Watching this nostalgic love letter to Cuba, jazz, and enduring passion unfold, I was struck by how little the medium of animation is used to tell serious adult stories. "Chico & Rita," therefore, benefits greatly from this straightforward and unorthodox approach. Had the exact same screenplay been filmed with live actors, I think the tale might have been equally compelling. But there is something about the simplicity and beauty of the hand drawn passages that really evokes an artistic vibe. And as the movie is an homage to an era, a culture, and an art form, it's fascinating to see this world come alive as if from thin air. "Chico & Rita" was Oscar nominated as Best Animated Feature in 2012, and it is truly a must-see for lovers of quality adult entertainment. A visual treat with its earthy pallette, the movie also boasts an impressively colorful soundtrack that recalls the jazz age in vibrant detail. Lushly romantic, I think those that adore "Chico & Rita" will be rapturous in their praise. But it isn't necessarily a movie for everyone as it unravels as much from mood as from the actual story.
The actual plot spans many decades from the streets of Cuba, to the clubs of New York, to the movie sets of Hollywood, to the seedy motels of Las Vegas. Seriously, I had no idea that the movie would have such a grand scope or such a broad narrative. An elderly Chico, a former piano man, hears one of his songs on the radio and it causes him to reflect on a long and tumultuous relationship with his true love Rita. Rita, a sultry singer, worked with Chico before setting upon a life of fame and glamour--but their two paths were constantly intertwined. Although madly in love, the two never seem to connect in any meaningful way for an extended period. But despite all their mistakes and the physical obstacles in their path, there is always an underlying hope for a happy ending. The two seem fated to be together, but fate may not be enough to overcome tragedy. Melancholy, sweet, and unrelentingly romantic, the film still maintains a refreshingly hard edge throughout.
Spanish director Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque) has a sure handle on the tone and cadence of the movie. As I mentioned, the mood of the piece is just as important as its narrative. And the music really helps to capture the spirit of the story telling. From genuine jazz riffs to English language ballads, everything fits perfectly. Although I did love the movie, it does tend to get a bit rushed as the years spiral by in quick fashion. So after a detailed beginning, certain sequences can seem a bit choppy. The pace is so luxuriant and leisurely, I thought some of the time shifts were a bit jarring. But it's a small point in the grand scheme of things.
Limited Edition Collector's set: This 3 disc compilation has the DVD, the Blu-ray, and the soundtrack. If you love jazz, I suspect you'll be interested in purchasing the soundtrack so this might be a convenient way to get both the movie and the CD at a combined price point. Also included (and quite fascinating) is a sixteen page excerpt from the source material, which happens to be a graphic novel. It's a cute, if not particularly substantial, addition. I'd have loved a bit more, but I guess they didn't ask me. Overall, though, an easy recommendation. About 4 1/2 stars, an impressively adult endeavor. KGHarris, 9/12.