Lorenzo Mattotti’s debut animated feature is an animated feast for the eyes
In his first animated feature, Lorenzo Mattoti delivers one of the most beautiful animated films in years. Not since The Red Turtle, who shares some crew members with The Bears’ Famous Invasion, have we seen such stunning animation, glorious colors and breathtaking landscapes. It is a visual marvel that is not matched by an equally powerful script. Whereas the film will certainly be memorable for its top-notch animation, poetic execution and interesting themes, one wishes it did have a bit more time in the scriptwriting phase to truly deliver a knockout particularly in the payoff of the film. Still, this is one of the must-see animated films of the year and should find curious viewers in film festivals and arthouse cinemas.
The film kicks off in a cave where a magician and his energetic daughter have decided to spend the night. They have come a long way and are heading to the next village to deliver their storytelling show where magic and story combine to deliver a unique experience. In the cave they meet a giant bear who, perhaps out of curiosity, agrees to listen to one of their stories. They speak of a fairytale where bears and men co-exist only to then realize that the world of men has no place for bears.
Leonce is a kind-hearted bear tribe leader who dearly loves his son, Tonio. One day, while fishing, Tonio gets swept by the current and gets kidnapped by two men who take him to Sicily to work in a public circus. Heartbroken, Leonce decides to penetrate Sicily with his bear tribe, in hopes of finding his beloved son. As he eventually finds him, the bears decide to stay in Sicily to co-exist with men. At first, it works out perfectly but the greed, materialism and darkness that plague the world of humans soon make their way to the bears, turning them into power-hungry, indifferent beings. It is then that Leonce, now crowned as the king of Sicily and ruling both humans and bears, decides that the bear tribe should leave Sicily and go back to the mountains where they always belonged.
Mattotti’s film deals with a number of interesting themes that mostly work, except that the payoff comes as slightly rushed and not as powerful as it could have been, a problem that also existed in the other major animated film playing at Cannes: I Lost My Body. Both works are beautifully done and feature important themes, but in the final moments they don’t come together as solidly as expected. What makes Mattotti’s film fresh, from a narrative perspective, is that it’s one of the rare animated films that deals with such themes such as racial stereotypes, materialism and the dangers of powers, typically reserved for adult-fare. However, it does so in accessible, simple ways that does not alienate children. These themes drive the story up until the final act, but because they are wrapped in predictable ways, the film doesn’t stand out story wise as much as it surely stands out in the artistic department.
Despite these flaws, Mattotti delivers an extremely unique film that stays away from the cliché’s that animal characters typically suffer from in animation. The bears are not cute, funny or zany, and that’s the whole point of the film. It humanizes the bears and dehumanizes the humans, and the contrast works well as a parable for what the world has become when compassion is dominated by greed and power.
With elements of magic, ghosts, imagination and fairytales, The Bears’ Famous Invasion is an animated gem worthy of applause and Mattotti is certainly a talent to watch. With a bit of work on the story particularly in the film’s final stretch, what could have been the best animated film at Cannes this year ends up as a superbly crafted, but slightly lacking, animated gem.