AKA: Chico Y Rita
Year Released: 2010
Distributor: GKIDS/New Video
Origin: Spain/USA/UK/Canada/France/Isle of Man/Hungary/Philippines
Running Time: 94 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: 17+
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: La La Land, Amadeus, Sita Sings the Blues, Cadillac Records, Calle 54
-The original Spanish language track was used. In the UK, there is an English dub that features Wendell Pierce, Viola Davis and Mary J. Blige.
-Hilarious in Hindsight: Do you want to know who gave this independently made animated film distribution in the director’s native Spain? Disney. That’s right, everyone. Mickey Mouse offered theatrical distribution in that country for a film with R-rated content.
-Cuban pianist Bebo Valdez scored this film and this was his last major project before passing away at the age of 93 three year after this film was released.
-Chico and Rita won the Best Animated Film Award at the Goya Awards which is Spain’s biggest movie award ceremony. -Co-director Fernando Trueba is also a music producer that has won two Grammys for his studio engineering work. That’s saying nothing about him winning an Oscar for the film Belle Epoque.
Ever since I’ve been posting more content on Iridium Eye, I forced myself to be exposed to more Western animated releases. This comes from me being a former anime snob, so I had to expand my horizons in the realms of animation. My attention came back to Spain for this particular film. After greatly enjoying Wrinkles despite aspects of the plot hitting too close to home given what’s happened to one of my late family members, I thought I would check out another Spanish film straight from GKIDS’s catalog.
Chico and Rita takes place in Havana for a good portion of the film. There’s an older Afro-Cuban man named Chico who listens to a radio station where he hears a jazz song that instantly reminds him of his life decades ago. The story flips to Havana back in the forties when he was a young man and when the entire country of Cuba was a tourist haven during the pre-Castro years of that nation. He’s having a good time and even hangs out with some American tourists. They go to a local bar, and on that fateful night, Chico sees a jazz singer named Rita. She enraptures his heart and he wants to fall in love with her. What makes fate even stranger is that they go to the Tropicana Club where Rita just happens to perform in a band. The pianist of the band no-showed and Chico is pressured to replace him for that night since rumor has it that Chico himself is a talented pianist. He goes on stage and sees a new piece he’s never played before and is able to perform it while jazzing it up which impresses everyone. The music itself has drawn the two jazz musicians together, but Rita ends up getting into American show business where she leaves Cuba. Chico is determined to go New York City where she’s becoming more popular and to clear up any misunderstandings.
One of the first things that certainly caught my eyes, or should I say ears, was the music. I actually started watching this film when I was getting into jazz music (particularly avant-garde jazz). The music was fantastic and really fits the times with mixes of bebop, big band, cool jazz, and Afro-Cuban jazz which was huge in that country back in that time period. Even though I’m not an expert on that musical genre, I do know there was way more effort put into the musicality and historical accuracy compared to other animated movies I’ve seen that incorporated this music such as The Jungle Book and The Aristocats. They even do animated cameos of jazz musicians such as Dizzy Gillespie, Chano Pozo, Tito Puente, and Thelonious Monk to name a few. Sure, they did alter a few things for the story, but I liked how they put effort into the scoring and historical significance of that music.
The characters certainly had a lot going for them. There’s the piano prodigy Chico Valdez who’s completely lovestruck by Rita. He puts a ton of effort into his music and is able to improvise things on the fly just like how he successfully wings it when he sees the score of Ebony Concerto by Igor Stravinsky which would have been a brand new piece at the time he played it. Chico does have some flaws like how he had some troubled previous relationships and with one event that causes him to give up playing the piano as indicated when he listens to the radio and his fingers are in synch with the notes being played. Rita is the singer who has a bit of an attitude. She is impressed with Chico’s piano playing and composition skills, but she can be quite feisty and takes no crap from anyone. She eventually succumbs to being a star in America as starting with a huge misunderstanding with her and Chico. Rita takes the stage name Rita Labelle (no relation to Patti) and is able to get movie deals and her songs played all over the radio. The fame does eventually bite her back in a way she doesn’t expect and the end results are quite sad. There are other characters such as Ramon who’s Chico’s friend. They do so many things together down in Cuba and travel to the Big Apple for his pursuit of Rita. He often fast talks his way in and out of situations and he eventually becomes a talent agent that gives Chico opportunities to be a sideman for famous jazz musicians, yet he has dubious ulterior motives for doing so. The characters certainly came to life here.
Chico and Rita has positive things with the music and characters, but I can’t say I was a huge fan of all of the things presented here. Despite the accuracy with the jazz sounds from the forties and fifties, I found some glaringly obvious historical errors. Despite having America as a co-producing country, some of those people should know better when it came to race relations in that country. One brief scene with Ramon (who’s Afro-Cuban like Chico, Rita, and the real life Chano Pozo) macking on a white woman would’ve gotten him lynched in that time period. The scene with Rita kissing a white man in a film would never happen in that time. Keep in mind, the flashback scenes predate the original Star Trek and that episode where Kirk and Uhura kissing each other sparked outrage and was banned in the South. What makes you think they could pull that off during the Jim Crow era regardless if it was in the North or South? They even resort to a “black guy dies first” moment for an unnamed character (spoilers avoided) which was just stupid especially when even crappy movies and shows from a couple of decades ago made fun of that unfortunate implication. Chico ending up as a shoe-shiner was just facepalm worthy as it plays up obvious servile implications. Besides the racial aspects, I wasn’t as big of a fan of the animation. Chico and Rita has a 2.5D cel-shaded style of animation. It was okay, but I found the CGI to not be coalescent with the backgrounds such as the cars driving around. I also found the scenes where Chico is playing the piano to not synch with the music or look like he was hitting the right notes. I’m not that great at playing keyboards, but even I could tell the animation was off half the time during the piano playing parts of the movie. I felt as though there was squandered potential because of the lack of detail to American culture at that time and with the mixed quality of animation.
This jazzy animated film was nothing special most of the time, but there could have been so many things that could have really improved Chico and Rita. The music as fantastic and I liked the historical accuracy with the different forms of jazz displayed here. The characters do develop over time and the ending with the title characters was certainly heartwarming. However, the lack of detail to race relations in America was just insulting to my intelligence and Chano Pozo’s brief, yet accurate observation of that country in contrast to Cuba during that time period doesn’t negate the other aspects. The animation was really hit or miss especially the CGI used in the film. Chico and Rita could’ve been more than what it was because there was a lot of solid potential throughout this animated film.
Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-2 points if you really like jazz music
Add 1 point if you like romantic stories
Subtract 2 points if historical accuracy means everything to you in period pieces
-Wonderful jazz soundtrack
-The ending will hit you in the feels
-Historical inaccuracy to American race relations in the 40s and 50s
-Variable animation quality
-Rita’s voice actress not being solid in English
Final Score: 6/10 points
Content Warning: This animated film is certainly for older audiences. There’s sex and nudity involved including a full nude shot of Rita after she first sleeps with Chico. One character gets fatally shot and there’s blood all over him. There’s some obscenities thrown around in Spanish and English that can be quite strong. Drug references are abound with drinking, smoking, one character being a marijuana user (even though he gets punked into smoking oregano instead in his joint), and some illegal drugs are planted on someone as a plot to get them deported.
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