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Psychedelic Screwball: The Films of Italian Director Bruno Bozzetto

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)

Alpha-Omega (1961)

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)

Ego (1969)

‪Il Signor Rossi al Safari fotografico (‬Mr. Rossi on a Photo Safari, 1971)

Opera (1973, co-directed with Guido Manuli)

Self Service (1974)

  • Mac

    Never learned about this guy at the high church of cartoon. What an inspiration. Tremendous post.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      He is certainly someone to really look out for if you can.

  • JP

    I’ve long been a big fan of Bruno Bozzetto. I got hooked on his Signor Rossi films as a child, and I’ve since tried to learn more about his other work and the man, himself, as an artist.

    Through his website, I’ve been in touch with his daughters over the years — hoping they might consider an English-language (specifically a U.S. DVD release) of the Signor Rossi features. (I even wrote to Jerry seeking advice on how to best make this happen!)

    Thank you, Amid, for raising awareness of this great animator’s body of work. Hopefully it can spark an interest in these films outside of Europe so that a new generation of fans, collectors, and academians can have better access to Bozzetto’s work.

  • Antonio Marques

    “Vip, My Brother Superman” had an English dub produced by Halas & Batchelor (not 100% sure on that part so don’t take my word for it) under the title “The Super-Vips”. As can be expected, some changes were made: some instrumental cues were muted out. One or two scenes (i.e., the beach scene) were partially or completely snipped out, etc. A few years back, a murky, semi-watchable print of this was released by dollar-DVD distributor “Digiview” and I have that copy. Thanks for posting the original, uncut version of VIP. Now if only we had some English subs to go with it…

    • Chris Sobieniak

      That version that DigiView had was copied from a LaserDisc released by Lumivision in the 90’s. I had that release.

      I wasn’t sure who was involved in the dub though I kinda assumed it was some American company (the only other thing I saw Lady Stearn Robinson’s name for was Dodo The Kid From Outer Space that Halas & Batchelor did too). The Italian DVD which I do have does include English subtitles for the movie as well for Bozzetto’s interview included on the disc!

      • Stéphane Dumas

        “Vip, my brother Superman”, talk about a blast from the past! It’s been ages then I didn’t saw that animated movie. The last time I saw it was in the early-to-mid 1980s on French CBC in Canada.

        That and my Goldorak(UFO Robot Grendizer) DVD set then I receiced as a Christmas gift, I got lots of good times. :-)

  • Laura

    I’m proud to say I’ve worked in his studio for a while : )

  • Always been a fan of Bozzetto’s cartoons. Thanks for writing this post.

  • This is a fantastic post! Thanks!

  • Glen

    Brilliant. Thank you!

  • Michel Van

    Bruno Bozzetto is a wonderful Animator. He has the unique talent to combine humor with social criticism – like in Self Service or EGO. He personifies the typical common man with Mr Rossi and at same time offers social criticism on man’s role in Western culture.

  • Thank you for sharing these and this post.

  • I would like to see a post about Bozzetto’s after Allegro Non Troppo works, with films like “Cavallette”, “Mister tao”, “Drop” and his latest Flash films, where he shows how he keeps renewing himself also thanks to severe productive limitations

  • I was a big fan of Bruno Bozzetto’s cartoons as a kid. I sought them out after seeing one of his Mr. Rossi shorts. The Mr. Rossi feature length films (Mr. Rossi Looks for Happiness, Mr. Rossi’s Dreams, Mr. Rossi’s Vacation) are a lot of fun, too. I ended up recording them on VHS and watching them repeatedly. Not sure how easy they are to find on DVD these days. Thanks for this post, I’m surprised how overlooked his work is.

  • Well, if you do not have problems in watching region ” DVDs, here you can buy the three animated features, a DVD of shorts and all the Signor Rossi’s features and shorts:

  • Sorry, I meant “region 2”

  • Lucas

    Great post, I really love it! Bozzetto has a surprising fantasy and a huge talent in finding out truth in situations of everyday life. As a philosopher would, but he manages to do all this making you smile.