LOCARNO FILM FESTIVAL 2021 REVIEW! Director/animator Alessandro Rak continues to elevate his game with Yaya e Lennie: The Walking Liberty, the third feature film from Italian animation studio Rak & Scop. With a stunningly unique visual style, Rak takes familiar elements and places them in an animated world that initially resembles the classic Disney style of the late 1980s but is accentuated with lush texture and detail that breathes in every frame.
Headstrong teenage Yaya (Fabiola Balestriere) is navigating life in a post-apocalyptic future that transformed Naples into a lush tropical rainforest. She is accompanied by the lumbering Lennie (Ciro Priello), who, like his literary namesake, is a mentally challenged hulk of a human. They are fiercely loyal to one another but prone to bickering as they navigate this rather primitive landscape and evade a militarized group known as The Institution, promising to restore order to citizens.
But lurking within the depths of the thick jungle beats the heart of a band of revolutionaries. These members of the resistance are determined to live free from the rigid societal structures The Institution seeks to enforce. But Yaya and Lennie don’t seem to fit into either faction and enjoy the fluidity of life and are not carefully inserted into a predetermined slot.
“…they navigate this rather primitive landscape and evade a militarized group known as The Institution…”
Having been weaned on Disney sanctioned hand-drawn features for decades, one might think that the narrative of Yaya e Lennie: The Walking Liberty is cut-and-dry: the Institution is evil, and the freedom fighters are heroes. But just as we witness the textured, vibrant style of the animation, it becomes evident that the characterizations are far more nuanced as well. For example, when Lennie is injured, it is none other than the modernized medicine of The Institution that helps him recover. Additionally, the revolutionaries appear, at times, to be far too idealistic to maintain any sort of lasting society beyond momentary happiness. However, Rak’s screenplay does not plunge too deeply into its polemic and keeps the action beats bouncing onto its next sequence.
The voice actors are all enthusiastic without bubbling over into cartoon territory, delivering the right amount of emotion when need be. But it is the construction of the futuristic landscape where the film truly stuns. Set in the distant future, we see what appear to be advanced appliances of today (televisions, stoves) that have been replaced with encroaching vegetation and wildlife. It is a world that feels both futuristic and primal, with Rak’s animation team accentuating each scene with bursts of color and detail.
The filmmaker does make the curious choice of peppering the film with obscenities throughout. It’s an odd decision, as the focus on friendship, individuality, hope, and the environment would seem to resonate with children without dulling its political edge at all. Still, Yaya e Lennie: The Walking Liberty remains a stunning visual achievement that seamlessly melds traditional 2-D animation with computer-generated flourishes throughout. In addition, it further solidifies Rak & Scop as a contender in the global animation market as they blaze a path as fiercely independent as their lead characters.
Yaya e Lennie: The Walking Liberty screened at the 2021 Locarno Film Festival.
"…solidifies Rak & Scop as a contender in the global animation market..."