Chico & Rita Review
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When the nominees were announced for the 2012 Academy Awards, the animation category came with plenty of surprises. Not only did Pixar fail to get a nod for the first time in years, but a couple of relative unknowns had come along to take their place. One of those unknowns—and, for many, the frontrunner—was Chico & Rita, an animated love story set in the ‘40s.

Chico & Rita isn’t the typical animated film. It isn’t a silly movie for kids; it’s a grown-up story about a pair of talented musicians who first cross paths while they’re both working their way up in Havana’s growing music scene. Chico (voiced by Eman Xor Oña) is a gifted piano player. Rita (Limara Meneses) is a beautiful young singer. When they first meet, Chico is convinced that Rita is just what he needs: the singer who can make him a star. She might even be the woman of his dreams.

  
 
After finding success together in Havana, Chico and Rita go their separate ways—both personally and professionally. Rita finds a manager who’s eager to help her find stardom in New York, while Chico simply manages to scrape by. But no matter where the two find work—whether it’s in Hollywood, Paris, or Las Vegas—they still find themselves connected, unable to let go of their undeniable bond.

Vibrant in both style and soundtrack, Chico & Rita is an animated delight for adults. Visually, it’s absolutely breathtaking, beautifully capturing the unique vibe of each of the film’s locations—from the playfulness and romance of pre-Castro Cuba to the big-city cool of New York’s parties and jazz clubs.

Meanwhile, though the story is realistic (and somewhat clichéd), the animation also allows the directors to add a few whimsical touches that you wouldn’t normally find in a live-action film. The colors can be a little brighter. The action a little livelier. And, well, as an added bonus, you don’t have to deal with those pesky no-nudity clauses that actresses often put in their contracts.

While the characters’ ongoing tale of near misses and lost love offer a sweet—and often bittersweet—love story, the focus of the film isn’t really its plot. The real focus of the film is its music. It takes audiences through the streets of Havana, where music is made on whatever’s available. It moves through the resort town’s posh clubs—like the Tropicana. It travels on to the cozy downstairs clubs of New York and the glittering ballrooms of Las Vegas. And, no matter where it goes, it’s filled with the kind of music that will make you want to get out of your seat and dance.

Chico & Rita definitely isn’t the same old animated film—and it’s certainly not for kids. But this worthy Oscar nominee is a beautiful, musical love story that’s sure to make you long to travel back to the romance and rumba of 1940s Cuba.

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