Italians have never excelled at making movies for children, preferring to leave adorable-tyke tales to Americans. “Snowball” is something of a maverick effort, an exotic kidpic put together carefully enough to have good chances (particularly TV and vid) offshore. Distrustful domestic auds gave it a miss, with pic registering less than $ 1 million in its opening two weeks.
Still, as strictly kidpic fare, this tale about how a boy and an oldster team up to save a giant white dolphin has its points. One of them is Cristiano Pogany’s pleasant cinematography of the Greek island Santorini and its turquoise sea.
This is where Snowball frolics after he escapes from a swimming pool and his owner, the evil Marcov, hilariously played by Alessandro Haber as a James Bond-style tyrant with a gadget-filled electronic peg-leg. As the situation demands, Marcov uses his metal boot as anything from a mobile phone to a pistol.
Also chasing Snowball is an angry cruise-ship entertainer, Billy Bolla (Paolo Villaggio), whose record of pension payments Snowball has playfully swallowed. Without it Bolla can’t retire, so he plots to capture the animal and make it cough up his treasure. He changes his mind, thanks to smart little Theo (Fabiano Vagnarelli), the lonely son of Marcov’s beautiful maid (Monica Bellucci). Theo and Billy hatch a daring plan to rescue Snowball from Marcov’s villa in a bus-turned-aquarium, joyfully driven by the youngster.
Forced to economize on special effects (resulting in Marcov’s speedboat being blown up behind a big rock), pic wisely focuses on its bright, splashy characters. Villaggio bumbles along amiably, and two Italian beauties of the moment, Bellucci (as Theo’s social-climbing mom) and Anna Falchi (Snowball’s trainer) provide something to look at other than the scenery. Dong Mei Xiao is a laugh as Marcov’s Eastern girlfriend, skilled in the art of massaging his prosthesis. The one overbaked parody is Leo Gullotta’s whining tour guide, Sidik.
Holding the show together is Maurizio Nichetti’s strong directorial hand. Though a far cry from his early wordless cult comedies, which he also starred in , “Snowball” reveals a lot of Nichetti’s cleverness and timing in giving standard scenes a special twist.
Score by Carlo Siliotto (“Flight of the Innocent”) nonchalantly mixes Greek and Asian themes with Bondish ones. Tight editing by Rita Rossi keeps things moving.