September 13, 2015 posted by

Argentine Animated Features Part 4: The Patagonik Film Group Appears

Part four of my survey of Argentine animated feature films, today with films from the Patagonik group and Manuel García Ferré.

Dibu: La Película (Dibu: The Movie), directed by Carlos Olivieri and Alejandro Stoessel. 105 minutes. July 10, 1997.

dibu-la-pelicula-posterWhen the Patagonik Film Group was created in 1996, one of its first TV series was Mi Familia es un Dibujo (My Family is a Cartoon), about a live-action family whose youngest son is an animated cartoon; the 8- or 9-year-old redheaded Dibu (from “dibujo”, drawing or cartoon). It was very popular throughout Latin America, especially for Dibu, and Dibu: La Película was released the next year. The TV program was renamed Dibu in 1998. The movie was distributed by Disney’s Buena Vista International; Dibu is clearly inspired by Who Framed Roger Rabbit.

Rodolfo Mutuverria, the director of animation and designer of Dibu (and a reader of this site) wrote in to clarify the chronology:

“Telefé (Television Channel 11) and Patagonik Film Group hired me to direct this production of animation TV series. I did the pilot in October 1995 and in ’96 worked in the first season. The success was such that the producers decided to make the first feature based on the series and they commissioned me to create a new character: Buji, Dibu sister. The TV series was developed over three seasons, with the two films between seasons.”

Marce and José (Pepe) Medina are a married couple, both on their second marriages, who live with four children and grandfather Abu (“Pop”; Pepe’s father). The other children are three mid- to young teens; the boys Victor and Leo, and the daughter Caro. The youngest, Dibu, is an animated cartoon because Marce watched too much animation while she was pregnant. Dibu is lively, mischievous, and a young charmer despite the family’s trying to hide him away, for obvious reasons. There are also a couple of neighborhood kids who know Dibu’s secret.

The movie’s plot: Marce, after years of living with an animated cartoon son and other housewife exasperations, has a nervous breakdown. The doctor recommends a long vacation. Marce goes to the mountain resort of San Martin de los Andes (beautiful scenery), taking Caro with her, while Pepe and the boys stay in Buenos Aires. But Marce’s and Caro’s vacation is full of surprises, especially discovering a second animated-cartoon child: Buji, a turquoise-eyed little girl, hardly more than a baby. In Buenos Aires, Dibu becomes addicted to skateboarding and go-karting; not sports that can be enjoyed while hiding at home. Other complications include Marce’s first husband, Lucio; Leo’s troubles with Diego, a rich-kid bully, and his father; and Caro’s discovering a boyfriend (Nahuel). Buji is accidentally kidnapped, rescued by the boy Fernando, and falls into the clutches of Diego and his Doberman, Lagash; while the male Medinas help Leo to compete with Diego at go-karting. To nobody’s surprise, Buji ends up being saved by Dibu; they are both saved by Fernando; and she is adopted by the Medinas to become Dibu’s little sister.

Dibu 2: La Venganza de Nasty (Dibu 2: The Revenge of Nasty), directed by Carlos Galettini. 90 minutes. July 2, 1998.

Dibu2-posterFor some reason, Dibu 2 has a completely different plot from the first movie or the TV series, and new actors. Patagonik decided to abandon the family sitcom for a more dramatic s-f/fantasy adventure. Dibu and Buji are refugees from an animated world, hiding in our world in a slum house of their own. An animated candy-eating boy posing as Dibu robs a bank and kidnaps Sr. Mor, its manager, while making sure that he gets lots of visibility. Since the boy is obviously not human, the police arrest Quique, known as “the Puppet Master” for his mastery in puppetry, despite the obvious difference between his marionettes and animated cartoons. Quique is having his own troubles with his ex-wife and estranged young son, Lencinas; and Quique and Lencinas know Dibu’s and Buji’s secret.

It turns out that Nasty, the pseudo-Dibu, has robbed the bank both to discredit Dibu and separate him from Buji, the grand-daughter of an old enemy in their dimension, so he can kidnap her; and to be able to buy tons of our world’s candy, which enables people from their dimension to shape-change. Nasty’s human form is a cartoon boy like Dibu, but blond with devilish hair, and scarlet eyes. Nasty later changes himself into an image of the kidnapped bank manager to more conveniently take more money for candy. The candy can also bring Quique’s human-sized puppets to life in his workshop, and the Pirate Captain and the Gypsy Girl help Dibu. Nasty’s two purple, black, & white-hooded acrobatic henchmen (really other-dimensional rats) lead the police to Dibu’s & Buji’s home; then when Dibu flees, they chase Buji out. She finds refuge with young Jimena who lives with her aunt, also named Jimena. A mystery until the climax is what Nasty’s true form is (it’s “a Monster” of some sort). Yeah, but then whose idea was it to showcase Nasty’s true form on the theatrical posters?

Gianni Lunadei, a popular Argentine comedian who plays the Pirate Captain marionette, died the month before Dibu 2 was released.

Manuelita, directed by Manuel García Ferré. 86 minutes. July 8, 1999.

García Ferré returned to the theatrical screen with Manuelita, the story of a South American little-girl turtle who becomes a Parisian fashion model. It was a smash hit, reportedly as popular in Argentina as Disney’s Winnie-the-Pooh films in America. It was Argentina’s official Best Foreign Language Film submission at the 72nd Academy Awards. (It was not one of the finalists.)

Part of its popularity in Argentina was due to García Ferré’s returning to the theaters after so long. He gave Larguirucho a major role. The Patriarch of the Birds also appears to narrate Manuelita’s story.

manuelita-posterThe story of Manuelita begins with her just hatching from her egg. Her parents and grandfather welcome the new family member. If anyone watching can survive the first 15 minutes of Concentrated Cute (full of happy songs) about Manuelita’s babyhood, the story jumps to Manuelita entering first grade in her city, Pehuajó, with her friends Dopi, a mole, and Bartolito, also a juvenile turtle, the son of the school teacher. Larguirucho is the friendly school janitor. When three dog bullies jump them, Larguirucho chases the bullies away. We see that while Dopi is a best friend, she really loves Bartolito. The story jumps again to when the kids are teens. Bartolito is about to declare his love to Manuelita, but her family goes to a circus first. Manuelita gets into an ascension balloon held down by Larguirucho, but before anyone else can get in, a windstorm blows it out to sea. An unfriendly large bird (an albatross?) punctures the balloon, which falls into the ocean.

Manuelita is rescued by pig sailors who are disappointed that the balloon’s basket doesn’t have a treasure. They throw her into the brig until they decide what to do with her. Three singing mice cheer her up, and they escape together onto a giant sea turtle who takes them to the nearest shore, which is a large Atlantic coastal French city. (Brest? Bayonne?) Manuelita and the mice separate. She sees an ornate building where a fashion show is being held, organized by François, a smarmy rat couturier visiting from Paris. (While this is going on, Bartolito, Dopi, Larguirucho, and Grandpa Turtle try unsuccessfully to build a second ascension balloon to go after her.) François and turkey fashion designer Coco Liche (a parody of Coco Chanel) recognize Manuelita’s potential, take her to Paris to their main modeling gallery, and turn her into a famous fashion model. Her family and friends find out about this when a Parisian fashion magazine featuring Manuelita reaches Pehuajó’s beauty shop. The quartet redouble their efforts to build a more efficient flying machine (filled with Larguirucho’s wacky inventions) and finally succeed, but it accidentally takes off with only Dopi and Larguirucho aboard. They are attacked by the same bird, whom Larguirucho defeats. They reach Paris, and see several French celebrities and famous sights while searching for Manuelita.

Meanwhile, Manuelita has been giving all her money each month to François to send home to Pehuajó, but he has been keeping it for himself. Manuelita finds out; François in a panic tries to ruin her; and he falls from a tall window while trying to escape. With François presumably dead (though the “happy” theatrical feature leaves this vague – some reviewers have assumed that he survives but is arrested offstage), Manuelita is out of a job. She leaves the model shop, but quickly runs into Dopi and Larguirucho. The three buy a decrepit seaplane (with Manuelita’s remaining money), which lasts just long enough to return to Pahuajó. Manuelita and her family are reunited, and she learns that Bartolito, though heartbroken, has become the local school headmaster. Larguirucho arranges a grand wedding (where García Ferré’s other popular characters are among the guests); and the dog bullies, who have grown up to become good citizens, are the policemen guarding it. Manuelita and Bartolito get into an wedding-decorated ascension balloon to start their honeymoon.

Let’s break here, since there are three 2000 theatrical features.

Next week: Argentine Animated Features, Part 5: 2000-2003


  • I’ve seen Manuelita on YouTube and thought it was a very beautiful animated film, worthy of an Oscar nomination for best Foreign Language Feature Film (unfortunately there was no category for Best Animated Feature Film until 2001). I believe it was snubbed by The Oscars as it was an animated film and not live action (and that puts a good argument for all foreign language animated films to have their own category in the Oscars like their live action Best Foreign Language Feature Film counterparts).

    There is one scene that I love, the wedding sequence of Manuelita and her childhood sweetheart who is now a respectful schoolteacher where some of the invited guests were many of the characters that the late Manuel Garcia Ferrė created – including Hijitus, Antiojos & Antifaz and Trapito the little scarecrow . BTW (Spoiler Alert) The Three Dog “Ruffians” that Manuelita had troubles with in her youth turn out as respectful police officers in the end – and were actually shedding tears of happiness of seeing Manuelita (in her beautiful wedding gown and marrying her childhood sweetheart). That they had unmercifully “picked on” Manuelita when they were young – it shows you that even “Big Bad Ruffians” have a soft side to their rough and tough exterior, and a “Heart of Gold” underneath.

    • I said this somewhere else, but the way Ferre uses his established characters reminds me a lot of what Osamu Tezuka did with his “Star System” guys a lot (Shunsaku Ban, Acetylene Lamp, Rock, Hamegg, etc.). It’s interesting to see someone else who wasn’t ashamed to keep putting Larguirucho and others into later works like this.

  • I didn’t really watch the original DIBU TV show, except than the two movies featured here. The first one follows the show, which later incorporated Buji too. These films were far more children kiddie fare than what García Ferré’s in which there used to be a very adult issue within the message. The interesting thing about the first DIBU film is the ending when the hero unexpectedly abandons his dream of racing a car in a competition in order to rescue his sister. The second film despite a completely different cast, featuring too much of Wendy’s restaurants (going far beyond typical commercial placement); the best thing, though is the performance of Gianni Lunadei who was an extraordinary actor and whose suicide was painful to those of us who followed his career.

    MANUELITA began a decadence in the work of García Ferré. In 1995 he was doing a new series of Hijitus short for Canal 13 which abruptly ended when the fifth episode was unfinished. García Ferré used his TV shows and films as a way to promote his magazines and due to changes in the structure of the industry, the group to which the channel belonged (to who he was producing his shorts) published its own rival magazine without loyal competition. They didn’t have to pay for commercials and promotions, he had to do it. This lead up to a rather sad breakup and a move to the other TV conglomerate (Telefe, the same company behind the DIBU films) which was now the owner of Billiken, his historical rival magazine, that eventually produced MANUELITA and a subsequent film later. MANUELITA was not well receieved, although Telefe pretended that it was: it only played in theaters during early showings and never at night and that crippled its commercial possibilities.

    The association to Disney for distribution, or any other Hollywood company, has always been negative for the Argentine film industry and the fact that it continues today is a rejection of its own history. Traditional Argentine studios found that this partnership was horrible because it killed commercial possibilities for their films since Hollywood only cares for their own movies and never bother to exhibit these other productions; they also got international TV rights in order to bury them in some Latino cable channel that I will never watch.

    In summary, Manuel García Ferré was in serious trouble and these issues were painfully increasing in an environment that changed for the worst in the 1990s.

  • By now I’ve seen all of García Ferré’s theatrical features. I think that “Ico” is my favorite, but that “Manuelita” is probably his best for family audiences. It was reported to have been very popular in Argentina; I’m disappointed to see here that was mostly false advertising.

    Hollywood’s dumping on Argentine animated features seems to be continuing with “Metegol/The Underdogs”. The theatrical trailer for it is nice, but will it ever be released instead of postponed once again? Will it get any advertising besides the one trailer?

    • In the 30s when national film industries were developing in order to provide what the Hollywood studios were not providing (movies in the native language), the Argentine film industry took off with movies that were on the same level or even better than the American films. At that time, the major Hollywood studios carried distribution for a few titles. The results were disappointing because those films never went beyond Latin America. It was actually surprising that they returned in the 90s. A few films “worthy” of film festivals did get some distribution, but the cartoons were buried to cable.

      A the first poster mentioned, MANUELITA was Argentina’s candidate for the Oscars at the time, and the problem was not that it was snubbed, the problem was that it was actually chosen (a move not by García Ferré but Telefe), people were really upset about it and protest surfaced in the media.

      Advertisment for Argentine movies has always been unreliable: all productions are financed by the State since 1944 but the actual financial performance of the films are never available, because if they we could access them we would find that almost all of them are actually loosing money. Movies that have important players in its productions (like the television companies) always pump up their films and promote them annoyingly. But that indicates nothing. The fact that the State finances the film industry is always questionable, but it is the only way films are actually produced outside the United States. In fact, most of the films that are celebrated in international film festivals of any kind when they are actually released, they turn out to be critical failures and commercial disasters.

      Some curiosities: the voice of DIBU (in the movies and TV) is by Cecilia Baamonde Gispert, a professional announcer that can be found online. She has a long relationship with animation having worked in MAFALDA, being the Spanish language voice of CANDY CANDY, and the little calf in CASANTO commercials (I have to examples in YouTube, she was thankful that I rescued one of them).

      I haven’t really seen METEGOL, only a few scenes. Since it is actually a Mexican/Argentine coproduction (like the TOP CAT movies) it had a completely different soundtrack in Mexico and people were debating in vain which was the better one.

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