MPAA Rating: NR
Directors: Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal, and Fernando Trueba
FilmPulse Score: 8/10
In the digital age, I would venture a guess that the majority of people are more familiar with digital animation than with hand drawn. While both styles are aesthetically pleasing, there is something special about a hand drawn film. Oscar nominated Chico & Rita manages, beautifully, to combine the best of both mediums, relying on the clean, precise appearance of digital animation, while maintaining the whimsical artfulness of traditional hand drawn animation.
The film opens with a glimpse of an elderly Chico. When an old song plays on the radio, it leaves Chico feeling nostalgic. The film moves back in time through Chico’s memories to Havana during the jazz age. At a club, Chico meets the sultry singer, Rita. Their meeting is not cute – far from it; Chico, with his “Yankee” date, is painfully awkward around Rita, coming off as obvious and off-putting. But their shared interest in music – she a singer, he a pianist – helps to spur the relationship that dominates the film. The film follows the couple as they move to New York, full of dreams and aspirations of making it big in the music industry. Through the years, their relationship undergoes a series of changes and mishaps. The strained relationship of Chico and Rita feels startlingly authentic and I found the narrative to be much more realistic than the typical love story. The characters embody a heartfelt personality, and always remain deeply full of passion and emotion.
Watching it, I couldn’t help but feel that Chico & Rita felt almost like the Walt Disney films of my childhood re-imagined for an adult audience. Like many of the Disney films I grew up on, the film is a love story, set in an exotic and magical world. The animation style, while undoubtedly fresh and unique, also resembles the playful hand drawn animation of earlier Disney. Additionally, the prominent role of music in the film reminded me of the magical scores behind the familiar Disney love stories. What makes Chico & Rita so special is its effortless ability to combine the realism of adulthood with the playfulness of an animated film.
It is notable, I believe that the film opens on a nostalgic Chico, while the film itself seems to be created out of a strong sense of nostalgia. The thematic elements of 1940’s Havana, jazz, and a swinging New York City portray a uniqueness that most viewers cannot experience beyond the film – we have no memories, so our experiences are based solely on those of others’, like Chico’s. Yet I believe the nostalgia of the film is not only for an earlier time, but also for a simpler style of animated film built around stories and characters, instead of slick animation and digital effects. Chico & Rita does not disappoint in this regard.
This is a thoroughly enjoyable film, full of interesting characters and places. The music, which helps to drive the story and is an integral part of the film, is perfectly used throughout. The parallel between the jazz soundtrack and the beautifully flowing artwork is unmistakable. Viewers will find themselves rooting for Chico and Rita to the end; it’s easy to sympathize with their struggles and relate to their desires and disappointments. Full of soul, Chico & Rita will stay with you for a long time, and when it’s over, you may find yourself feeling just a bit nostalgic for it.