“Chico & Rita” Review: Uneven, but Potent & Memorable

Chico & Rita [2010] – ★★★1/2

A heart-breaking love story that takes the audience from the slums of Cuba and transports them to the glitter of New York.

Before La La Land (2016), there was Chico & Rita, an adult Spanish animation which was nominated for an Academy Award and won the prestigious Spanish Goya Award for best animation. It tells the story of two star-crossed lovers, Chico and Rita, who meet and quickly fall in love in Havana, Cuba, and whose turbulent professional journeys make their love a real torment. Chico is a talented pianist with high ambitions, and Rita is a stunning beauty with a voice of an angel and a desire “to make it big”. Pursuing the dreams of fame, both do not even realise how far from each other their destinies could take them. Even if crudely-drawn and sometimes frustrating to watch, Chico & Rita is still a charming story worth watching. Paying tribute to Afro-Cuban jazz and imbued with the nostalgia for the past, this animation is as much about trials of love as it is about the passion for music.

Similar to La La Land, Chico & Rita is a story about an aspiring singer/actress (Rita) and an aspiring jazz musician (Chico) who meet quite by chance and fall in love. They both have ambitions “to make it big” in show-business and see each other’s careers skyrocketing or plummeting as the years go by. They witness their professional ambitions tearing them apart and they ultimately have to choose between following their heart (love) or following their musical dream (professional realisation). When Chico and Rita first meet in 1948, it seems that Chico only wants to make friends with Rita because his band needs a good singer to win a competition, but his heart also becomes “involved” – and “involved” deeply. Rita’s career takes her from hot and poverty-stricken Havana to snowy and affluent New York City, and then further to Paris, Las Vegas and Los Angeles, as Chico remains in the background, longing constantly for his lost muse.

Though the animation sometimes appears too primitive, it has some beautiful background sequences where every detail is drawn with an incredible accuracy. The music written by Bebo Valdés (1918 – 2013), a Cuban pianist, is also great, and, interestingly, some real characters make their way into this fictional story, including Chano Pozo (1915-1948), who was in reality a jazz percussionist, singer and composer from Cuba, whose tragic and mysterious demise on the streets of New York in 1948 is also covered in the story.

On the negative side, most of the main characters’ decisions in the story are more than bewildering and, rather than “bad luck” or “sad accident”, Chico and Rita’s fate could something be attributed to their bad temper, stubbornness and silly misunderstandings. Thus, rather than being truly heart-breaking and sad, their story is often simply “frustrating”.

Though at times exasperating to watch, Chico & Rita is also a potent love story about the connecting power of music and its ability to change lives.


9 Comments Add yours

  1. ospreyshire says:

    Looks like you’ve reviewed another animated film that I’ve covered before! Hahaha! That was a good post. I thought the movie was okay even though the music was great. It had lots of potential, but I do wish it could’ve improved in places. It was my 2nd go around with Spanish animation. Chico & Rita was alright, but it wasn’t Wrinkles in terms of quality.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      The music was great, I agree! It was a bit strange when the animation introduced politics. For a short while it abandoned Rita to concentrate on race politics and it felt random and underwhelming. Either more time should have been spent on that or the narrative of Rita must have been linked more fully to it. And some of Rita’s decisions. Well. I just don’t know how there could be full sympathy after some of them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ospreyshire says:

        Yes. Some of the jazz characters that Chico meets were actually real people like Dizzy Gillespie and Tito Puente to name a few. I understand why the racial topics would be there given the time period, but even then parts would be inaccurate. Rita did deserve more screen time even before the time skip near the end and some of the decisions of the characters were certainly questionable.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Genki Jason says:

    I looked back on my review and I liked this film a lot when I first saw it. I remember going to the cinema and specific moments but have lost the general thread of it over time.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. ManInBlack says:

    I too had to consult my review of this film to recall my feelings on it and as I suspected, I really enjoyed this one.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. ruth says:

    Oh I remember seeing the trailer for Chico & Rita ages ago but never got around to seeing it! Thanks for the reminder. I’m actually not that fond of La La Land, and though some of the songs are lovely, the story seems I dunno, recycled. Ryan and Emma didn’t really have a good chemistry either.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. dbmoviesblog says:

      Chico & Rita is worth seeing, I think. There is more to the story than the La La Land scenario and it is simply curious to know once in a while what other countries are doing animation-wise. It has some historical insight re Cuban jazz too. And, yes, the story was hardly original in La La Land, and I didn’t like Emma and Ryan’s chemistry either. In my honest opinion, they seemed like brother and sister (mentally) – the way they interacted with each other, there wasn’t that “opposites attract” sparkle between them.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ruth says:

        Glad I’m not the only one who think Emma and Ryan look more like brothers and sisters!! I think their chemistry is more like a good rapport, not a sizzling one like Bogey/Bacall, I actually said that in my review 😆

        Liked by 1 person

        1. dbmoviesblog says:

          Yes, exactly, “a good rapport” is a great way to put it. There was this feeling when they met that they found their best friend, which is great, of course, but this also unfortunately meant there wasn’t this (sometimes quiet and sweet) “romantic tension”…I am sure you kind of know what I mean 🙂 (I don’t believe in astrology as such, but I cannot help noticing that Ryan and Emma are both Scorpios and may understand each other without words even – in this case they are probably way too similar mentally and emotionally (and hence in some way their characters) to provide believable counterparts for each other).

          Liked by 1 person

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