The jazzy rhythms of pre-Castro Cuba & some Bebop stylings from ‘50s NYC work nicely with the stripped down animation in this bumpy love story between piano-man Chico and his dream vocalist Rita. But after the visual & musical peak of a car ride thru the streets of pre-Revolutionary Havana, the pic gets waylaid & weighed down by an over-determined storyline of missed personal & professional opportunities. It’s always hard to pinpoint blame in the ensemble creative world of animated features, but co-writer/co-director Fernando Trueba of the similarly overpraised/over-awarded BELLE EPOQUE/’92 makes a likely culprit. There’s a lot of MAMBO KINGS/’92 in here, but even more of Martin Scorsese’s NEW YORK, NEW YORK/’77, none of it helpful. That goes double for Chico, nearly as loathsome as Robert De Niro's sullen sax playing swine, while Rita gets heartbreak from the lives of Dorothy Dandridge & Rita Moreno, falling into a life of slutty victimization. Whatever were they thinking? Best let your mind go blank during the trashy dramatics and focus on the graphic design & jivey music.
WATCH THIS, NOT THAT: 2003's TRIPLETS OF BELLEVILLE gets all this stuff right.