Chico & Rita

Chico & Rita is a wonderful movie, a valentine—poignant, sweet, but never sentimental—to Cuban jazz, bebop, and the street scenes of 1940s and ’50s Havana and New York. It’s a sophisticated animation, drawn in an evocative sketch-edged style similar to that of Waltz With Bashir. (It’s based on a graphic novel, a few pages of which are reproduced in the Blu-ray box’s booklet.)

The story follows Chico, a brilliant jazz pianist, as he navigates the club scene in Havana, moves north to Manhattan, gets sent back on trumped-up drug charges, languishes after Castro’s revolution, until, decades later, he’s rediscovered and celebrated worldwide (shades of the Buena Vista Social Club documentary). The tale runs parallel to his lusty romance across the decades with Rita, a gorgeous singer who has her own rise and fall tied to the era’s mob management and pervasive racism. (As I said, it’s never sentimental.)’s a hypnotic period vibe to the look and pace of the film, which never sags, always fascinates. And the music is terrific. Bebo Valdés, the Cuban pianist, 92 when the movie was made but still popping with energy, plays the keyboards on the soundtrack. Many other excellent musicians stand in, very convincingly, for Charlie Parker, Dizzy Gillespie, Thelonious Monk, and Chano Pozo, among others. (For instance, Jimmy Heath does Ben Webster!) If you like jazz, this is a must. If you don’t so much, it’s a compelling romance. I also can’t remember a sexier animated film since Fritz the Cat, and Chico & Rita is much more sensuous.

The 1080p transfer is extraordinary. The colors are at least as saturated, and the sense of depth a bit more alluring, than the theatrical print I saw. The soundtrack—the tones and surround spread of the music, as well as the crispness of the dialogue—is impeccable. The special features are also worthwhile. There’s a very interesting making-of featurette. (The directors first filmed the script with live actors so the animators could track and replicate their precise movements; this is why the cartoon characters, though not drawn with conventional realism, seem so human.) And the special-edition box includes not only the Blu-ray Disc but also a standard-definition DVD and the soundtrack CD (which, engineered by Jim Anderson, sounds terrific, too). I can’t recommend this enough.

Studio: New Video Group, 2010
Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1
Audio Format:
DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1
Length: 94 mins.
MPAA Rating: Not rated
Directors: Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal, Fernando Trueba
Starring: Eman Xor Oña, Limara Meneses, Mario Guerra

John Freeman's picture

Watched it last night. On standard DVD, it was great. With a 5.1 surround system, with good speakers, not an out of the box system. Pretty much agree with Fred's observations above. The music was fantastic.