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One of the biggest problems with covering foreign animated features is a real lack of access to these films. You would think after so many of them getting nominated for awards, companies would be going head over heels to bring these films over. I recently wrote about the fact that there needs to be more companies like GKIDS, Shout! Factory, and LAAF out there bringing these films over. Luckily, with Neon picking up Flee and Magnolia picking up Cryptozoo, it means there will be more distributors putting their hats into the ring of foreign animation distribution to the US of A. One good thing about the pandemic is that film festivals, which would originally be offline and in person, are now all going digital. This is a great way for people to be able to see these films without having to resort to other means like importing them to view. I hope this situation continues because there needs to be a way for people to see films like The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily.
Directed by Lorenzo Mattotti, this CGI/2D animated feature is based on the book, The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily by Dino Buzzati. It was shown at Annecy 2018 in the Work-in-Progress section and was fully shown off at Annecy 2019. Unfortunately, the production company behind the film, Prima Linea, shut down and that’s just a real bummer because it probably killed some avenues for it to be brought over, but I hope that it can be brought over to the states by another company. Anyway, let’s see if it should come over because as we have seen, not every foreign animated film is instantly better than the films from the US.
The story starts us off with a traveling entertainment duo named Almerina, voiced by Leila Bekhti, and Gedeone, voiced by Thomas Bidegain. After taking shelter in a cave to avoid a snowstorm, they encounter a very large elderly bear and decide to perform a story for said bear. The story they tell is the famous tale of “The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily”. This is when we move into the story of the king of bears Leonzio, voiced by Thierry Hancisse, and his son, Tonio, voiced by Arthur Dupont. While playing in a lake one day catching fish, Tonio is swept away by the water and captured by hunters. Saddened by the potential loss of his son, Leonzio sits on top of a cliff overlooking the valley. When winter arrives, the king still sits on the cliff. Sadly for his clan of bears, they grow hungry and worry about their survival. The eldest bear among the ranks convinces Leonzio that his son could be among the humans. Once convinced, Leonzio takes his clan of bears and marches down the mountains to the city of Sicily to find his son and deal with whatever gets in his way.
I know a lot of my reviews recently have started with talking about the animation side of things, but I have to talk about the animation in this film. It’s a mix of 2D and CGI animation, and it’s some of the most striking visuals I have ever seen. The bountiful color pallet, the grand landscape shots, the surreal designs, the fantastical music that accompanies these visuals make for one of the most visually challenging films in the animation scene. Do you know the term “every frame is a painting”? Well, that describes every single frame of this film. If the Contrechampe section of Annecy is to challenge the perspective of how animation can look, then this film would sweep that category. It’s also one of the more seamless combinations of 2D and CGI that I have seen in European animation. It’s a visual treat if you can’t tell by my gushing about it. It all feels like a storybook brought to life.
However, a film with strong visuals also needs a strong story, and to be fair, this film uses fantasy and dream logic in its story of a civilization of bears invading a human kingdom to find the bear king’s son. Luckily, the story itself has some rather mature themes including death, forgiveness, the nature of humans, the bond between a father and son, anti-war sentiments, and it even has some elements of Animal Farm where the bears take hold of the vices of man. It’s a film that’s juggling plenty of plates, but I think the story was told well enough to not feel too busy or too jarring the transition from story 1 to story 2. It’s a different kind of story from the first to the second half. I didn’t mind it that much, but I can understand if people found it jarring. The performances were also stellar with each of the characters feeling distinct and not just because of the visuals that gave you pretty much all the details of who they were.
The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily is easily one of my favorite animated films of the year so far. With its striking visuals, fairytale-style storytelling that can mix complex themes about the flaws of humanity and corruption alongside a strong father/son dynamic makes it easily one of the most stellar animated experiences I have seen in a long time. It’s also an animated film that hits the target of being a film anyone can enjoy. It’s whimsical for kids, but it has enough of a mature edge to the overall story and themes that older kids and adults can enjoy. Well, next time, I will be talking about the second film I saw at the New York Children’s International Film Festival with the Chinese animated feat known as The Legend of Hei.
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