CAST: Lola Raie, Bernardo De Paula, Naomi Serrano, Alejandra Gollas, Joe Hernandez, Dino Andrade, Susana Ballesteros, Rene Mujica, Yeni Álvarez, Rico Sola, Gerardo Prat, Thom Hoffman
RUNNING TIME: 84 mins
BASICALLY…: A young Amazonian warrior (Raie) sets out to save her home from an oncoming danger…
NOW FOR THE REVIEW…
From a conceptual angle, Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon is rather unique. The Peruvian and Dutch co-production allows an indigenous set of characters to take centre stage, giving young audiences a neat introduction to an entire culture they may never have even heard of before, while allowing Amazonian natives the chance to see themselves in a mainstream animated adventure.
It is, however, the only thing about the film which feels unique. Everything else can best be described as budget Disney, using way too many familiar tropes and story beats from the wide range of classics from the animation titan, without enough cash in its pocket to go all the way with its ambition.
Set deep in the Amazonian rainforest, our main character is Ainbo (Lola Raie), a thirteen-year-old wannabe warrior who spends her days practising her skills with a bow and arrow. One day, she meets a couple of Spirit Guides, Dillo (Dino Andrade) the armadillo and Vaca (Joe Hernandez) the oversized tapir, which excites Ainbo as their presence means that magic has returned to the jungle after a prolonged absence, but she struggles to get anyone else in her tribe, including her best friend and the tribe’s new leader Zumi (Naomi Serrano), to believe her. To prove her worth, she sets out on a quest with Dillo and Vaca to save her home from a mysterious illness that is plaguing the local waters, which might be the work of an evil jungle demon known as the Yacuruna.
Picking up on any of the Disney vibes yet? Because that’s what you’ll mostly be doing while watching this film; you will be pointing out how similar Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon is to films like Moana, Pocahontas, The Lion King (this film’s two animal sidekicks Dillo and Vaca are borderline clones of Timon and Pumbaa, right down to using some of the same jokes as those characters) and even other films that aren’t under the Disney brand like FernGully: The Last Rainforest, especially when the movie makes a few on-the-nose reveals later on. It borrows so heavily from a lot of these films that it’s honestly surprising that it isn’t also a musical; half the time you’re expecting characters to suddenly break out into song (which they do at one point, but in a contained and emotional context), that’s how much it’s reminding you of Disney’s wheelhouse instead of trying to impress you with its own tricks.
Sadly, Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon doesn’t have a lot to offer even when you take away the blatant Disney influence. It is a fairly bland and generic story, with equally stock characters who have all the personalities and quirks you would expect from a film like this – from the wide-eyed and adventurous protagonist to the goofy and mostly useless sidekicks – and nothing too unique about them to make you care or feel any kind of emotions towards. It also fumbles its inevitable environmental message, because it’s never entirely sure who it wants you to blame for the pillaging of natural resources: either man itself, or this cartoonishly evil jungle spirit who somehow seems to be controlling everything. Something like FernGully is at least a bit more upfront about who’s the true cause of all the ensuing pollution, whereas this gives a more confusing and not as well thought-out message for its younger audience.
The animation is particularly ropey, which gets a little bit of slack because they were obviously working with a small budget, but that doesn’t stop you from noticing odd things like the inactivity of the water (people put their hands into it, and they come out not even looking remotely wet) or the occasionally glitchy strands of hair. The character designs also seem rather plasticky, like they’re a bunch of stiff action figures with few facial muscles to deliver particularly expressive emotions (Ainbo herself, with her big bulbous eyes and petite figure, looks like a walking advertisement for the latest LOL Surprise! doll). With the way that the animation is, along with the stiff graphics of its characters, it often feels like you’re watching an extended cutscene for an underdeveloped PS3 game, because while there technically are textures and colours on-screen – to a point where if you were to pause on a particular shot, you can appreciate how gorgeous it looks when not in motion – there’s frustratingly little else that’s popping as much as it could.
Again, though, it’s nice to see more indigenous main characters in family films, and if anything Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon is a win for further representation in animation. It’s unfortunate, though, that the film itself doesn’t give itself more of a chance to match its well-meaning ambitions.
SO, TO SUM UP…
Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon is a well-meaning but ultimately derivative animated film that borrows all too heavily from Disney’s formula and doesn’t have enough of its own qualities to feel more unique, including generic characters, fumbled messages, and awkward low-budget animation.