Friday, August 24, 2007

Vip, mio fratello superuomo (Vip, My Brother Superman)

It is sad a fact of life that most Americans are not aware of the good, even great, foreign films that have been made since the advent of film. This is even more true of animated feature films. Indeed, for the most part I seriously doubt the average American can even name very many animated movies beyond the Disney oeuvre, a few Ralph Bakshi titles, and more recent films from other studios.

Nowhere is this fact more tragic than with regards to an Italian, animated feature released in 1968 entitled Vip, mio fratello superuomo (Vip, My Brother Superman to we Anglophones). Vip, My Brother Superman was the second feature film made by animator Bruno Bozzetto. Born in Milan, Bozzetto is Italy's greatest animator, his fame having spread far beyond his native country. Bozzetto is known throughout Europe, not just for his feature films but for his most famous creation, Signor Rossi (Mister Rossi to we Anglophones). The star of seven shorts and three feature films, Signor Rossi is as well known in Europe as Bugs Bunny or Mickey Mouse are in the English speaking world. In the United States, Bruno Bozzetto is perhaps best known for the feature film Allegro non troppo, his 1977 homage/parody of Disney's Fantasia.

For those who have seen Allegro non troppo, Vip, mio fratello superuomo does for superheros what that film did for Disney movies. Quite simply, it is a hilarious send up of the genre. In Vip, My Brother Superman, the Vips are a line of superhumans who have defended humanity throughout the ages. The last of the line are two brothers: Supervip, who looks like the typical superhero complete with such powers as superhuman strength and the ability to fly, and Minivip, who is near sighted, short, and lacks any sort of super powers beyond the ability to fly a few feet off the ground. The Vips stumble upon a nefarious plot by the crazed supermarket tycoon Happy Betty, a plot which could threaten the entire world.

As might be expected, Vip, mio fratello superuomo gets a good deal of mileage out of parodying superheroics. Minivip not only lacks any extraordinary powers, but is not particularly the most agile person around either. Supervip is about as straight laced as they come, so much so that a kiss from a pretty girl can drive him up the wall. Indeed, it is the relationship between the two brothers that makes much of the movie so enjoyable. Although they look nothing alike and one of them lacks super powers of any sort, Supervip and Minivip are very close and compliment each other perfectly. Quite simply, while Supervip is the brawn, Minivip is the brain.

It should also come as no surprise that Bozzetto doesn't save all of this barbs for the superhero genre alone. Indeed, while Vip, My Brother Superman is perhaps best described as a supehero parody, its fiercest attacks are made on our consumerist culture and the mass production it takes to maintain that consumerist culture. Of course, Bozzetto also takes aim at a number of other targets, among them psychiatry, commercialism, and celebrity worship.

Vip, mio fratello superuomo is certainly a departure from the Disney style of cel animation to which most people are accustomed. Indeed, Bozzetto's style at this point in his career is decidely late Sixties. There is such an array of textures and colours that the film could almost, but not quite, be described as "psychedelic." In fact, one of the best things about the movie is the design of its characters and its backgrounds. That having been said, in some respects its animation is also the downfall of Vip, My Brother Superman. At times it seems a bit too limited. Here it should perhaps be kept in mind that Bozzetto was not working with the sort of budgets that Disney had on their films. Given what he had to work with, it may be a wonder that the animation is as good as it is.

Sadly, Vip, My Brother Superman is not widely available in the United States. I found it on one of those dollar DVDs so common at WalMarts and supermarkets. In fact, I think it is available on more than one dollar DVD, one of them under the title The Super Vips (a title under which it was released here in the States at one point). For those who want a much better DVD of the movie, the official version is available through import (complete with English subtitles).

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