Movie review: Chico & Rita

By Columbus Alive
From the March 15, 2012 edition

In this year’s Oscar race for Best Animated Feature, Pixar’s latest wasn’t even given a spot on the starting line, but the little-known romance “Chico & Rita” made the cut.

Directed by the team of Fernando Trueba (Belle Epoque) and artist Javier Mariscal, the Spanish film starts in present-day Havana, but spends most of its time in the golden age of the mid-20th century, before U.S. tourism was prohibited.

Chico is a talented but unknown piano player, and Rita is a beautiful singer he spots at a club. So begins a passionate, tumultuous relationship that involves several rash decisions and missed opportunities, as well as international travel and breaks of the bad and lucky varieties.

Their story is nicely bittersweet but not exactly filling, and with groaner lines like, “I don’t know you, but I feel like I’ve been waiting for you my whole life,” developing a genuine connection with the characters is a little difficult.

The couple’s ups and downs are set to a fantastic soundtrack, though, accompanied by animated cameos from Dizzy Gillespie, Duke Ellington, Thelonious Monk and other jazz greats. And what’s lost in story development is made up in part by a rhythmic, colorful and intoxicating visual style.