Ever heard of “Mr. Rossi”? Do the names “Vip” or “Mini Vip” mean anything to you? What about “West and Soda”? If any of these names ring a bell for you, then you are probably also familiar with Bruno Bozzetto, a legend in Italian animation. Seen as one of the world’s most influential animators and the father of animated cartoons in Italy, Bozzetto spoke with CampiglIO at his home at the foot of the Brenta Dolomites. He has a particular fondness for Madonna di Campiglio, where some of his greatest ideas came about, inspired by the soothing effects of nature and then translated into stories that would make you laugh while also making you think, stories about the meaning of life, the flaws in humanity, and the failures of contemporary society, but with a touch of poetry and a refined sense of humor.
When and how did Madonna di Campiglio become a home away from home for the Bozzetto family?
Contrary to popular belief, I was the one who introduced my father, Umberto, to Campiglio. It was during college, 1963-1964 or maybe earlier, when I came to the Brenta Dolomites with some classmates to ski. At the end of those days of fun in the snow, I remember saying, “Campiglio is a wonderful place.” This piqued my father’s curiosity, so the next year we came here together and stayed at the Golf Hotel for our summer vacation. As a veteran of the Italian alpine military corps and a lover of the mountains, he began to explore the area and discovered its beauty and its wonders. Soon he fell in love with the place and built a home here. My parents helped me a great deal in life. My father, in particular, who built cameras and was a genius with technology, was of great importance to me. My creativity is my own, but all that concerns the technical side of things, and my approach to life, came from him.
What draws you to the mountains and to nature?
I’ve always seen nature as being the best place to think, to imagine, to generate ideas, and to create stories. I owe 80% of my creativity to the mountains. I remember, in the past, the old single-seat chairlifts. As I enjoyed a moment of calm immersed in nature, no interruptions from cellphones, which didn’t exist at the time, I could give free rein to my thoughts and my creativity. And since I spent my whole life in Campiglio, I can truly say that Campiglio inspired most of my work. I experienced the mountains in full with my father on a number of great outings. We had a little jeep, which we would take up the Grostè, and from there we would head out on hikes. Then, after he had passed away, about twenty years ago I discovered windsurfing, and the mountains were put on a bit of a back burner.
So the mountains are something of a muse for you?
The idea for Mister Tao (which won a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival in 1990), one of my most important films, was inspired specifically by my hikes in the mountains with my father. He would walk in front of me, and spending even up to four or five hours watching him hike and listening to his steps, one after the other—boom, boom, boom—made me realize that life is all about moving forward. So I came up with Mister Tao, climbing a mountain up to the summit, and from there he kept going higher, up to heaven, where he met and talked with God and then kept going even higher, beyond God.
Bruno Bozzetto created over 1,400 comics for Corriere della Sera featuring Mr. RossiThis film expresses a concept that has always fascinated me and that is common to us all: life is about climbing, about moving forward. In other words, to me, living is evolving, constantly transforming. The story of Mister Tao is also tied to a very specific, unforgettable outing with my father on the Bocchette when, at about the halfway point, it started pouring down rain, and we had to keep going under that freezing rain as it penetrated our clothes, right down to the skin. We were practically frozen.
I see that paper and pencil have given way to a tablet and stylus.
It’s an extraordinary tool that enables me to draw wherever I am, in any moment, without having to carry around a bunch of paper and art supplies. Technology fascinates me, so long as we know how to use it and don’t allow it to take control. Nowadays, we have inventions that have never been seen before in the history of humanity. The problem is that it’s too much, too fast, and we aren’t able to truly assimilate it. We see technology as a game, a distraction, when in reality it’s useful, but to know how to use it in the right way, we need to get past this stage of fun and distraction. We don’t have to use it all the time, as if it were some sort of a game, but only when we need it and when it helps us.
How might a Mr. Rossi be today?
These days, in the studio, we’re thinking about bringing him back and making other films, but it’s not easy. Mr. Rossi has two faces that have never been reconciled: his true face, from when he was born, as a caricature of modern man and our customs, mixed with some humorous, satirical elements that only an adult would understand; and another that is more geared to a younger audience, which is more commonly the target of animated films. Mr. Rossi wasn’t created for kids, but when, after six or seven films, the industry realized how lovable the character was, we had to adapt him for an animated series. So with Maurizio [Nichetti], we gave Mr. Rossi a dog, Gastone, and created stories that maintained subtle elements geared to adults while, at the same time, being adventures that children could enjoy. Now, for these new stories that we want to create, we still need to keep the young audience in mind while, at the same time, putting in something that can keep me happy, like, for example, allowing me to critique the world in which we are living today, full of electronics and detached from time. For this reason, we are pondering a sort of split between Mr. Rossi and Gastone, the dog.
Animated cartoons or comics?
Comic strips have nothing to do with animation. Comics are to animation as photography is to cinema. Both are fascinating, but they are also very different. Looking at a comic gets the brain working. Take a comic strip of Snoopy sleeping under the stars; we watch him and it’s as if we’ve spent the night with him. And we give the voice to Snoopy and to Charlie Brown to create the story in our minds. My father, who was also great at coming up with one-liners, used to say, “When you go to the movies, you leave your brain in the lobby.” Movies give us everything pre-packaged, whereas a comic is like reading a book. I loved Dino Buzzati and read The Tartar Steppe eleven times. When the film adaptation [The Desert of the Tartars] came out, I was first in line to go see it, but I left the theater after just ten minutes. I didn’t recognize the characters’ voices because they weren’t how I had imagined them. It wasn’t until four years later, after letting my readings and the film adaptation settle in my mind, that I saw it again and was able to enjoy it. This is why I tell people to read, because reading develops imagination and the mind, so you can reason and create.
You’ve witnessed Campiglio change over time. What are your thoughts on that?
Change is inevitable. It’s all about how you manage it, and I don’t think change here in Campiglio was managed in the way it should have been and could have been. There are places in the Alps that have managed to stay truer to their identity and spirit, architecturally and in other ways; others a bit less. I would add, though, that at a certain point, after years of explosive urbanization, we have begun to protect and care for this place that I still find to be beautiful and where I always return quite happily. By the way, this winter I tried the new sled run. I went down it like a madman and had a great time!
Bruno Bozzetto was born in Milan in 1938 and currently lives in Bergamo. From a very young age, he showed a great passion for drawing. The father of animated cinema in Italy, an illustrator and director, and among the best recognized authors internationally, he created his first animated short, Tapum! La storia delle armi (Tapum! The History of Weapons), which garnered great popular and critical acclaim. He would go on to create animated films and short subjects and earned him awards and recognition at film festivals around the world. In 1960, he founded Bruno Bozzetto Films. With West and Soda, VIP: My Brother Superman, and Allegro Non Troppo, he offered up a version of animated cinema for adults. In 1990, he was awarded a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival for his animated film Mister Tao and was nominated for an Oscar the following year for his animated short Grasshoppers (Cavallette). Bozzetto created Mr. Rossi (Signor Rossi), who represented the average Italian man dealing with the highs and lows of contemporary society. He has collaborated on the television series Quark with Piero Angela, producing some 200 animated shorts for the broadcast. In 2007, the University of Bergamo awarded him an honorary degree in Art & Entertainment Theory, Technique and Management. From November 2013 to March 2014, the Walt Disney Family Museum in San Francisco held the exhibit “Bruno Bozzetto: Animation, Maestro!”, a retrospective on the career of this great Italian cartoonist. In 2017, Marco Bonfanti directed the documentary Bozzetto Non Troppo, which looked at the life and work of Bruno Bozzetto. Today, Bozzetto is the founder and director of Studio Bozzetto & Co.