Certain animation directors are taken for granted due to their sheer consistency and longevity within the art form. Bruno Bozzetto (b. 1938) is prime among that group. If Bozzetto is known at all in the U.S. today, it is for his 1976 animated feature Allegro Non Troppo, an ambitious modernized riff on Disney’s Fantasia. Besides that film, Bozzetto has produced a remarkably solid body of work that is ripe for rediscovery.
Bozzetto started making films in the late-1950s, and he is in many ways the marriage of the smash-’em-up-blow-’em-up Warner Bros. school of animation and the cerebral modern artistry of mid-century UPA animated shorts. Bozzetto merges the best of both worlds: he loves cartoon violence, sex and all that good old-fashioned mayhem, but he combines it with introspection, social commentary, and evocative Sixties pop-psychedelic imagery. His work deserves closer study by contemporary animators, especially those who use software like Flash, Toon Boom and After Effects. His Sixties films serve as a model for how to create smart, energetic and inventive animation within budgetary constraints.
Italian animation historian Giannalberto Bendazzi eloquently summed up Bozzetto’s approach in his book Cartoons: One Hundred Years of Cinema Animation:
Bozzetto’s humor is rooted in American comedy, but with a softened rhythm and a tendency to merge a taste for surrealism with ethical themes. At the center of his work are the neuroses of a society based on consumerism and machines, and the loss of natural, human purity. His comedy, however, is never sulphurous; far from being polemic and slashing, it displays a clever, sharp spirit. Thus he becomes often ironic, donning a lucid pessimism for the human race. The most evident characteristic of Bozzetto’s work is a superb sense of showmanship. Each of his films captures both the eye and the intelligence with rhythms of colors and actions, timing of comic expedients and original fantasy.
Today on Cartoon Brew, we will highlight eleven of Bozzetto’s pre-Allegro Non Troppo films—nine shorts and two features. We start with Bozzetto’s first short, Tapum! The History of Arms, which is a tongue-in-cheek survey of historical weaponry that perhaps owes a debt to Ward Kimball’s Toot Whistle Plunk and Boom. The technical crudeness of Bozzetto’s animation can be forgiven when you consider that he was just 19-years-old when he made the film. In fact, every film presented here was made before Bozzetto had reached the age of 35.
Like any good animation director, Bozzetto dutifully created his own ‘star’: the squat, cartoon modern-esque everyman Mr. Rossi, who is represented below with three shorts. The shorts are designed to entertain, and they do their job with charm to spare, but they’re also laced with a surprising satirical punch. The most biting of the shorts is Mr. Rossi on a Photo Safari, which explores the thin line that separates the Westerner’s infatuation with the African continent and his rape of the region’s resources.
Bozzetto made two features prior to Allegro Non Troppo: the Western parody West and Soda and the superhero send-up Vip, My Superhuman Brother. The features are uneven, but each has its moments, and their offbeat visual style is thoroughly unique among feature-length animation, both for that era and today.
Bozzetto’s growth as a filmmaker becomes evident with his more experimental shorts that led up to Allegro Non Troppo. Those films include Life in a Tin, Ego, Opera and Self Service. Opera was co-directed with Guido Manuli, who was Bozzetto’s talented animation director on many of these films. If I had to pick one short from this later batch, it would be Ego, a psychedelic Sixties nightmare of the subconscious combining ultra-vivid color, pop iconography and optical effects, topped off with a smooth Tropicália-influenced soundtrack by Franco Godi.
Let’s start the show…
Tapum! La storia delle armi (Tapum! The History of Arms, 1958)
Un Oscar per il Signor Rossi (An Oscar for Mr. Rossi, 1960)
FEATURE (excerpt): West and Soda (1965)
Il signor Rossi compra l’automobile (Mr. Rossi Buys a Car, 1966)
Una vita in scatola (A Life in a Tin, 1967)
FEATURE (excerpt): Vip, mio fratello superuomo (Vip, My Superhuman Brother, 1968)
Il Signor Rossi al Safari fotografico (Mr. Rossi on a Photo Safari, 1971)
Opera (1973, co-directed with Guido Manuli)
Self Service (1974)