Christmas in Literature and Film: Gianni Rodari, La Freccia Azzurra

A cover of the Russian edition
of tales by Gianni Rodari

La Freccia Azzurra (The Adventures of the Blue Arrow in English) is one of the books by the Italian author Gianni Rodari that I adored as a child. Even though he was better known in the USSR for his story of Cipollino (i.e. the Little Onion) that was even commemorated in ballet, I personally loved La Torta in Cielo (A Cake in the Sky, quite literally). This in part had to do with delicious illustrations in my book that made the cake look not merely edible, but actually desirable.

La Freccia Azzurra is a Christmas story at its best, in that it is touching, beautiful, and magical, while also promoting the “eternal” values of justice, kindness, and friendship. The train called “The Blue Arrow” escapes the shop of the old fairy and makes its way along the snowy streets to deliver presents to the kids from poor families. Rodari does not avoid pointing out to the fact that presents cost money, and thus poor children would unlikely be able to afford them. Yet he does not put the pressure of making amends on the shoulders of the fairy. Rather, he invests the toys with the human ability to recognise and fight injustice.

Illustrations to La Freccia Azzurra

On their way the toys stay with children they choose to be with, and I possibly find this the most touching element because it overturns the usual process of people choosing objects: in Rodari’s story, it is toys, not children or their parents, that make the choice. This also makes for a perfect fairy tale, as it is in such magical story would we have inanimate objects acquiring the ability to move, speak, and feel. Yet the element that is often associated with the fairy tale is that it should end; there always appears to be a boundary between the fairy tale world and the “real” world. In the case with La Freccia Azzurra, the magic forever becomes a part of the real world when a little teddy dog turns into a real puppy.

Update: my mum sent me a few illustrations from the book I used to read. They are on the left and right in the passages above.

Still image from La Freccia Azzurra

Even from what I wrote The Adventures of the Blue Arrow looks like a welcome departure from the traditional Scrooge. In 1996 it was lovingly adapted to the screen by the Italian animators, headed by Enzo d’Alò. The full-length animated feature was in fact a European production featuring work from 400 artists from such countries as Czech Republic, Denmark, Spain, Portugal, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, in addition to the Italian crew. The composer is a renowned Paolo Conte. Giannalberto Beldazzi over at Animation World Magazine has more about technical aspects of making La Freccia Azzurra and on how it fits contemporary Italian animation landscape (the picture on the left is courtesy of AWM).

I have never seen the cartoon before, and luckily for us, it is presently available online. Regardless of whether or not you know Italian or have read Rodari’s fairy tale, I hope you have pleasure watching it. And the Russian-speaking readers can access the Russian translation.

As for other languages, here are two French links: more information on production from Cinema Parlant and a synopsis and a few lovely screenshots from Planete Jeuness. Now, if you are in Belgium on December 24, you can watch La Fleche Bleue on TV. I cannot remember making a TV programme announcement on this blog before, so here goes.

And those who read in Spanish should benefit from the article by Beatriz Helena Robledo, Gianni Rodari: un defensor de la vida. In author’s words, ‘La flecha azul… es… una de la obras mas ermosas de Rodari‘ (one of the most beautiful works by Rodari – JD). I wholeheartedly agree.

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