Unfortunately, gorgeous design is, for the most part, the only good thing about Chico and Rita, a 2010 Spanish animated film which is nominated in this year's Oscars. It's an ode to jazz in the late 1940s and early 1950s, primarily bop, focusing on the fictional Cuban duo of piano player Chico and singer Rita, who, unfortunately, has a distinctly modern style of singing. The film's story is also a pretty disappointingly standard musician rise and fall biopic, hitting standard notes of tragic and unlikely misunderstandings between the two musicians, peppered with walk-ons from actual famous musicians. The dead faced quality given to the characters by the lousy animation sort of mirrors the weak characterisation. This is a movie best experienced in stills.
The one scene I really liked was Rita waking up naked and going over to the piano to sing accompaniment to Chico's piano the morning after they'd slept together. I imagine there are few sweeter experiences. It's followed by a moment I enjoyed in a completely different way as Chico's girlfriend discovers them and a catfight ensues while Rita's still naked.
I do love a good catfight.
After this, the story settles into dry recountings of how one person went off to become a star in one place, another person went off to work with someone else. Plot points are dispensed like gumballs as Rita becomes a movie star in New York, Chico and his manager see Chano Pozo get killed after watching him play with Charlie Parker and Thelonious Monk, Chico and Rita meet again at a party, have some perfunctory dialogue, the popularity of kidney beans in Cuba is referenced, Rita loses her career when she complains onstage about segregation.
The movie's as a series of memories apparently ruminated over by an aged Chico who's reduced to shining shoes to earn a living before a modern popular jazz princess finds him and the two have a wildly successful world tour, which seemed like the final piece of evidence for me that the filmmakers were surreptitiously trying to make the statement that modern jazz is just as good as jazz in the late 40s and early 50s, which, sorry guys, just isn't true. The hushed speak/singing that would never actually work in a club environment that you have the woman playing Rita do emphasises that you can't play in the same ballpark.
There is some good music when the movie uses recordings of people like Monk, Parker, and Dizzy Gillespie. I'd maybe like to see a series of music videos for those recordings designed by Javier Mariscal but animated by a better animation studio.