Since the dawn of time, mighty super-beings known as “VIPs” have fought to protect the weak and downtrodden. In the prehistoric past we see a many-headed Dino-VIP save a pink-clad girl dinosaur, while a masked ape VIP rescues a monkey maiden from a monster menace. So it goes through Medieval Times and the Wild West, until the present day when Boffo VIP chose not to marry a super-girl, but a girl who worked in a supermarket instead.
Their unprecedented union produces two very different offspring: Super-VIP, who is super-strong, invulnerable and flies faster than a speeding bullet, and his puny, bespectacled brother Mini-VIP (voiced by [Oreste Lionello). He can fly a little with his tiny bat-wings, but remains hopelessly weak and pathetic, suffering from an understandable inferiority complex. Poor Mini-VIP seeks to calm his nerves with a relaxing ocean cruise, but winds up shipwrecked alongside a surprisingly friendly lion. Beneath this fancy dress costume is Lisa (Fiorella Betti), a lovely anthropology student writing a thesis on VIPs. Together they stumble upon the island hideout of Happy Betty (Lidia Simoneschi), “the Supermarket Queen”, who schemes to turn all of humanity into remote-controlled zombies that will shop mindlessly at her supermarket chain.
VIP: Mio Fratello Superuomo was the second feature-length animated film from Bruno Bozzetto, following his western parody West and Soda (1965). Although Fantasia spoof, Allegro non troppo (1976) remains his best known work, British viewers might remember his charming Mr. Rossi serials that used to crop up on kids’ TV from time to time, which include Mr. Rossi Looks for Happiness (1976), Mr. Rossi’s Dreams (1977) and Mr. Rossi Takes a Vacation (1977). Many of his animations have a satirical bent and so it is with VIP which attacks consumerism and our increasingly mechanized society.
Bozzetto’s zany pop art style recalls UPA or Sixties underground comics, but has a warmth and vitality of its own. A hectic plot bounces from one slapstick incident to another with sight gags and funny animal bit players like poker-playing mice, a sunbathing crocodile and chatty birds who gossip like housewives, plus playful sexuality when Lisa strips down to a skimpy bikini that sends Super-VIP gaga. The film misses a comic trick by pairing Lisa with Super-VIP, after early scenes establish a surreal comic relationship between Mini-VIP and the gal in the lion costume. Midway through, Lisa flies off for a romantic interlude with Super-VIP, leaving Mini-VIP to fend off the bad guys and find romance with neurotic little Nervustrella (Micaela Esdra). You can’t help thinking things might have been funnier the other way around.
In fact, Super-VIP was imposed on Bozzetto by his American co-financiers, who wanted a more vigorous superhero to counteract klutzy Mini-VIP. Its tempting to theorise this relationship pokes fun at European anxieties over America’s post-war boom, especially since Super-VIP lives inside the head of the Statue of Liberty. Nevertheless, Super-VIP genuinely cares for his weaker brother and the film takes as many digs at Teutonic efficiency as American consumerism, since the cartel of international shareholders allied with Happy Betty includes several Germans, plus comedy henchman Schultz (Pino Lochi).
Having worked in advertising, Bozzetto makes no secret of his disdain for the industry. While sneaking through Happy Betty’s hideout, Mini-VIP stumbles across a room full of scary singing zombies (“Shop! Shop! Shop!”), while a lengthy set-piece details her plans for a fully automated lifestyle. Midget minions proceed a huge conveyor belt where they are fed (one grain of rice with a choice of toppings!), lulled to sleep (whacked with a hammer!), sexually sated (robot women ruffle their hair!), or taken on split-second holidays (shown picture postcards!) with the aim towards inducing maximum productivity. Bozzetto is on safer ground when satirizing advertising, but blames all social ills on progress. There is more to progress than mindless consumerism, which leaves his argument rather one-sided. Features a seriously infectious jazz-pop score by Franco Goddi and John Gregory.