Friday, June 1, 2012

Chico & Rita

Chico & Rita
seen @ reRun Gastropub Theater @ reBar

American animation has never been better than it is now. Whether or not you believe that computer-generated animation has pushed hand-drawn animation out the door for good, the visual splendors they've provided have been phenomenal. Still, for all the advances in the medium we've seen over the past twenty years, one thing has remained the same: in Hollywood, animation still tends to be made for a primarily kiddie audience.

Toys, cars, dairy tale characters, robots, fish, superheroes, and a menagerie's worth of animals: we've seen them all, in action-adventure, sci-fi settings, and the majority of them have been great - but why is it that animated films about everyday life, about normal people, seem to only come from other countries? For all of the success of Pixar and Dreamworks, they tend to stick to only genre material, unlike filmmakers abroad. Films like The Illusionist, Waltz With Bashir, The Triplets of Belleville, Persepolis, and now Chico and Rita, have proven that there's an audience for real-world animated films, for lack of a better description.

To be fair, animated genre films make tons of money. Pixar, in particular, has truly redefined the medium, while producing some of the most original, creative stories of any studio in recent memory. I'm still hoping, however, that sooner or later they'll make a film that doesn't rely on flights of fancy of any kind - no talking animals, no epic adventure stories, no fantasy worlds of any kind - just a simple story with regular humans in the real world. (Ratatouille might be the closest they've come to that.) 

Chico & Rita begins in 1948 Havana and moves to New York. It's about a pair of on-again, off-again lovers who become musicians, both together and separately. There are cameos by famous musicians of the day, including Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker, Tito Puente, and more. It got a big boost popularity-wise when it was Oscar-nominated for Best Animated Feature earlier this year. I liked it, though I didn't completely buy the notion of Chico and Rita's love as a special, lasting, enduring one - he cheats on her several times and she's not exactly faithful herself. Their music is what binds them, though, and the Latin/jazz soundtrack is dynamite.

The animation has a fine-art quality to it. The colors are sharp, the outlines of the figures and landscapes are rendered nicely, with an illustrative quality to them, and the backgrounds are great. I suspect this was a combination of hand-drawn work and computers. Rita might be the sexiest animated woman since Jessica Rabbit, and she gets naked more than once - she even fights another woman in the buff in one scene!

This was my second trip to reRun, and while it wasn't as packed as it was last time, there was a large crowd. I might have mentioned the last time I wrote about reRun that among their special delicacies includes popcorn with powder coatings: garlic, paprika and herb salt. I tried paprika with my popcorn this time - lightly, I emphasized to the clerk behind the bar - and it wasn't bad. I don't know if it's something that makes a big difference to me personally, but I appreciate the fact that they serve different kinds of snacks.

The event was co-hosted by a film "salon" called Big. Shade. Tree. (that's how it's punctuated). There was one guy there who introduced the film and there was supposed to be someone else with him, only she couldn't make it - which was unfortunate, since he didn't have a whole lot of useful knowledge about the movie. The brief after-film discussion was kinda light as a result. Still, I won't hold it against them.

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