s irreverent, but not-too-irreverent, Italian homage to Walt Disney’s 1940 classic, Fantasia. It manages, at once, to be a loving tribute and to thumb its nose at the source material. At face value, Bozzetto’s film seems to be a simple parody, but it branches off in bizarre and unexpected ways, ultimately transforming into something that’s truly unique.
Bozzetto was inspired at an early age by Disney’s comic books and animated films, especially Bambi and Fantasia. He started out animating television commercials in a makeshift studio in his parents’ living room, and gradually moved on to wildlife documentaries (similar to Disney, animals would remain a favorite subject) and short animated films. His work with these shorter films in the 60s and early 70s would eventually lead to a much more ambitious project.
Allegro Non Troppo’s black-and-white live-action bridging sequences are completely different in tone from Fantasia. Bozzetto was bothered by the staginess of the bridging scenes in Fantasia, and wanted to poke fun at the pomposity of the earlier film’s depiction of an orchestra. While his film owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the Disney masterpiece, he adopts a sardonic perspective that wouldn’t be out of place in a Monty Python film. In the opening scene, the film’s enthusiastic presenter (Maurizio Micheli) expresses his excitement about his novel approach to cinema, only to have his vision dashed by a phone call from a Hollywood studio (presumably Disney). Fantasia’s straight-laced, pristine orchestra is replaced by a group of old ladies that the host has been keeping like cattle. The lone, embattled animator (Maurizio Nichetti) is released from his wall shackles, only to be placed under the watchful eye of the sadistic conductor (Néstor Garay). In a later scene that’s reminiscent of the classic Warner Brothers cartoons, the animator and conductor wage a battle of wits, trading one humiliation after another.
Although these bridging scenes clearly distinguish Allegro Non Troppo from its predecessor, it’s the animated sequences, set to classical music, that are the main draw. Two of the sequences are more-or-less direct parodies of their Disney counterparts. The opening piece, “Prélude à l'après-midi d'un faune” by Debussy, apes “The Pastoral Symphony” segment. Instead of mythological creatures pairing up, the focus is on a lustful old satyr and his tireless, futile pursuit of a nubile young fairy. It’s a fun, if frothy segment, that’s more overtly sexual than its inspiration. A later segment, set to Ravel’s “Bolero,” recalls Fantasia’s the “Rite of Spring.” Bozzetto provides an alternative explanation about how life began in the cosmos. A Coke bottle left behind by a careless astronaut becomes the source of a new life form on a desolate planet, accidentally setting the stage for a new evolutionary chain. A series of diverse and rapidly mutating creatures evolve from this primordial sludge, challenging one another for dominance.
Bozzetto commented that he was fond of saying, “As soon as the music starts, the soul comes in.” Nowhere is this point more evident, than in his poignant, melancholy application of Sibelius’ “Valse Triste.” This segment, which is also the most visually complex and compelling, represents a serious departure from an otherwise light and humorous film. A cat strolls through the abandoned rubble of an apartment house, observing the ghosts of families past. Snippets of live action are skillfully integrated into the animation, portraying flashes of lives that have vanished. It’s never expressly stated why everyone has disappeared (War, poverty, or disease?), but the cat’s fond memories are the only life that remains. As the wrecking ball looms, we’re left to ponder what will become of these memories once there’s no one left to remember them.
The animation in Allegro Non Troppo is uneven, compared to its more esteemed Disney cousin, but that just adds to its charm. In contrast to Fantasia’s approach, with multiple directors and animators, it’s Bozzetto’s vision all the way. His personal, often cynical view of humanity shines through. One of the only missteps in Bozzetto’s film is that the live-action bridging sequences wear out their welcome along the way, threatening to take too much screen time from the animated portions. By the time we reach the latter portion of the film, the framing story has prevailed as the presenter (abandoned by his animator) desperately searches for an ending.
Allegro Non Troppo is much more than a low-rent knockoff of Fantasia, but a full-fledged exploration of the marriage of film and music. It’s no small irony that years later, Disney would utilize Stravinky’s “The Firebird Suite,” * featured in Bozzetto’s film (albeit a different portion of the same musical piece), in a newly created segment for 1999’s re-tooled Fantasia 2000. While Allegro Non Troppo never reaches the heights set by its more illustrious predecessor, Bozzetto honors the legacy of that landmark film, and his work deserves to be better known by the rest of the world.
* On an interesting side note, Disney originally considered “The Firebird Suite” for the first iteration of Fantasia.