CHICO AND RITA – The Review
The following is taken from the film’s review when it was featured as part of the 2011 Stella Artois St. Louis International Film Festival this past November.
CHICO AND RITA is a dazzling, musical feature-length animated film that uses many modern techniques while harkening back to a time, not too long ago, when American studios flirted with the idea of animation geared to more adult stories. Now this is not to say that the great Pixar films don’t have adult themes but their finished stories are “kid-friendly”. Forty years ago Ralph Bakshi was heading the charge for movie cartoons to compete for mature audiences. As Fritz the Cat said in the ads, ” I’m X-rated and animated! “. Soon Bakshi’s toned down th more extreme elements in his features ( ending his run with WIZARDS, AMERICAN POP, and his take on Tolkein ) while other studios explored the territory with WATERSHIP DOWN and HEAVY METAL. American audiences never embraced these as they did in Asia and Europe. With C&R the artists are tackling an old fashioned show biz rags to riches love story ( having just seen the new BluRay release I was reminded of NEW YORK,NEW YORK ) and giving it some animated energy to go with that bouncy Latin beat.
The film begins in modern day Havana as Chico, an old shoe shine man, returns to his simple apartment. He tunes in his battered radio to a classic music station and listens to one of his old melodies. His mind flashes back to 1948. Then he was a promising young jazz pianist who, along with his bandmate Ramon, are giving two American “chicas ‘ a whirlwind tour of Cuban hot spots. When they enter a small nightclub, Chico is stunned by the talent and beauty of a young singer named Rita. Over the next few years the two form a professional and personal partnership. They make great music, fight, break-up, reunite, and pursue their dreams. Eventually they separate and Chico travels to New York, Las Vegas, and Hollywood to be with his dream girl as her star quickly rises.
The story is told primarily through the medium of hand-drawn 2-D animation ( as opposed to the CGI molded stars like Shrek ). The human characters are simply designed with a minimum of details and linework. Like a live-action film the camera does zoom in slowly on them for dramatic effect. Now, this is not to say that computers were not used here, The intricate background drawings are separated into levels and given a rounded quality as are the gorgeous vintage autos. This is very effective as the principals race through those sixty year old neon streets. Caricature is also used to establish the settings. We get to hear and see several musical greats from Woody Herman to Charlie Parker to Nat King Cole ( is that Desi Arnaz singing at a funeral? ). During a fantasy dream sequence Rita’s dancing with Astaire and romanced by Bogart. As I stated earlier this is really an adult story. There’s some rough language, drug use, smoking, full nudity, and a mob-style shoot out. We even get a bit of history with the Cuban revolution and segregation ( the two leads are dark-skinned Cubans ). This film is a treat for the eyes and ears that doesn’t forget the heart. It’s no wonder that this was one of the five nominees for Best Animated Feature Film at the 20212 Oscars.
Rating: 4.5 Out of 5 Stars
CHICO AND RITA plays exclusively in the St. Louis area at Landmark’s Tivoli Theatre