The Review: When I was growing up, I had a very fixed perception of animation; understandable, since my niece is currently going through the same diet of wall-to-wall Disney films, there’s just a lot more of them about these days. Thankfully, TV came along with The Simpsons and South Park and showed that animation can take many forms and can have many purposes, but it’s still a rarer occurrence than would be preferable to see something different gain an audience in the field of animated movies. (In the ten years of the animated movie Oscar, for example, there hasn’t been a single truly adult animation nominated, although Waltz With Bashir rightly got into Best Foreign Language.) But Chico & Rita is that rare beast that can deliver a grown-up animation, and feel fresh into the bargain.
The setting for the movie is twofold; a framing device of an old man listening to the music of his youth, which turns out to be literally his music. He’s Chico, a talented young pianist in Havana in the late Forties with an ear for jazz. His eye for the ladies falls on Rita, a singer whose voice enchants him as much as her appearance. They begin to make music together, but so begins a tempestuous love story that takes them from Havana to America, taking in the jazz scene at a pivotal moment in its history, but also reflecting critical developments in the evolution of their homeland.
The movie has a distinctive visual style, using rotoscoping to capture the actors from live action, with the supplementation of computer animation. This gives the movie a more idealised and romanticised feel which perfectly complements the storytelling, but also allows the performances to come through and gives a sense of realism in the emotions. (There’s also something about brief full frontal nudity from animated characters that oddly made me more prudish than live action would have done, but I’m pretty sure that’s just me.)
The story navigates seamlessly between the cities and the timeframes, but the star, other than the scenery and the process, is the music itself. Jazz has a history and a passion that’s made it probably the most influential musical development of the twentieth century (sorry, rock’n’roll, nothing personal, just the way I feel), and this is a love letter to the music wrapped up in a love story that spans decades. If your only knowledge of Tito Fuente is from that famous Simpsons episode, then you need to treat yourself to this pair and their compelling story, for if you do, a genuine and unexpected pleasure awaits you.
Why see it at the cinema: The visuals are lush and overtly cinematic as the journey takes you across countries. But being in a cinema with a good sound system will also give you the chance to fully envelop yourself in the gorgeous soundtrack.
The Score: 8/10