Competing in the official competition feature sector at this year’s Annecy online Animation Festival, Nahuel and the Magic Book is by far one of the more peculiar feature alternatives featured at this year’s festival. Ranging from semi-autobiographical and grimy realist pieces such as Kill It and Leave this Town and the social satire The Nose or the Conspiracy of Mavericks; more kid-friendly fare is often a rare sighting, especially in Annecy’s ultra competitive main slate. A Chilean/Brazilian co-production inspired by Mapuche mythology and lore, Nahuel and the Magic Book is a welcomed though thoroughly forgettable and conventional outing from Chile & Brazil’s underrepresented animation market.
Nahuel and the Magic Book follows our young titular hero Nahuel, as he paves his way to subsequent glory with his irrational fear of the ocean. The film highlights and primarily discusses Nahuel’s fears and ambitions to reunite with his father; a strict figure with a boorish tone and demeanor. What follows is a convoluted journey of a young boy with an iconic blue hoodie and bright yellow boots as he learns about a magic book titled the Levisterio. Meeting sorcerers, witches, cats, and other magical beings, Nahuel’s journey is one of great imaginative wonder. Enhanced by crisp character line work and beautiful two dimensional and three dimensional hybrid backdrops, the journey to the climactic and bombastic finale is a visually astounding joyride.
However, there’s a certain lack of awareness in the film’s more severe technical aspects. The sound design in particular feels barren, where in several critical sequences and scenes, there’s a clear lack of any real sound presence and attention to detail. The soundscape is dull, creating a sluggish pace throughout what’s already a relatively uninspired children’s flick. Not to mention that these very aforementioned ideas correlating with a specific culture’s lore have been done drastically better before. The films of Tom Moore and Alberto Vasquez (who actually has a short film in competition at this year’s at Annecy festival) have perfected the formula between children’s entertainment and social commentary with a combined mixture of cultural awareness. Just look at The Secret of Kells, which is the prime example and role model when discussing films of these sorts.
Wizards, gods, and a bunch of mommy & daddy issues, Nahuel and the Magic Book is only a slight step up from your mediocre western animation joint. In what it makes with its tight visuals is unfortunately detracted with its lack of any real originality or even self-awareness. The common darkness to light allusions are compact in this moderately satisfying 100 minute feature. With a grossly underdeveloped villain and a formidable protagonist at its core, the end result isn’t anything particularly special or even festival worthy. Then again, I would much rather have another Nahuel in a heartbeat over any sort of corporate computer generated franchise fluff.
Nahuel and the Magic Book screened in competition at this year’s Annecy 2020 Online Festival