152. ALLEGRO NON TROPPO (1976)

“My idea was to have an orchestra in complete contrast to Disney’s. I saw Fantasia eleven times at the movies as a child. I loved the visuals but I didn’t really care much for the live-action sequences, the stylized orchestra, all the lights. It seemed too elegant, too refined. So to do something rather shabby and wacky, the exact opposite, I thought would work.”–Bruno Bozzetto

Recommended

DIRECTED BY: Bruno Bozzetto

FEATURING: Maurizio Micheli, Néstor Garay, Maurizio Nichetti

PLOT: A film producer in an empty concert hall announces he will soon present something unprecedented and original—animations scored to classical music—and insists on continuing even after getting an angry call from Hollywood. An orchestra of old women is assembled and a cartoonist is released from a dungeon and ordered to draw illustrations in real time as the band plays. We then see the cartoons—a faun pining for a nymph, creatures that evolve from a coke bottle, the domestic fantasies of a stray cat—set to compositions by Dvorack, Ravel and others, with comic sketches set in the orchestra hall in between the featurettes.

Still from Allegro non Troppo (1976)

BACKGROUND:

  • The phrase “allegro non troppo” is a musical direction literally meaning “fast, but not too fast.” “Allegro” also means happy, upbeat or cheerful in Italian, so the title could be read as a pun suggesting that the movie is lighthearted, but not saccharine.
  • Animator Bruno Bozzetto began his career making shorts and commercials. In 1965, his West and Soda was the first Italian feature-length animation film in over twenty years.
  • Allegro Non Troppo did not fare well in Italian theaters. According to animator Giuseppe Laganà, there were approximately forty people at the premiere: thirty of the cast and crew, five film critics, and only five paying customers. Bozzetto later complained that Italian audiences weren’t interested in seeing cartoons unless the name “Disney” was attached.
  • The character the artist draws on a sheet of paper during dinner is Signor Rossi, Bozzetto’s most popular creation, who would have been familiar to Italian audiences (though not as familiar as Mickey Mouse).

INDELIBLE IMAGE: As tempted as I am to select the live-action scene of the gorilla attempting to do a Cossack dance in the orchestra pit, or the drawing of the boob tree (a tree with breast fruit hanging heavy off a nude torso trunk, as envisioned by a horny hallucinating satyr), I have to concede that the march of the mutating dinosaurs to Ravel’s “Bolero” is certain to be the memory that sticks in your mind’s eye through the years.

WHAT MAKES IT WEIRD: This compilation of animated sonatas featuring satyrs, devils and dinosaurs traipsing through colorful post-psychedelic landscapes might not have been odd enough to place the movie on the List of the 366 Best Weird Films of All Time if not for the equally bizarre black and white slapstick intermezzi featuring a sleazy promoter, a bully conductor, a harried artist and an all-female geriatric orchestra. It helps that the music is transcendent and the animation witty, but throw in a guy in a gorilla suit and the deal is sealed.


Italian DVD trailer for Allegro Non Troppo

COMMENTS: Bruno Bozzetto very wisely addresses the surface similarities between his movie and Disney’s more famous animated classical music showcase, Fantasia, right up front. Allegro Non Troppo‘s producer, a Philistine promoter who wears a flamboyant paisley sports coat, has never heard of it, or of “Prisney” or “Grisney.” (Later, we find out he also doesn’t know who composed Ravel’s “Bolero”). He assures us that what we’re about to see is an unprecedented synesthesic experience, a chance to see music and hear drawings. With his debt to Disney acknowledged and out of the way, we can get on to enjoying a completely different take on the idea of illustrated music. Where Disney was innocent, Bozzetto is sexy; yet, while being more adult, he’s simultaneously more whimsical than the sometimes self-important Fantasia. Part of the difference in approach comes from the difference in resources. Whereas Fantasia was clearly a massive collaboration encompassing many different styles of animation and storytelling, Allegro Non Troppo bears the stamp of a single author throughout. (Actually, Allegro credits twenty-nine animators, which sounds like a lot until you compare Fantasia‘s count of well over one hundred). Allegro‘s illustrations look like pastel colored pencil sketches, as opposed to Disney’s glowing cell-animation canvases. While Fantasia is doubtlessly the more impressive and (I think) the better work, there’s something charming about Allegro Non Troppo‘s smaller scale and its cheerful willingness to stand in the giant’s shadow.

The informality of the humbler Allegro is reinforced in the host segments; in Fantasia, a formal orchestra is briefly seen in regal silhouettes. In Allegro we are first introduced to the money-grubbing producer, then the dictatorial cigar-chomping conductor, who brings in an orchestra of old women dressed like flappers (they play instruments like the slide-whistle and the mandolin). The ladies are kept caged like cattle when they’re not performing, while the animator is found hanging from irons on the wall of a dungeon. These backstage scenes (which are presented in black and white to contrast with the color animations) are full of slapstick routines, like the fact that the animator can’t keep his inkwell from sliding off his tilted easel. At one point, without explanation, a gorilla invades the set; this sequences ends, somehow, in a dance number, while it snows in the orchestra pit. The put-upon animator is asked to improvise all of his sketches in real time; fortunately for him, he is also able to bring his doodles to life and use them to bedevil the conductor, whose foil he quickly and happily becomes. All of this is presented with the utmost silliness, and the frequent violence is performed with the seriousness of a Three Stooges routine. Even beating up grannies is lighthearted fun in Allegro Non Troppo.

Like Fantasia, there is a bias in the song selection towards the post-Classical composers, whose less structured, more free-flowing programmatic compositions lend themselves better to being adapted to stories. The one exception is one of the least impressive of the six animations here: the featherweight tale of a bee whose dinner is interrupted by a couple of humans making love in the grass is scored to a short Vivaldi concerto. Another piece—Antonín Dvořák’s “Slavonic Dance No. 7,” used to illustrate a short fable about conformity—is similarly brief, and similarly forgettable. “Forgettable” is not a term that would be used to describe the four longer pieces, however. In the most serious and saddest of the set, scored to Sibelius’ “Valse Triste,” a stray cat wanders around a burnt-out ruins, imagining that he sees a welcoming lap and happy family, only to find the mirages dissolve when he approaches them. This segment reduces the old ladies to tears, and viewers at home often find their eyes dampening as they watch. Bozzetto’s visualization of Debussy’s “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” actually involves a faun, a horny little fellow who’s feeling his age but still likes to chase the nymphs. The ambitious scenario for Stravinsky’s “Firebird” (or “Dostoevsky’s Firebird,” as the producer calls it) involves a variant telling of the story of the Garden of Eden, with Adam and Eve passing on the apple and the snake swallowing it instead. The most memorable and successful of the pieces is Bozetto’s take on Ravel’s repetitive, ever-ascending “Bolero.” Here, unicellular creatures form from out of a discarded Coke bottle. They morph and mutate, splitting off from one another and gradually growing into a large procession of dinosaur creatures who march through a landscape littered with volcanoes, tornadoes, and a nasty apelike creature who develops a penchant for clubbing his fellow creatures over the head.

Allegro Non Troppo may not be able to compete with Fantasia in terms of grandeur, so it does so instead with risk-taking imagination. Although Bozzetto’s style is emphatically “cartoonish,” at times it resembles other weird animations like Fantastic Planet (in “Bolero”‘s bizarre alien creatures) or Yellow Submarine (in the mixing of tinted photographic backgrounds with animated figures). Bozzetto’s color choices are often startling. For example, the lands the faun bounds across are constantly changing colors—sometimes deep purple against a pink and lavender sky, other times a greenish-blue with a white glow on the horizon of a red sky. The kitty cat’s imagination is a riot of swirling psychedelic colors; apparently the inside of the feline mind looks like an explosion in a tie-dye factory. Some of the weirdest imagery appears in the “Firebird” sketch: we see an eye in a pyramid surrounded by a chasing-light marquee (this is Bozzetto’s representation of the Almighty). In a brief claymation interlude, we then see some of God’s early mistakes, such as the creature who’s nothing but a hand attached to a foot. The consequence of the snake eating the forbidden fruit is a surreal montage where he’s threatened by pastel-colored demons who torment him for his sins with symbols of our modern world: he’s buried under a barrage of consumer products, menaced by a traffic jam that turns into a giant serpent, and is almost smothered to death by giant breasts that emerge from TV screens. And of course, movie as eccentric as Allegro Non Troppo couldn’t end in a conventional note; instead, after the animator has drawn himself out of the picture, the producer calls up “Frankescini” and asks him to pull a finale from the archives; the hunchback monster then screens about a dozen mini-cartoons (including a Tom and Jerry parody and a literal lip-lock that looks like an early Plymptoon) in search of a suitable ending (he finally settles on nuclear annihilation).

Allegro Non Troppo is almost always described by reviewers as a parody of Fantasia. I hate that characterization. It’s belittling. These musical offerings bear the stamp of Bozzetto’s personality and sensibilities; they aren’t faux-Disney scribbles trotted out for the sake of mockery. People will inevitably see nods and  references to the earlier movie, whether they were intended or not. Yes, there dinosaurs star in segments in both films; true, a centaur shows up in the “Faun” sequence. But the similarities end quickly. The tones of the two movies are completely opposed; even putting aside the horny fauns and frolicking nymphs, a change-of-pace episode like the cat wandering through the rubble would have been too heavy and traumatic for Uncle Walt’s movie. Disney owns no copyright on the idea of drawing pictures to accompany classical music compositions. Allegro Non Troppo shouldn’t be knocked for being derivative; on the contrary, I think we all should be upset that more artists haven’t taken up the challenge to visualize the masterpieces of the great composers. Surely Disney and Bozzetto haven’t exhausted all the possibilities in this mini-genre in just three movies (counting Fantasia 2000). What about cartoons to accompany classic jazz sides? Get on it, animators of the future: there’s a whole world of musical culture just waiting to be repurposed.

WHAT THE CRITICS SAY:

“Both weird and wonderful, Allegro Non Troppo deserves a standing ovation.”–Phil Hall, Wired (DVD)

“…’outrageous’ is the word for this whole film.”–Chris Hicks, Deseret News (DVD)

“…every bit [a]s weird, experimental, and vaguely inappropriate as you would expect… a real mess, drawn with all the subtlety of a shovel and hopelessly dated by its 1970s style.”–Christopher Null (DVD) (originally published at filmcritic.com)

IMDB LINK: Allegro Non Troppo (1976)

OTHER LINKS OF INTEREST:

Bozetto.com – Feature films – Bruno Bozetto’s home page (in English) doesn’t contain a lot of information about Allegro Non Troppo in particular, but there are lots of nuggets about the animator

Bruno Bozetti’s Youtube Channel – Some newer short works by Bozzetti can be seen here in their entirety

DVD INFO: Americans’ primary exposure to Allegro Non Troppo on DVD comes from the (out of print) 2004 Homevision release (buy). Besides the movie, it features an 40-minute profile of Bruno Bozetto’s career done for Milan TV station. While this provides interesting background on a figure not familiar to most non-Italians, more substantial extras come in the form of ten complete animated shorts, an hour’s worth of bonus cartoons, including one where animated men react to a live-action striptease (one guy gets so wound up when the lady removes her thong that he takes out a handgun and shoots his own crotch!) The only downside to these bonus features is there are no subtitles (not a problem for “Striptease,” and the others are not dialogue heavy either). The more recent San Paolo release (buy) is in print and it is a Region 0 disc, but North Americans beware before buying: be sure your DVD player can handle the PAL format (many cannot). A 50 minute interview is the only confirmed extra on this disc.

There is no Blu-ray release of Allegro Non Troppo yet, but Bozzetto says he is trying to put one together.

(This movie was nominated for review by “Kengo” who said it was “better than Fantasia and not afraid of sex.” Suggest a weird movie of your own here.)

3 thoughts on “152. ALLEGRO NON TROPPO (1976)”

  1. The title of “Allegro non troppo” not only refers to the mood of the film, but also to its notion of progress and civilization: “Fast, but not too fast”. Also, I consider the real producer to the show is really the conductor guy. The greasy character next to him is just the show host on his payroll, being as oily and phoney as any cheap TV host. The gorilla’s appearance is not really unexplained, he’s the evil ape that’s escaped from the “Bolero” sequence just before.

    And what certainly secures this film’s place in my personal list of weird movies is that when I first saw it, I was experiencing a bad trip from pot laced by someone with what I guess from the symptomes was angel dust.

    I didn’t know NTSC and PAL are still issues for DVD players, rather than the numerical region coding. So far, I haven’t come upon a DVD player, no matter how cheap, that wasn’t able to convert region-free NTSC disks into a PAL signal on their outgoing socket.

  2. Looking for a animation video I once saw on television. It was the full 16.minutes of Maurice Revel’s ” Bolero ” featured in repeating fractal-like yellow submarine cartoon (Beatles) imagery . I can’t remember if it was a music video played while listening to a classical radio music station on a TV subscription. I can’t seem to find it on the Internet, or You Tube . Any help would be appreciated

    Thank You
    P. J. Guillen
    10/27/2015
    Lifestyle76mc@yahoo.com

  3. I saw Allegro Non Troppo in a theatre when it first came out. It was more or less my introduction to classical music. It’s one of those films that I never tire of viewing.

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