Part five of my survey of Argentine animated feature films – today with films from such diverse directors as Juan Antin and Manuel García Ferré.
Cóndor Crux, la Leyenda (Condor Crux, the Legend), directed by Juan Pablo Buscarini, Swan Glecer, and Pablo Holcer. 88 minutes. January 6, 2000.
This was the first linkup of the names of the Patagonik Film Group, a major Argentine cinematic producer, and Juan Pablo Buscarini, a major animation director. It is also one of the dubious Argentine features because of being an Argentine-Spanish co-production; although Patagonik and Buscarini and the Argentine location are enough to make it preponderantly Argentine.
Cóndor Crux, la Leyenda is also the first Argentine animated science-fiction futuristic adventure, and it was advertised as the first Argentine computer-animated feature, both for the obvious CGI, and the traditional hand-drawn animation in computers rather than on cels. Contemporary reviews called it an Argentine Titan A.E., although there is little story connection between the two animated features except for both featuring futuristic “sci-fi” dramas.
It’s 2068 A.D., and an enlarged Buenos Aires has been renamed Darwin. The air around it has become so polluted that the city and most of Argentina, now called the Southern Cone, is enclosed under a huge dome to keep its air breathable. This has made it easy for the Gloria Mundi megacorporation and its tyrannical director, Phizar, to control everything. One elderly scientist, Dr. Crux, protests and is thrown into prison. He escapes and tries to take control of an orbiting satellite to organize and broadcast a call for rebellion. Phizar orders Gloria Mundi’s corporate troops to track down and crush the call for rebellion.
One of the company police is Captain Juan “Condor” Crux, with Sigmund, his faithful (and comedy-relief) “portable psycho-robot”. Condor is closer to Woody Allen than to Harrison Ford. Sigmund has been assigned by the company to psychoanalyze (and watch) Condor, but after years together, Sigmund is more loyal to Condor than to the company. They discover that the leader of the revolution is Condor’s father, whom he has not seen for years. Condor, aware of discrepancies between what Phizar claims about the rebels and what he learns for himself, allows Dr. Crux to escape again. This earns him a sentence of life imprisonment from Phizar, in a prison outside the dome. Condor, with Sigmund’s help, seizes control of the airship taking him to the prison, but it mysteriously loses power and crashes in the jungle. They meet Zonia, the beautiful priestess of El Dorado, and Yunko, an Amazon Indian child. They are led to El Dorado’s secret capital at Machu Picchu, where Amauta, a “prophetic witch”, calls Condor “Cuntar” and urges him to find the Southern Cross and lead the revolution. Phizar kidnaps Zonia, which spurs Condor to fully support his father. He and Yunko make a perilous trek across the Southern Glacier to find his father in a refuge of exiled scientists. Yunko has the key to reach the satellite, and Dr. Crux broadcasts his call for mobilization against the forces of Phizar. Condor flies in an old Antonov to confront Phizar personally.
The critics were not kind. They noted that Cóndor Crux, la Leyenda was a low-budget, formulaic animated s-f adventure for kids, that the drawn animation did not match the CGI, that it featured popular Argentine actors who obviously had no experience at voice-acting (Arturo Maly as Phizar and Pepe Soriano as Dr. Crux were praised exceptions), and even the cartoon characters were unusually expressionless. But as most critics noted, this was the Argentine film industry’s first effort at duplicating what the American theatrical animation studios had down to a routine. Working with computers was new. As one critic summed up (machine-translated): “But we are optimistic. The first step of all babies is shaky and as a stumble is not falling, we expect this first experience is rapidly improved. On the other hand, the original music of the film is really very good; if you can get the CD, buy it.” (Sorry; the CD [DVD] is only in Spanish.) It was the first winner of the Argentine Film Critics Association’s Silver Condor Award for Best Animated Film (as distinct from Dante Quinterno’s 1943 Special Award for Upa en Apuros).
Corazón, las Alegrías de Pantriste (Heart, the Joys of Pantriste), directed by Manuel Garcia Ferré. 80 minutes. July 6, 2000.
García Ferré’s next-to-last feature was clearly intended at the time as his theatrical swan song. It was a new story, starring his Hijitus characters as supporting actors, but was basically his same old stuff with more happy songs than ever, to popular public-domain tunes like the march from Verdi’s Aida. (And was no relation to the 1886 Italian novel Corazón by Edmondo de Amicis, which has been very popular in Argentina.)
Most of the peasants in a snowbound land that looks like feudal Russia in winter are woodcutters. The cruel king (played by Hijitus villain Profesor Neurus, with his anachronistic glasses) increases taxes. His two lackeys (Pucho and Serrucho) proclaim the new law. The woodcutters are distraught; to get immediate money, they will have to work harder than ever. King Neurus sends Cachavacha the witch to fly over the land on her broom to make sure all the peasants are working.
Most of the woodcutters are from the Pan family. Their leader is Panduro with his wife Pandulche, and they are their cousins: Pancrachio, Paniagua, Panflauta, Pancito, etc. Panduro’s and Pandulche’s son Pantriste is a skinny weakling; willing enough, but too puny to be a woodcutter. They let him play on a homemade violin. When the new tax is proclaimed, Pantriste tries to become a woodcutter, but he can barely lift the heavy axe. The others tell him to go play his violin.
Come spring, Pantriste is sent with a basket to gather mushrooms. He can’t find any, so he sadly plays his violin. The music is so beautiful that it summons the magic gnome Miñon, who makes mushrooms grow. Larguirucho enters as a traveling peddler. When Panduro is crippled in a logging accident, Larguirucho plays amateur doctor to save him.
With Panduro unable to work, Pantriste and Larguirucho go looking for help. They meet a cruel gypsy who has chained a gypsy girl, Panderita (Tambourine), to be his slave. Pantriste and Larguirucho rescue her and take her home to become one of the family. Panderita embroiders Pantriste’s name on a handkerchief, which he ties onto his violin. The peasants grow more dissatisfied with King Nerus. When Cachavacha, flying overhead, sees that the woodcutters have stopped working to listen to Pantriste’s violin music, she sends her owl Pajarraco to steal the violin. Pajarraco throws away the handkerchief, which Panderita finds and thinks Pantriste is dead. Sad songs!
The theft of Pantriste’s violin is too much! Larguirucho leads a peasant army to besiege King Neurus’s castle. After a long and funny battle with the royal guard, Neurus, his lackeys, and even the cruel gypsy try to flee on Cachavacha’s flying broom. The broom is overloaded and breaks, dumping all the villains to the ground to be imprisoned. The peasants elect Pantriste and Panderita as their new king and queen, and Miñon turns Neurus’ ramshackle castle into a beautiful palace for them.
Los Pintín al Rescate (The Pintíns to the Rescue), directed by Franco Bittolo. 82 minutes. July 13, 2000.
Los Pintín was a popular Patagonik-produced TV cartoon during 1999-2000; two or three minutes every day at 12:30 p.m., aimed at the whole family. It was a serial, a cross between a sitcom and a telenovela, set in the city of Aguas Tercas (Stubborn Waters) in a funny-animal South Pole penguin civilization. It featured “the Pintín” family: sardonic grandpa Fierro, dad Bepo, mom Ada, teen daughter Luna, kid brother Ito, and baby (egg) Uvi. Like The Simpsons in the U. S., it became popular as much or more for its warm family dynamic than for its humor. Patagonik “enlarged” it into a theatrical feature, which was quite a contrast to García Ferré’s old-fashioned children’s feature. It was drawn animation with hardware (the ship, the jeep, the mad millionaire’s lab) in computer graphics.
The Pintíns are relaxing at “the beach” with the other penguins, at the edge of the South Pole. A sinister human ship materializes from the fog and kidnaps Luna, who is alone on a float offshore. The rest of the family go to her rescue. They find that Luna and a captured boy penguin, Guibor, have been taken to millionaire mad scientist Jorba Tarjat’s private volcanic island zoo, where he mutates his animals into grotesque combinations. They have to rescue her (and Guibor, though they don’t know about him yet) from Tarjat (also voiced by Argentine actor Arturo Maly) and his comic-relief henchmen Cacho (the fat one) and Tacho (the thin one) before she can be turned into anything, or the volcano erupts. Some of the other animals are more helpful than others, including Tuco, a flying monkey (one of Jorba Tarjat’s experiments, crossed with a bat); Chubers, a vain horse who used to play the cowboy hero’s steed in movies; and the elephant and mouse lovers.
Dibu 3: La Gran Aventura, directed by Raúl Rodríguez Peila. 80 minutes. July 18, 2002.
Patagonik’s third Dibu feature, released through Patagonik’s Ground Zero Entertainment, returned the scenario to the sitcom formula of the Medina family (dad Pepe, mom Marcela, Pop Atilio), with the cartoon Buji as Dibu’s little sister; but it kept and ramped up the sci-fi plot.
A green glowing mechanical ball smashes an orbiting satellite and crashes to Earth inside an isolated farmhouse. The military quickly isolate it. The ball is full of radioactive waste from both NASA and the USSR that was rocketed to Mars long ago. An automatic device inside the ball, from the Martians, says that they have had enough of being Earth’s nuclear waste dumping ground, and that they will destroy Earth in 18 hours. Meanwhile, Dibu and Buji are going stir-crazy from hiding indoors at home all the time. Dibu has used Leo’s laptop computer to become friends with Martín, the computer-savvy young son of Professor Doxon, a scientist who has retired after failing to perfect his matter transmitter. Doxon has dressed up as Voltaire for a street fair, appearing on the program next to a Batman.
None of Earth’s spacegoing nations can prepare a spaceship within 18 hours. Only Argentina has one almost ready. The only hope to finish it in time is to use Professor Doxon’s untried matter transmitter. Doxon (snatched from the fair still dressed as Voltaire) hurriedly transmits the spaceship to the launch site, but since his transmitter is unperfected, it only transmits a hologram of the spaceship. Martín theorizes that since Dibu is a live cartoon, he is the only one who may be able to fly it. The Medinas don’t believe that Dibu has been asked to save the world until the President of Argentina personally comes to their home to assure them that it’s real.
The launch preparations are under the mixed control of the military, commanded by the General (in uniform with all his medals), and a scientific team led by Engineer Ramos (a lab-smocked young woman). Mr. & Mrs. Medina, Granddad Atilio, Professor Doxon, Martín, and a robot dog that Doxon earlier invented for Martín are present as Dibu hastily goes through astronaut training, shows that he can enter the spaceship, and it blasts off for Mars.
Mars is all 2002 CGI, providing an intriguing contrast between the computer-generated red planet and green Martians, and the cartoon-animated Dibu. Dibu meets Grumi, “una simpática Marcianita”, the young daughter of Martian King Drom. He listens to Dibu’s promise that Earth will stop sending its nuclear waste to Mars, and halts the launching of the bombs just in time. Dibu gives King Drom a statuette of the Dove of Peace as a symbol of Earth-Mars friendship. All looks well, but back at the Earth base, Buji (whom Grandad Atilio has smuggled in), Grandad, Martín, and the robot dog discover that the General is planning to sabotage everything, with the unwitting help of Engineer Ramos. The General intends to kill all the Martians and present himself as the Savior of Earth, to advance his career. The Dove of Peace is booby-trapped. The Martians discover it, imprison Dibu for betraying them, and prepare to reactivate the bombs. Professor Doxon and Grandad hastily e-mail Buji to Mars to reveal the true threat. The Dove of Peace turns into a robot war hawk, but Dibu flies it into space to explode harmlessly. The General is arrested, everything is saved, and Grumi returns to Earth with Dibu to add to the Medinas’ chaotic household.
Dibu 3 grossed $240,792, earning $19,262 on its first weekend. It was shown is 32 theaters throughout Argentina. It was nominated in 2003 for the Silver Condor Award for Best Animated Film, but lost to Mercano, el Marciano.
Mercano, el Marciano (Mercano, the Martian), directed by Juan Antin. 87 minutes. October 3, 2002.
Mercano, el Marciano is grotesquely drawn, badly animated, and with erratic sound – probably deliberately. How did it ever win an award? Probably because it was an intellectual favorite (it was “anti-García Ferré”). It was produced at Buenos Aires’ Universidad del Ciné by all-student animators (which goes a long way to explaining its poor quality). Juan Antin, the film’s director (also co-writer and the voice of Mercano), was the son of Manuel Antin, the Universidad’s director. It was premiered at about a dozen international animation festivals, winning a Special Jury Mention at Annecy and a Special Public Award at Sitges, before it was released in Argentina. But most of all, it was “in”. As one review said, “Mercano, el Martiano es una pelicula para adolescentes, en el peor sentida de la palabra.” (“Mercano, the Martian is a movie for adolescents, in the worst sense of the word.”)
The movie opens with two teenagers smashing an electronic appliance store window to steal a TV, then deciding to take just an electric blender instead – they don’t need another TV but they can use the blender. As they walk away, they pass a spacesuited green Martian who stops, enters through the broken window, and passes the shop’s TV sets that show the opening credits – clever.
The city is Buenos Aires, which is full of juvenile delinquents, tramps, hippies, filthy street people, drivers maddened with road rage, and fat trigger-happy police who ignore crime and eat pizzas all day: teenagers’ favorite anti-establishment image. Mercano wanders through this, ignored by everyone when the cops aren’t shooting at him. He came to Earth in his flying saucer for revenge because a space probe from Earth landed on his purple dog on Mars and killed it, but the saucer went out of control and crashed in Buenos Aires. Now he just wants to go home. He steals a laptop computer from the store, takes it to his lair in the sewers, and soups it up so he can contact his Martian pals; four guys and his sweetie. (Not-exact dialogue:) “Hey, Mercano, where you been?” “I’m stranded on Earth. Will you pick me up?” “Aw, gee, Mercano, that’s a lotta work. We’ll think about it.” His girl friend wants them to rescue him, but she’s outvoted.
Mercano, despondent and homesick, uses his laptop and Martian technology to create a virtual Mars. (The movie becomes a mixture of ugly cartoons and ugly CGI at this point.) He also makes friends with human online geeks, especially Julián Informática, a grotesquely fat teeth-braced pre-teen nerd who worships Star Trek and dresses as an Enterprise crew red-shirt. Julián is the son of Mr. Informática (Mr. Computer), the head of a mega-powerful corporation. Mr. Computer learns of the existence of Mercano and his virtual super-technology. He tells his Board of Directors (Sr. Marketing, Sr. Alimenticio, Sr. Economia, Sr. Genética, and Sr. Technologia; the latter with a robotic right hand loaded with electronics), and they decide to cash in on it. They invite Mercano to join them, get him drunk, and imprison him in their corporate research center to milk him of his Martian science. They use his virtual-world computerese to construct the Vaporaiser, a “you NEED one!” home devise that enables anyone to create his/her own virtual images. Everyone in “the establishment” becomes super-handsome hunks and exaggeratedly-busty super-models living in super-Disneyland fun parks. But the computer-geek counterculture with whom Mercano was becoming friends resent this takeover of the Martian technology by the establishment. Julián in his Star Trek red-shirt rescues Mercano, and there is a bloody war between the establishment’s police and the geeks’ guerilla warriors, with Mercano using his disintegrator to kill the cops. The climax reveals that if a Vaporaiser is turned off, both its virtual creation and the humans who used it are uncreated; and Sr. Technologia has rigged everything so that if he is killed, all the Vaporaisers will shut down. He is, and Mercano’s Martian pals show up to rescue him just as the whole Earth goes §BWOOP§.
Bahía Mágica (Magic Bay), directed by Marina Valentini. 89 minutes. December 26, 2002.
An ecological adventure for children, with live-action humans and some marine animals and settings, plus cartoon fantasy talking animals; set in the Mundo Marino (Sea World) in San Clemente del Tuyú near Buenos Aires, the largest oceanarium in South America.
A boat supposedly carrying toys, but really disposing of toxic wastes, leaks its poison into the ocean as it approaches the bay in the estuary of the Rio de la Plata where Mundo Marino is located. The sea creatures in the vicinity send a sonar call for help to the dolphins, sea lions, and orcas of the nearby oceanarium. They, trying to alert the humans to the danger, refuse to perform and disrupt the oceanarium. Only Dr. Lola, a young biologist, and some young children believe that the animals are not just acting wildly, but they cannot understand the message. Dr. Lola, the old Spanish seaman Alex and his lying parrot, and the children try to communicate with them. The sea creatures magically turn into (cartoon) talking animals who warn and work with them to stop the boat from reaching and burying the waste on a beach near the oceanarium.
Bahía Mágica was an Argentine-Spanish co-production that won an Environment Contest at that year’s Festival de Cine Iberamericano de Huelva, in Huelva, Spain.
Next week: Argentine Animated Features, Part 6: 2004-2000