The cartoon they showed me on my last night on Earth


When I was 9 I became seriously ill with a very severe case of bronchitis that wouldn’t respond to antibiotics.

I developed an extremely high fever (105 at one point) and was hospitalized. I actually don’t remember very much about it. I drifted in out and of consciousness for two or three days. They called my dad, who was on reserve duty across the world in England. It took him over 24 hours to fly from London to Rome, to Singapore, to Sydney and then to Auckland. They told him he better come quick because his daughter was dying.

Of course, they didn’t tell ME that. No one ever said anything to ME about “dying” until well afterward. But, the fact was the infection was raging in my lungs and threatening to kill me. At one point, they told my mum that if the antibiotics didn’t take hold, I might not last the night.

Again, I heard none of this. There was no melodrama for me. Just bad dreams, short periods of consciousness, being both hot and cold at the same time and not being able to move. I kept having bad dreams that I was strapped down to the bed and locked up in an asylum. In reality, I was simply so weak, I couldn’t move. They put a tube in my side to drain the fluid collecting in one of my lungs (I still have a nasty scar that looks like a birthmark). I remember my side hurting horribly and the horrible stench of infection.

I remember being surrounded with balloons and stuffed animals. Lotsa, lotsa, LOTSA stuffed animals. I was sleeping amid a zoo of plush.


At one point, they brought some videotapes of cartoons. It was a bunch of cartoons I had seen — a lot of Dr. Suess — but there was an odd one I had never seen. I nodded I wanted to watch that one.

They put the movie in and I immediately fell asleep, but woke up right as a long movement of music began playing. It was a really long crescendo, and it was a cartoon about evolution. A little drop of slime in a Coke bottle turns into a bug, then a fish, then dinosaurs. I managed to stay awake for the whole 15-minute cartoon. I was fascinated by how the dinosaurs danced to the music. Then, I fell asleep.

My da showed up in the middle of the night, exhausted from his 10,000-mile trip. He came into my room in his H.M. Royal Marine camouflage uniform (so out of place in a hospital room) and being the doofus he was, actually woke me up (I think he was afraid I was dead). I was so happy to see him, and he was so handsome in his uniform. And my fever was gone. While I had slept, it had dropped from 104 to 99. The antibiotics had taken hold. I was so mad when the nurse made him leave the room.

In the morning, I was still very very weak and couldn’t even sit up. I was in a lot of pain from the tube in my side (my da MADE the hospital drug me with morphine. Actually ordered them to do it.), but I was better. I suddenly realized I had scored the biggest bonanza of stuffed animals on the North Island. I must have had 50 new dolls and plush animals. My favourite was a stuffed kangaroo. I even had a plush Cat in the Hat hat that bugged the nurses but I still wore anyway. I got lots of sherbert, but strawberry was the only flavour the hospital had.

I asked about the cartoon, and no one remembered it. I didn’t persist; I probably should have.

Over the years, I  wondered what that music was, and what the cartoon was. I never forgot it. Many years later, a movie was on TV and the same music came on. Oh my God, that’s the same piece of music in that cartoon they showed me in the hospital.

The movie on TV was “10.” And the song was “Bolero” by Maurice Ravel. So, I knew that much. I knew what the music was. When most people hear Bolero, they think of 10. When I hear Bolero, I think of this odd cartoon. One day, I Googled “Bolero” and “Dinosaurs” and “cartoon.” I found out the name of the cartoon was “Allegro Non Troppo,” by a very famous Italian animator Bruno Bozzetto. It was a very rare and difficult movie to find.

Many, many, many years later, we were in a funky record store in town; a place that actually carries vinyl records and really old Pixies, MeatPuppets and Black Flag CDs. I walked by a wall of DVDs and I suddenly recognized something.

I actually let out a gasp. The cover was the beginning of the dinosaur scene, a Coke bottle that had been thrown out of a rocket ship. It was that cartoon from the hospital. It was  “Allegro Non Troppo,” sitting right there in a store in our town. It was only $9! Oh my God, I couldn’t wait to get it home.

Sure enough, it was the same movie. I actually bawled and bawled during the dinosaur part. It brought back such a flood of memories, a weird mix of painful and happy memories. I realized I associated that cartoon with seeing my dad again in that dark hospital room. Yeah, they weren’t telling me I was dying, but I could tell in the looks in their eyes something was pretty wrong. I was scared deep down inside, until I went from sleeping to watching this cartoon to sleeping to waking up without a fever with my da in the room.

It’s actually a very dark and gloomy movie; one scene with an orphaned kitten is especially sad. But, this is the 13-minute sequence I love most.

Bolero by Maurice Ravel and Bruno Bozzetto.

Allegro Non Troppo “Bolero”

15 thoughts on “The cartoon they showed me on my last night on Earth”

  1. Most excellent story Haruko. So glad your father showed up to save you…uniform and all. How touching.

  2. I had such chills reading this! I saw “Allegro non Troppo” in a theater back in the 70’s and loved it. I knew that Allegro meant brisk, lively, gay and that non troppo means ‘not too much’ from my music lessons and Bolero is exactly that. I, too, have memories of fevered dreams from my childhood that were very similar but instead of being ‘strapped to the bed’ mine involved floating on an endless slab of ice. Oh, and there was a train crashing through also.

  3. Awesome story, Haruko. Both moving and well-told. I am very glad I did not see that animation until I was older. My parents watched the “Yellow Submarine” when I was very little, and I developed a phobia of Peter Max that lasts to this day. Thank you for sharing this. Your family sounds like wonderful people.

    1. Yes, I saw it when I was little and I was quite frightened of the giant Abraham Lincolns.

  4. Bittersweet account. I don’t recall if you have mention it before but is your dad still with you? If he is you should share this with him actually this is something you should be proud to share with your family. I wish I had some pleasant recollection from my week long bout with Pneumonia.

    I feel bad that your family had to deal with the possible outcome but infinitely happy that you did not kick the bucket because I have a valued friend I get to ban daily on my blog.

    Better than anything Pepe has written 😈

    1. Thank you, Jack. Smiley

      Interesting about me and my da. At that point in my life, he was literally God to me.

      Later, we fought a lot in my teens, but after I moved away, we are closer than ever. He realizes he was wrong about a lot of things and I realize I was wrong about a lot of things. He is actually a sweet man, just kind of a butthead, kind of like someone I live with. 😀

  5. Excellent story-telling, Haruko! Kudos to you. I can’t handle that music. I heard it once and knew immediately why it drove Ravel insane. I have seen parts of that cartoon, too. Again, GOOD job!

  6. Glad you decided to stay around and keep us all in line 😉

    Thanks for sharing this part of yourself with us, Haru. It’s what makes you special – well, that and the “take no prisoners” ‘tude 🙂

    (( DUCK ))

  7. have an amazing ability with your writing.
    i am glad you made the journey back….hope you have many other stories to share

    I too almost died, and I can relate to your story to a certain level…the bonanza of toys…unfortunately, I had to leave a lot behind for the other children that were not so lucky to go home…but had to stay longer in the hospital.

    Thank you so much for sharing.

  8. This had made my day. I am so happy that I have found this piece of animation…..this piece of memory that was stored in my head for many years. I recently turned 40 and can honestly say I saw this piece of animation only one time ever, as a young child of seven or eight. My memory is that I was standing in the middle of the sitting room on my own and was not only drawn to the cartoon on the t.v, but in a short time, the music too. I can only say that the feeling I had within me was so unique, though I was so young, is a feeling that I have never forgotten. It was uplifting and I felt strange inside, an feeling I can`t quit fully explain here. Almost sad and happy all at once ie the closest description I can come up with. I feel so emotionally now having watched it for the first time in over thirty years. Years later I learned that the music was indeed the Bolero, but only now have I seen who created it and I am almost back to that exact feeling I had back in I believe 1979/1980 approx. Thanks a million for your post and your story had made me so happy. Some one out there had the same uplifting experience that I had. There is a higher power out there alright, whatever it may be. I like to simply call it `The Power`.

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