Thursday, 20 June 2019 06:05 GMT

'Bears' Famous Invasion' a classic animation at its best

(MENAFN - Arab Times)
The Bears - Famous Invasion of Sicily

A feature-length narrative film

classic Italian children's book from 1945 gets an update in master illustrator
Lorenzo Mattotti's feature debut, 'The Bears' Famous Invasion of Sicily'.
Beautifully drawn with bold colors and appealing shapes, the film's style is
classic animation at its best, clear and pleasing, calculated to charm children
and adults alike. The revised storyline, however, about how bears and humans
clash, make amends, and then realize they're too different to live together,
can lead to unfortunate and inadvertent interpretations neither Mattotti nor
the original author Dino Buzzati intended. In addition, the narrative's pace,
whizzing by from one scene to the next, frustrates an adult's desire to relish
the often-striking images, making the film most suitable for kids incapable of
critically engaging with metaphor.

'The Bears' Famous Invasion'
first appeared in print toward the end of World War 2, written and illustrated
by the multi-talented Buzzati, whose novel 'The Tartar Steppe' was adapted by
Valerio Zurlini for his 1976 masterpiece 'The Desert of the Tartars'. As usual
with children's stories created by intellectuals (think Jean de Brunhoff's
'Babar' and Antoine de Saint-Exupery's 'The Little Prince'), the book was ripe
for interpretation: Was it saying that mankind had become so venal and
corrupted that there's no redemption? Was it a specifically political metaphor,
creating an opposition between communists (the bears) and capitalists (the
humans)? Given the way the world has changed in three-quarters of a century,
what's the message now, and is there a danger of it being misinterpreted?

Mattotti and his fellow
screenwriters made numerous changes to the storyline, largely to streamline the
plot and make it more suitable to a feature-length narrative film. They've
added a framing structure in the form of an itinerant showman, Gedeone (Antonio
Albanese), and his young assistant Almerina (Linda Caridi), who seek shelter
from the winter cold in a cave, and accidentally awaken an old hibernating bear
(Andrea Camilleri). To ensure he remains friendly, Gedeone and Almerina
entertain him with a story from long ago, before bears (apart from this one)
disappeared completely from Sicily.


Back then, bears lived in the
woods guided by their king Leonzio (Toni Servillo). When his son Tonio (Alberto
Boubakar Malanchino) gets swept down the river and captured by humans,
Leonzio's grief is overwhelming and he neglects his duties as leader. Winter
sneaks up on the bears before they've had a chance to store up food, so it's
proposed they go to the town where they can eat and look for Tonio. The nasty
Grand Duke (Corrado Invernizzi) assumes it's an invasion and sets his troops
against the bears, who are temporarily helped by the ruler's sycophantic wizard
De Ambrosiis (Maurizio Lombardi) after the Grand Duke abuses him once too

The battle scenes are enchanting,
as in the moment when packs of wild boars suddenly turn into balloons and float
away, or later when the bears send enormous snowballs down a series of cliffs,
each scene beautifully imagined in primary colors. Ultimately, Tonio is found
in a circus, the Grand Duke is overthrown, and bears and humans live
harmoniously with Leonzio as the King of Sicily. Concord is short-lived
however, as some of the bears become corrupted by the worst of human traits and
the animals return to the forest: After all, bears are bears and men are men,
and mixing only leads to strife.

the problem in a nutshell: separate but equal? For Americans, the concept has
an unfortunate ring, redolent of segregation. In addition, given the heinous
rhetoric coming from anti-immigration politicians in Europe as well as the US,
the notion of 'invaders' entering a city, intermingling, and then leaving en
masse (resulting in a bear-less Sicily) has ill-timed connotations. This
certainly wasn't Mattotti's intent; indeed, it's likely his idea was to show
the damaging nature of humans in relation to their environment, implying that
though some people are good, the bad ones have an infectious effect that's best
isolated. Yet given the opportunity for misinterpretation, it's a shame the
filmmakers didn't find a way of reworking the story to ensure the taint of
anti-immigration rhetoric couldn't be applied to what's designed as a
children's tale.

Though this is Mattotti's first
feature film, he's justly celebrated for his inventive illustrations, which
include scores of memorable covers for The New Yorker magazine, as well as
posters, comics, illustrated books, and a short film featured in the animated
omnibus 'Fear(s) of the Dark.' The pictorial concept of 'Bears' is unmistakably
his own, with diverse influences ranging from Renaissance painting to
Expressionism and De Chirico (the latter also an important influence on
Buzzati's work). Unfussy shapes in warm colors have a delightful rhythmic flow
while holding their own equally well as frame grabs. Eliminating a few scenes
and elongating others would have allowed for a deeper appreciation of the
imaginative visual treats. (RTRS)

By Jay Weissberg


'Bears' Famous Invasion' a classic animation at its best


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