When the nominations of best animated feature were announced for the 2012 Oscar Awards, and "Chico and Rita" where included while "Adventures of Tintin", "Rio" and "Winnie the Pooh" were omitted - people wondered Who?


With the exception of a few people at the 2011 Miami Film Festival, no one heard of it until it hit Telluride and Toronto Film festivals. And even then, you are looking at a finite number of cinephiles who actual saw the film.


What the est of the world had not seen was a truly delightful animated feature with perhaps the best soundtrack of any film of the last fifteen years. I'll get back to that later.

Co-directors Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal, and Fernando Trueba have crafted an homage to the golden age of Jazz... moreover the popularity of Afro-Cuban jazz.


Sure, there is a shallow romance story tucked away in the narrative, but in reality this is a great soundtrack highlighted by animated figures.


The scene is late 1940's Havana Cuba when Americans were commonplace in the pre-Castro nightlife. Big American cars and big Cuban cigars. Sultry, steamy clubs featuring Dizzy Gillespie, Charlie Parker and all the top names in jazz. Chico (voiced by Eman Xor Ona) is a pianist and Rita (Limara Meneses) is a vocalist.


They both happen into a club when the band's pianist has called in sick - the group is lacking its pianist. Chico steps up to fill in and performs so well that he is hired. But the magic is actually between his piano and Rita's vocals.

Chico and Rita begin what will be a volatile romance that could make Rihanna and Chris Brown blush; but from their passion comes terrific music. Music that made them a night club and later a recording hit.


But as is generally the case, Rita's vocals were in demand more than Chico's piano and she leaves for New York and other environs. Chico, follows along like a wet puppy even as she meets others - most of whom are shady to the core.


What brings them back together, over and over is their music and their stage chemistry. A chemistry that, even as an animated film - you will feel.

The story could easily be the same as Barry Manilow's Copacabana, but what drives the film is the music and the clever way the directors slide some of the jazz greats of the day into the story, but not so much as to take away from the two lovers. You also get a great feel for the time with a backdrop featuring everything that made life grand - everything is big - bug music, big cars, big productions.


Alas the foreground - the characters - are visually two dimensional except for their music. But the flatness is just enough of a distraction to remind you that the music is better than the animation. Unlike Ralph Bakshi's "Heavy Traffic", "Fritz the cat" and "American Pop" this lacks the overall visual depth needed to contend with "Rango" or even "Puss in Boots".


"Chico and Rita" is truly the nifty animated feature that no one will see, but should. It is in no way intended for children - much like Ralph Bakshi's animations drugs, sex and alcohol are prevalent.   -- GEOFF BURTON