There are bears in this story, and they have invaded Sicily- this much is clear. There are also wizards, kings, flying pigs, ghosts, giant cats and many other magical things that are lovely to look at. What are we supposed to make of it, though? The lessons to be learned are a bit messier. The film is based on a children’s book by Italian writer Dino Buzzati, known mostly for work targeted at adults, so could there be a message for adults in there?
The word „invasion” usually suggests a violent takeover, but our Sicilian bear protagonists are significantly more civilised than human beings. They are peaceful, kind and with a strong sense of community. Animated in pleasingly simple shapes, they have their own bear society which is similar to ours, but better; an idealised version of what we could be if we had more respect for nature, perhaps.
When the bears descend into human territory to ask for food and retrieve a kidnapped cub, they are not welcomed in a friendly manner, and it’s clear that we’re meant to root for the bears in the (highly entertaining, and occasionally bloody) conflict that ensues. Further plot developments, though, are a bit more „Animal Farm”-like, with the animals being slowly contaminated by human corruption and decadence.
It’s a slightly strange story, in which the second half complicates the events of the first, but doesn’t fully commit to giving them significantly more depth. It’s as if the filmmakers could not decide if they really want to make a political satire. Can different cultures co-exist and learn from each other? What’s it like to be the ruler of a country you have taken over from its native population? What does „civilisation” actually mean? All of these are slightly touched upon in passing and quickly abandoned.
Perhaps I am simply reading too much into it, and ruining a children’s fairytale. „The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily” is quite original and a lot of fun. The visuals have a toy-like quality, which goes nicely with the story-within-a-story framing. I think there would’ve been a lot more comic potential in exploring the workings of a bear-run society a bit more, but I enjoyed the film a lot, and I’d like to see more of this kind of animated production that has its own style and doesn’t look like any other.
I watched The Bears’ Famous Invasion of Sicily via Leeds International Film Festival Online; the film is still available to UK-based viewers as an on-demand rental until 30 November.