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Parental heads up: This film does include a few scenes with female nudity. This is not a film aimed at kids. Please be advised about these facts if you choose to watch this with children around. Enjoy the review!
Last year, I really wanted to review this movie, Chico & Rita, because it’s one of the few animated films that I can think of that is a romance. Sure, romance can be seen throughout most animated films, but for the genre of film to be solely romance is rare. Maybe it’s because romance-focused films are hard to do without coming off as schmaltzy and corny, but rarely do you see one in animated form. Chico & Rita, a film made in Spain, directed by Fernando Trueba, Javier Mariscal, and Tono Errando, was brought over in 2012 by GKids, and was one of the animated films nominated for Best Animated Feature. Now then, since it’s February, how good is this romance of jazz and discrimination? Well, let’s find out.
The main part of the story takes place in the 1940s, and follows the tale of two individuals from Cuba. One of the characters is named Chico, a very talented pianist, and the other is Rita, a beautiful woman with a great singing voice. After encountering each other one night, they are dropped into a story of love, trust, jazz, history, and race that combine into an emotional whirlwind of an experience.
So, what makes this romance film so much more interesting than many that come out today? To me, the biggest problem with romance films these days comes from a few things. First off, the books on which the films are based are pulpy garbage, where the writer may or may not be aware of how dumb the plot is, or how terrible the characters are. Secondly, the characters may be written or developed as boring placeholders for the readers, or complete idiots or unlikable psychos. Most modern romance films are terrible, because they don’t focus on good characters or stories. Just adapt a book and see what C list actors you can get for them. And yeah, I’m not saying there was a prime time for good romance movies, but still. Now that I’ve gotten this rambling out of the way, what does Chico & Rita do right? It has two characters with a fairly realistic chemistry and romance. They aren’t just the typical romance story couple. They do argue, and can both be very selfish for what they feel like the relationship should be like. As much as everyone would love the perfect, no-problem marriage, for the most part that doesn’t exist. People are flawed, and there are going to be problems. Chico wants the romance to be forever, and more about the music and being together. Rita wants the romance to work, but also wants to make music her career, and that might come at the cost of leaving Chico behind. Chico will get realistically upset, when it does seem like he’s being used for Rita’s gain as the agent character in the film is more interested in getting her a career and not helping out Chico. Romance can definitely be hard, as this was during the 1940s, not an easy time to be someone from Cuba. Racism, discrimination, immigration, love, music, and passion are definitely trials that the two will have to deal with. It helps that Chico and Rita have such good chemistry with each other and the other characters. It’s not a sappy romance story. It might have some of those elements, and I will talk about them later, but the overall romantic experience feels refreshing.
The animation is fantastic. The entire look of the film reminds me of those murals you would see on the side of buildings. The colors are bright, and I think the movements were done with rotoscope, where they trace over actual people to be more fluid. I know some people have pointed out that rotoscoping can lead to some weird movements and expressions, but it’s done well here. Everyone moves smoothly, and it doesn’t distract from the more serious or comedic moments. Of course, this film would be mediocre if the music wasn’t good, and luckily, the music is impressive. It’s easily one of the highlights of the film, and is the reason you pick up the version of this film with the Latin Grammy-winning soundtrack included. The soundtrack was done by the five-time Grammy-winning Cuban pianist, Bebo Valdes. It captures that period in time perfectly, and I love listening to the soundtrack. The songs range from slow and subdued melodies to jazzy and energized tunes. If you love the soundtrack to films like Chef, then you definitely need to get the soundtrack for this film. Chico & Rita even has cameos and songs from other musicians like Thelonious Monk, Charlie Parker, Cole Porter, Dizzy Gilespie, Woody Herman, Tito Puente, and Chano Pozo to name just a few of them. If you are a music lover, or love music from this time period, you owe it to yourself to watch this movie.
I will say the biggest problem I have with the film is Rita’s agent. He’s rather forgettable and one-note, which is sad, since the overall film is really complex and multi-layered. I also have a few nitpicks, like I feel like the film does avoid a majority of the romance movie traps, with the exception of the ending. It will either be romantic or a big cop-out, depending on your mood.
In terms of animation, Chico & Rita is one of the most unique and original films that I have ever seen. It’s easily one of the most mature films GKids has distributed. Sure, it is English subtitles only, but you will look past that element, because of the great writing and animation. If you love music, and want a romance film that’s different than what you usually see, then by all means go purchase the 3 Disc Special Edition that comes with the soundtrack. Well, now that we have touched upon a musical about romance, how about we talk about a new movie that I love, The LEGO Batman Movie? Thanks for reading, and I will see you all next time!