Top Italo toonster Enzo d’Alo (“The Gull and the Cat,” “The Blue Arrow”) brings a warm-hearted, charming tale to Christmas screens with “Opopomoz.” Avoiding the abstraction of his 2001 “Momo and the Conquest of Time,” film is evenly divided between a Neapolitan family setting and a fantasy world entered by the 9-year-old protag. Though greatly overshadowed on its Dec. 5 opening by BVI’s “Finding Nemo,” pic may sell more tix as parents and bimbi look for a second film to see. Outside the co-producing countries of Italy, Spain and France, film’s Christian overtones and marked Neapolitan setting will prove either selling points or limitations.
Veteran scriptwriters Furio Scarpelli and his son Giacomo join d’Alo in concocting what seems to be a complex idea, but which is so simply and repetitively illustrated that even the youngest viewers will be able follow it.
As Christmas approaches and Naples lights up in celebration for the birth of Jesus, little Rocco feels increasingly jealous due to the imminent birth of a baby brother. His young parents don’t notice his unhappiness, but three little devils sent to Earth by Satan single him out for a special temptation.
The devils promise Rocco if he will stop baby Jesus from being born on Christmas Eve by saying the magic word “opopomoz” and thereby entering the elaborate Nativity scene his father has built, his brother will never be born and he will remain an only child. Singing Pino Daniele tunes, the trio of comically inept sprites gets the idea across pretty clearly.
They vie for screen time with Rocco’s loving parents, his American uncle John (a former Marine who fell in love with Naples) and his spunky 3-year-old cousin, Sara. But film doesn’t really take off until Rocco gives in to temptation and shrinks to the size of the shepherds and other figurines in the Nativity scene. The landscape turns to pure fantasy, he meets Mary and Joseph on their way to Bethlehem, and he continues his adventure with Sara, who’s also used the magic word.
Rocco and the Disney-ish devils are rather bland; otherwise, character creator Walter Cavazzuti has come up with some highly individual inventions — the fearsome, shape-changing Satan is particularly memorable.
Set designer Michel Fuzellier is brilliantly inspired by 18th-century Nativities which reached an artistic peak in Naples. The film may be aimed at under-10s, but adults will appreciate the cultural breadth behind it.