Film Review – Chico & Rita

Chico & Rita Movie PosterOne of the surprises of the 2012 Academy Awards was the nomination of a Spanish film called Chico & Rita (2010) for Best Animated Feature. I’m assuming that not many people have heard of this film, but they should. It is a vibrant, colorful love story that borders near perfection in its music, animation, and narrative skill. Directed by the trio of Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal, and Fernando Trueba, the film does not necessarily push the boundaries of animation, and because of that must rely more on its characterizations and ability to tell an engaging tale—and it does so in the best way possible. Filled from beginning to end with rhythmic Latin beats and cool emotional jazz, the film is very much a melodrama. But don’t let that deter you; yes, the story here is melodramatic, but in the sweetest way possible. We fall in love with the characters just as easily as they fall in love with each other.

The film spans a number of decades and two entirely different worlds. We begin in Havana, Cuba in the late forties, before Fidel Castro and his revolution changed the very way of life for the people. The Havana we see is brimming with excitement and the unexpected: nightclubs are open until the early morning, with music being heard from the street and people dancing the night away. That is where we are introduced to our two main characters. Chico (Eman Xor Oña) is a piano player, but not just any kind of piano player—he is known around town as being one of the best jazz musicians, destined to become famous and successful. He is in desperate need of a singer to join him for a contest that could lead him to a music contract. Enter Rita (Limara Meneses), a beautiful and lively lounge singer whose voice is so mesmerizing it could stop everyone in their tracks. Right from the beginning, we can sense that these two people have undeniable chemistry. Their first meeting is arguably the best scene in the film: early curiosity and flirtation; playfulness; connection; and, finally, expression of their love for one another.

While these early scenes demonstrate the strong bond the two develop, we would not have a story if that was all there was to it. Youth and immaturity stand in the way of our two lovers, and, as a result, the second half of the movie follows both their lives separately as they continue onward to New York, Rita becoming a sensation on stage and screen through the help of her manager Ron (Lenny Mandel), and Chico finally playing around the world with his musical heroes through his friend and partner Ramon (Mario Guerra). Both Rita and Chico, through their mutual love and talent for music, seemed written for success, but both knew that no matter how great they were apart, they would always be greater together. Even when they try moving on with other people, all of their relationships tend to self-destruct. Sometimes you just know when you’re perfectly matched with someone else, even if it’s just on a strictly business level. But can the two find a way to make it work? They had the chance to be happy together once, and that fell apart all too quickly. With both traveling the world and being influenced by powers eager to keep them apart, the effort to bring back what they lost is harder than ever.

Chico & Rita 1

A few words about the animation: I was impressed with how the world that was created was made with an art design that appeared simple and clean, and yet felt very sophisticated and detailed. The colors are bold and lively; each of the characters, props, and backgrounds have thick and sharp lines in an almost cel-shaded kind of design. What appears to be computer-generated enhancing helps create environments full of depth. Objects appear to stand out on their own (without the use of 3D), which allows for camera movements that look similar to how a real camera would move in the real world. Characters move as if they have weight, and I enjoyed the way the animators added just the tiniest bits of detail to specify emotional changes within the characters. It’s quite the accomplishment to know what a hand-drawn character is thinking without ever being told. The use of shading adds to the noir-like tone of the piece. I loved how many of the scenes took place during the night time, and how some scenes featured a simple blue and black palette. But above all, the backgrounds were arguably the best part of the animation. Buildings, rooms, lounges, and bars are all drawn incredibly well; at times I found myself looking past the foreground and admiring the intricacy of everything that stood behind. I almost have an urge to see the film again just to find all the wonderful animated bits I may have missed the first time around.

If Chico & Rita is playing anywhere near where you are, I highly suggested making the effort to see it. Hopefully the Academy Award nomination it has received will generate more attention towards it, because it is well deserved. I completely bought in to the wonderfully sweet and romantic tale of two people trying to find their place in the world, while trying to find a place for each other. It’s refreshing to see an animated film that isn’t striving to appease only children or for a merchandising deal; this is an entirely adult film with adult themes and characters. It runs at a leisurely pace, taking time to sit and examine these people from an inner perspective. But for anyone willing, I believe they would walk away with a fulfilling cinematic experience. By the end, we feel that we have come to grow with both of the characters—that we have experienced two entire lives and witnessed how each interweaves with the other. The love they share feels real, as real as the beautiful music that plays throughout.

Final Grade: A


Allen is a moviegoer based out of Seattle, Washington. His hobbies include dancing, playing the guitar, and, of course, watching movies.

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