Despite its sometimes excruciating lapses in taste and invention, the Disney classic "Fantasia" never lacked highlights or a grandiose vision. If anything, it has earned a special place among the legendary overreaching follies of movie history.
"Allegro non troppo," a new feature by Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto, seems piddling in comparison, whether one elects to regard it as homage or parody.
Bozzetto has his hands full trying to stretch this uninspired imitation to feature length. The six animated sequences, set to the music of Debussy, Dvorak, Ravel, Sibelius, Vivaldi and Stravinksy, are framed and bridged by interludes of live-action horseplay surrounding the activities of a crass master of ceremonies, a dreamy animator, a brusque conductor and an orchestra composed of little old ladies.
This makes no parodistic connection with the scenes of Leopold Stokowski conducting the Philadelphia Orchestra or with Deems Taylor's commentary in "Fantasia." It's filler, but since so many of the animated conceits lack enchantment or staying power, the low-comedy filler begins to loom larger than it should. It may account for more slapstick diversion than the animation, surely an unintentional imbalance.
Bozzetts's illustrative ideas are too banal to succeed as knowing or affectionate send-ups of either "Fantasia" or the musical selections. In fact, Bozzetto tends to repeat the mistakes of the worst segments of "Fantasia," favoring smirkly erotic whimsy on one hand and strained, overexplicit epic pretensions on the other.
The first animation sequence, an adaptation of "Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun" in which an aged satyr attempts in vain to disregard and conceal his age, sets a pattern for exhausted sexual humor that may be considered a predominant "theme" of the entertainment. In the final selections, set to Vivaldi's "Concerto in C-Minor" and Stravinsky's "Firebird," a hungry bee takes revenge on an amorous couple whose exertions have interfered with its meal and a serpent in the Garden of Eden endures too much too soon after biting into an apple rejected by a straight-arrow Adam and Eve.
The second animation sequence, set to Dvorak's "Slavic Dance No. 7," illustrates integrity. The sequence is constructed around the idea of an individualist who has to keep inventing faster and faster to avoid the imitative masses in hot pursuit of him. Not a bad premise, and the animation bustles along nicely enough for a while, but the payoff is a raunchy sight gag that completely undercuts the theme.
Ravel's "Bolero" serves for a misguided "Creation of the World" episode in slightly abstract but lugubrious imitation of the "Rite of Spring" episode from "Fantasia," matching the ponderous banality of Disney's conception without equalling the draftsmanship and composition. Bozzetto never approaches the irresistibly silly heights of the "Dance of the Hours" ballet in "Fantasia" or the brilliant effrontery of Bugs Bunny's occasional confrontations with the masters, notably Liszt and Wagner.
Bozzetto lacks both the weight and lightness of the great Hollywood animators, and his musical jokes turns into anticlimactic wheezes with discouraging frequency.