Music conveys a wide range of emotions that strikes a chord with both the artist and the audience. The same could be said for film, which makes Chico & Rita a lively yet intimate experience with its blend of high-energy jazz music and smooth animation to tell the story of a complicated relationship.
Chico & Rita focuses on the careers of two musicians in 1948 Cuba, pianist Chico and singer Rita, who become a duo both in song and soul as they pursue an intense, erotic relationship. However, when tensions arise and the popularity of overseas talent shows money-making potential, the two find themselves unable to stand one another, as Rita pursues an acting career and Chico tries to further his music career with jazz piano. This turbulent relationship, as well as outside factors of the changing world in between the ‘40s and present day America and Cuba, results in unfortunate and unexpected obstacles in their romance.
The attention to detail the film gives to the music of the era is impressive, as many scenes are set to Bolero — slow-tempo Latin music that had gained world recognition in Cuba with its incorporation of dance — and is reflected in the film with French and American talent agents scouting for artists such as Chico and Rita. This goes even further in the segments where the two get their big break in New York City, as they show the different movements in music ranging from the bebop of Dizzy Gillespie, to the mambo of Tito Puente during the beginnings of Latin jazz. They even incorporate musical legends into the story — with Chico befriending Chano Pozo and getting critical acclaim for joining Gillespie’s European tour — making this a must-see for jazz aficionados.
In a way, the film itself is a theatrical Bolero, as the art style allows for the characters and locales to move to the music, giving the film a one-of-a-kind aesthetic. The cel-shading gives a sleeker design for the characters, allowing them to flow throughout the scene and complement the smooth-yet-chaotic jazz the film is absorbed into, creating a narrative ballet. The animation also blends computer animation into the two-dimensional world — which can be distracting during driving scenes where cars are stiff and people go from being 2D cel-shaded drawings to 3D Sims — but CG does bring some life into the surroundings and help make the visuals and scenery pop out at you in an isometric view.
Chico & Rita is an adventurous sensory experience with a combination of roaring jazz music to keep your feet tapping and eye-candy visuals that will keep your bottom glued to your seat from start to finish. The story will keep you interested to see where the characters go with both their relationship and careers, and the setting allows you to gain some insight into the world of international jazz, but it’s the music that make the world of Chico & Rita pop.