Hey, parents! Do your kids like Moana? The Lion King? FernGully? Those Ice Age movies? They might find fleeting moments to enjoy in Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon, if the movie doesn’t frighten them first.
Underneath those obvious connections, Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon wants to tell an original story with cultural roots and folklore influences, that also touches upon important ancestral and environmental themes. It’s a hefty narrative load provided by screenwriters Richard Claus, Brian Cleveland, Jason Cleveland, and Larry Wilson, and directors José Zelada and Claus try and make it more accessible to kids by feeding them a vibrant-looking flick with a swift pace. While the effort could be appreciated by adults, the movie will certainly fly right over the heads of children.
The main problem with this movie is that characters are introduced too quickly, undercutting their arcs and charterization. For the titular Ainbo (voiced by Cheaper by the Dozen’s Lola Raie), embarking on her own quest to save her village, this rush is detrimental to her story and plays down an otherwise big villainous reveal. For other characters, like Ainbo’s annoying Timon-and-Pumbaa-lookalike sidekicks Dillo and Vaca, the viewer is left in confusion. Dillo and Vaca (voiced by Dino Andrade and Joe Hernandez) introduce themselves as Ainbo’s spirit guides and Ainbo just, kind of, smiles and accepts them. What’s fun about that discovery? Kids won’t be too enthused by the adult characters either. They’re either voiced too sombrely, have upsetting demises, or are overall creepy (the inclusion of a shape-shifting demon may be accurate to the filmmakers’ vision, but feels inappropriate for more vulnerable children).
The film’s sole strength is its animation, despite poor voice syncing. Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon doesn’t reinvent the wheel for animation but, in terms of 3D cartoons, the visuals are a beautiful rendition of a tropical hideaway. But even though the animation deserves to be seen on a big screen, those other disappointing elements nevertheless push me towards not recommending Ainbo: Spirit of the Amazon, even for the most open-minded and more forgiving families.
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Addison Wylie: @AddisonWylie