The first feature-length animated cartoon to be produced in Italy in almost 20 years (last was Bruno Bozzetto’s 1977 “Allegro Non Troppo”), “The Blue Arrow” is a major European co-production based on the Italian legend of the Befana, a kind of good witch of Christmas who gives Santa-surfeited kids an additional round of presents on Jan. 6. Simply drawn but delightful, this carefully crafted pic incorporates a message favoring poor and honest children over the rich and spoiled. It has been presold to many territories, where it should find appreciative moppet audiences, provided it isn’t released to compete head-on with the Xmas Disney picture.
Story recounts how one year Italian kids risked not getting any gifts from the Befana. She was sick in bed, unaware that her evil assistant Dr. Scarafoni planned to sell her presents instead of giving them away. Scarafoni tells the poor orphan Francesco he’ll never get the Blue Arrow train he longs for. But the toys rebel and, led by the stuffed dog Spicciola, take to the snowy streets to deliver themselves to worthy children.
Making his feature directing debut, Enzo d’Alo, a specialist in young children’s TV, skillfully makes the simple characters and magical toys from Gianni Rodari’s novel spring to life on the screen. Chief animator Paolo Cardoni shuns elaborate drawings in favor of a slightly retro style recalling French cartoons of the ’30s in which the characters have dots for eyes. A sparkling music score by famed Italo folk singer Paolo Conte strives to follow the cartoon’s warm and cool colors, which give the film a rhythm alternating between inviting heated interiors and the cold white streets where the toys look for Francesco.
Four years in the making, “The Blue Arrow” employed animators from Italy, Switzerland, Luxembourg, Slovakia, Canada and other countries. Coordinating efforts was producer Maria Fares at Italy’s prize-winning animation studio Lanterna Magica, whose offshoot company Cartoonia handled the advanced digital shooting on the film and many special effects. English-language version uses neutral Canadian accents. Italian version boasts the voices of famed stage thesps Dario Fo and Lella Costa.