With its semi-surprise late inning Oscar nod for Best Animated Feature (I predicted it - just sayin'), this unique work of animation, incorporating hand drawings with live action rotoscoping and computer generated effects, showing us the lively world of Cuban Jazz before the revolution, and the fatalistic world post revolution, is a bravura work of daring gusto. Sexy and sensual in both picture and story (we do get animated lovemaking and full frontal cartooning, but in a much less sensationalized manner than in something like Heavy Metal) the Spanish born, Havana/NYC/LA/Vegas set Chico & Rita takes away the sheen of the typical high end modern day animation a la Pixar and company, and gives us a rough-hewn, passionate look at love, life, music, success and loss. In other words, a dynamic feeling and even more dynamic looking work of animation chutzpah - and it works baby.
Directed by Fernando Trueba (Belle Époque and Calle 54) and artist/designer turned first time director Javier Marsical, and telling the story of Chico, a down and out piano player and songwriter and the long and tumultuous affair he has with singer/dancer Rita, this rather erotic look at Cuba in its heyday, and the downfall of both this society and the love between these two young lovers, replete with backstabbing, star struck stupidity and hot Latin jazz of the period, is a sight for sore eyes one could very well say. The imagery of the film (some animation ne're do wells have called the film cheap looking, but what do these fools know!) syncs beautifully with story, as both are dangerous and could come apart at any moment - and I mean this as a compliment on both ends.
With a soundtrack that includes Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gellespie, Chano Pozo, Tito Puente and Bebo Valdés, a Cuban pianist and arranger of the film score, who was brought out of obscurity by Trueba in his 2000 jazz doc Calle 54, and a look and feel that recreates a boom time in Cuba and in its music (a time before communism, when many would come to the States to play) this film is a buggy beast of boss tones that holds no punches in its storytelling, while still maintaining the most classic tale of love and loss and love again - and I mean that as a compliment as well. The film ended up losing the Oscar to the more well known, and more well seen, Rango, and I suppose it rightfully did so (its nomination was its reward some might say), but nonetheless, Chico & Rita is a film well worth seeing if not for its taut storyline, which is worth it alone, then for its incredible jazz and flamenco soundtrack. If only more animated films had such heart and soul.