America really is a great big melting pot, isn't it? All of us have come together to blend into a lovely cultural goo. We bring the best and the worst out of one another. I'm lucky enough to live in a state where I get to experience many of those cultures on a daily basis. Whether through minor or extended interactions, I've learned that we're all not so different, and can be united in any number of ways. One thing that so many of us enjoy is the feature film. Yes, it doesn't matter where we came from or what we know or who we know...once the lights go down and those images flicker, we are all united, if even for just a few hours, brought into the story to be told. We experience the joy, the sorrow, the laughs, all together.
Well, except for that lone idiot who decides to answer his texts in the middle of the movie. Hey, that light's bright! And why did YOU bring your baby?!
But let's get back on track. For the hundreds of films that get released every year, we are occasionally given the delightful surprise of a film in a different language, that comes from a different country. And while it may get zero advertising time on American TV (or maybe I just wasn't watching the channels where this got advertised), I do have Fandango to thank for alerting me not only to this movie's existence, but the fact that several weeks later, it would be coming to a theater near me! The animated film buff in me knew that I had to check this one out.
"But SurferClock," you find yourself saying, "what even IS this movie? Why are you so excited over seeing a movie made for little kids?"
Well, let's not forget that for every 5 films made for kids by a conglomerate for the sole purpose of draining their parents' wallet dry off merchandising and entertaining them both in the theater and eventually through repeat viewings on car rides or at restaurants when they should really be focused on finishing their macaroni and cheese, the cinematic equivalent of dangling keys in front of a baby as it were, there's one film that will stand out, that will be different, that will have positive messages, get rave reviews, take home Oscars (or get snubbed for an Oscar, as several of last year's best animated films did), and will influence a generation...or, at the very least, just stand out from all the rest of the schlock that companies put out en masse.
Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos, a CGI animated film from Huevocartoon Producciones, does a little bit of that standing out, I'm happy to say, even if it does tread some familiar territory. The trailer was nothing out of the ordinary, though it did lack subtitles, so I may have been a little lost as to the 'hook.' Thankfully, for this limited North American run, the Regal Cinemas I went to see this film at did have subtitles, so that even I, with 2 years of high school Spanish under my belt, could not only more or less comprehend what was being said, but the subtitles ensured I wouldn't miss any important plot points (though, it did take -some- of the suspense away from certain climactic scenes).
The first real surprise that "Gallo" brings to an unsuspecting theatergoer is that this is a CGI animated film with a PG-13 rating. Yes, PG-13! Nothing about the trailer really seemed to suggest PG-13, for it really only showed a small portion of the film's actual plot. It would hit me upon the first 10 minutes or so, though, that they can apparently get away with a lot more in Mexico with animation than they ever could here in the US.
The film centers around Toto, a rather small and frail looking rooster that's coming of age. It's now his job to wake up the farm, though he doesn't exactly have the best voice, which makes him reluctant, which makes him unable to crow in a way that doesn't cause physical pain to those around him. He truly aspires to be among the greats in the world of rooster boxing. Yes, in this universe, they really do put on little boxing gloves and duke it out in a ring, with seemingly hundreds of adoring fans, human, bird, and eggs alike (after all, there wouldn't be "muchos huevos" without the titular eggs). This becomes central to the plot when, in a desperate bid to save the family farm (facing bankruptcy), Toto unwittingly steps up to the challenge to fight the biggest, baddest, winningest bird on the rooster boxing circuit, Bankivoide. Betting the farm becomes more than a metaphor, and everyone is now depending on the scrawny-but-scrappy Toto to win and save the farm.
Now, take a step back for a moment and realize that what we're talking about here is more than a loose allusion to the oft-maligned sport of cockfighting. It has the dubious distinction of being totally illegal here in the US, but it's so traditionally rooted (even being referred to as -the- oldest sport in history) that most anyone could recognize it. On that note, and for how surprisingly adorable this depiction is, I suppose it warrants a pass.
The first thing that this film really has going for it is an incredible eye for character animation. The experience that the company has had with animating both eggs and birds is clear, and they did a superb job with not only making the characters look distinct, but move much like real birds. This goes not only for the chickens, but the other bird species that come in later on. HuevoCartoons clearly knows their stuff, drawing from a lineage that began online through a series of online cartoons that went viral. Eventually they gathered the funds to create feature films, and this effort, the first Mexican CGI film to garner a release here in the States, is actually the third in a series that followed Toto from egg to chick to rooster.
The characters themselves are a bit of a large crowd, but each does bring something distinct to the table, whether it be high energy personalities of Confi (a confetti egg, traditionally thrown at fairs) and Patin Patán (a duck egg who goes on to become Toto's trainer) or the more level headed supporting cast (Toto's love interest, Di, comes to mind), though some of this bloated cast seem to play -veeeery- minor roles (Toto's mother is there, if merely to be proud of him no matter what he does...a good message, I suppose). The high energy characters have such energy to them that it might come across as spastic, but part of that comes from the rapidly-delivered Spanish lines, traditionally a much 'faster' language than English, and the other part of that comes from the frenetic animation afforded to these characters.
Another good note for this film is its writing, and this is where I again have to come in and thank the subtitle providers for not missing anything. Without them, some of the jokes might've been lost on me. Some of that writing is where the PG-13 rating came in, surprising for a kid's film, but they do manage to slip in a few sensual jokes (one subtle, two overt). There's a bit of wordplay that I never know could work in Spanish, some of the minor 'cameo' character names are chuckle-worthy, the writers do take a few surprising shots at other films, animated and not, and while the premise may be a bit overdone, it's generally inoffensive and, combined with the characters and the aesthetic, is just unique enough to see it through. The messages of believing in oneself, finding your inner voice, and persisting through adversity are ones kids and adults can take to heart.
Un Gallo Con Muchos Huevos can go heavy on the tropes, but a high quality of animation makes this a visual treat for the eyes. If nothing else, this film should be supported so that we Americans can show the world we are ready for more diversity in our animated films. Diversity in animated film releases here in the States would mean more opportunities to unite under the big screen, more languages filling the theaters, more diverse characters...and unity under the big screen would feel even better than it already does, because the world could feel even more represented in the great tradition of the motion picture.