Chico & Rita

23 Feb

Title: Chico & Rita
Year: 2012
Directors: Tono Errando, Fernando Trueba and Javier Mariscal
Writers: Ignacion Martínez de Pisón and Fernando Trueba
Starring: Limara Meneses, Eman Xor Oña, Lenny Mandel
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Runtime: 94 min
IMDb Rating: 6.9
Rotten Tomatoes: 93%
Metacritic: 78


The Oscar’s are coming up this Sunday (I’ll post my Predictions post tomorrow) and Rango is considered the front-runner for the Best Animated Feature trophy, and rightfully so since it was the best animated film of 2011. Now, I’ll be fully rooting for and expecting the Gore Verbinski film to pick up the golden man on Sunday night, but I just saw one of its two competitors which I had still to see, Chico & Rita (Cat in Paris is the other one I haven’t seen yet), and while not better than Rango, it’s in that same league of greatness, and I commend the Academy on passing up on Cars 2 to make room for a smaller but more deserving film like this one.

It’s an animated film made for grown-ups and not kids, animated in a dazzling kind of modern art style, with a storytelling that’s miles more sophisticated than what we get in most films nowadays, animated or not. The visuals will hypnotize you, will draw you in, but it’s the music that will really rock your socks, and true fans of that music will be left seriously enchanted. The legendary Bebo Valdés, an iconic Cuban pianist, is the man responsible for the original music you’ll be hearing in this lovely story set in the Cuba of the late forties, as Chico, the young piano player with great ambitions, and Rita, the woman with the looks and the voice, begin a story in which love and music will get them from Cuba to New York to Paris, and that will really get to you as an audience.

When you realize that this one got a nomination over the mo-cap The Adventures of Tintin (which I gave an A- to), or the CGI Cars 2 (a B) or the traditionally-drawn Winnie the Pooh (a B+) you may think that, animation-wise, those films may have the upper hand, but it’s the story and the music that make Chico & Rita stand out, and that the animation is so simple works to its advantage because it allows you to fall deeper into the story its telling. Because the story really is brilliant, a romance tinged with tragedy that’s really compelling to watch; and the music, oh the music, it takes you through a tour of the evolution of jazz music, complete with animated cameos by Thelonius Monk, Cole Porter, and a slew of others that will make any audiophile’s heart leap with joy.

The tragedy of the love story comes from the fact that, though they love each other, Chico and Rita can’t seem to find to right time to be together. When they’re together they’re at their best, and yet that can’t seem to happen; Chico resorts to cheating on her when she’s not around, pride and ambition become obstacles, it seems like it’s not to be even though they’re so right together. The story is just so awesome, the Cuban entertainment industry of the time ran by American gangsters, Chico meeting Rita and winning a talent competition that results in a contract and a hit record as they’re managed by the conniving Ramon. Going to New York where Chico’s two-timing begins, Rita jetting off to Vegas and ruining a show because she’s drunk.

This is all told in flashbacks by Chico who we see as the film opens as a shoe shiner, so we know it didn’t end up all that happily for him. And even if the story’s problems, the obstacles they face and the stuff that goes on, may at times seem a bit too calculated and not all that realistic that’s fine because you get the gist that it’s not as though that was an intention; co-director Fernando Trueba himself said the film was meant to mimic a tragic bolero love song, and as that it seriously succeeds, the colors and moving animation as well as the incredible music used to perfection to punctuate the myriad of emotions, it’s just so beautifully done that the realism of the story doesn’t matter because it becomes something more.

It also proves that this year’s Oscars will really be all about another time. From Midnight in Paris to Hugo to The Artist, this one joins the ranks of those films as far as exacting nostalgia for a different era, with New York at the time in which jazz was the coolest thing to listen to, Paris at the time in which playing the streets was awesome, Vegas when it really was Vegas; Chico & Rita gets you drooling over those awesome backdrops as seen through the gorgeous music it has to score them. The music gets you as involve in this love story as you would in any live-action you can think about; in an ideal world this would have been the big box-office draw for Valentine’s Day.

Chico & Rita has a bit of sexiness to it, both thanks to its love story and thanks to its music, and even though it’s of course so specifically rooted in one geographical location, it has a sense of universality to it because we can all relate to loving someone else and loving music. And, as is usually the case when we get hand-drawn, two-dimensional animated films nowadays, we’re reminded why we were enchanted by them just a few years ago, and even though the wonders of computer animation are awesome and can accomplish really superb things. This is a magical little film and I’m seriously glad I got a chance to enjoy it.

Grade: A-


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