by Jim Ridley
A surprise nominee for Best Animated Feature at this year's Oscars, Chico & Rita attempts something seldom seen since the days of Ralph Bakshi: ambitious animated story-telling for adults. (There is indeed explicit sex, and The Belcourt is warning audiences that the movie is definitely not for children.) Co-directed by Fernando Trueba, the Oscar-winning live-action director of Belle Epoque, and Spanish illustrator Javier Mariscal with Tono Errando, it's a sweeping musical romance that follows the stormy partnership of piano player Chico and his fiery vocalist partner Rita from 1948 Havana to present-day America.
If Chico and Rita seem more like bickering bandmates-with-benefits than the tragic lovers the story demands, they're offset by a gorgeous Bebo Valdes score, vibrant visuals that give a nighttime glow to locales from swing-era Havana to Times Square, and colorful cameos in the story by the likes of Dizzy Gillespie, Woody Herman and Latin jazz pioneer Chano Pozo (whose ugly finish is played out here). The movie opens a week's run at The Belcourt tonight.