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'Chico & Rita' are an animated couple

"Chico and Rita," directed by Tono Errando, Javier Mariscal. In theaters on February 10, 2012. Credit: Magic Light Pictures

A memory play and a musical confection, "Chico & Rita" is that rare thing, a cartoon for adults, with a bittersweet take on love and fate and a romantic's view of the night.

It kicks off in Castro's ruined Cuba and transports the viewer back to the jazz-and-rum-infused Havana of 1949, where Chico (voice of Emar Xor Ona), an unknown club pianist, meets Rita (Limara Meneses; sung by Idania Valdes), an extraordinary singer with a short fuse. They can't live with or without each other. Their dance of destiny seems a pure reflection of the music that the film's directors -- Fernando Trueba ("Belle Epoque"), Javier Mariscal and Tony Errando -- borrow and celebrate: Thelonious Monk, Dizzy Gillespie, Tito Puente and venerable Cuban pianist Bebo Valdes, who scored the film.

Some will find a kinship between the Oscar-nominated "Chico & Rita" and the French animation "The Triplettes of Belleville," which also relied heavily on its score, but "Chico" has a distinctive style of its own. The preparation for the animation included a four-week shoot with live actors, which was used to inform the drawings, as was the happy discovery of a treasure trove of period photographs commissioned by the Havana city government of 1949.

It's a clever film. "Who's the guy in the hat?" someone asks (it's an unnamed Monk at the piano) and mini-dramas play out, such as one featuring the great percussionist Chano Pozo and a reefer deal gone bad. Between the historical mischief and the beautiful, evocative animation, "Chico & Rita" is an immersive experience -- musically, visually and emotionally.


PLOT Star-crossed lovers in 1949 Havana chase their musical dreams -- and each other -- from Cuba to New York. Unrated

CAST Voices of Limara Meneses, Emar Xor Ona, Mario Guerra

LENGTH 1:34

PLAYING AT Sag Harbor Cinema

BOTTOM LINE Magical, musical and sophisticated animation for adults. (In Spanish, with English subtitles)

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