Welcome back to my Tears for Fears marathon, where I will be covering every movie featuring the Mexican folk legend La Llorona in anticipation of her newest movie in April...
Director: Alberto Rodriguez
Cast: Andrés Couturier, Mónica Del Carmen, Rafael Inclán
Run Time: 1 hour 15 minutes
This marathon has run us through every subgenre of horror possible (and will continue to do so until the bitter end), but I certainly can say that the one I never expected to be covering was children's animation. Well it turns out the creepy campfire story instincts that led to projects like Goosebumps or Are You Afraid of the Dark? being produced for children aren't isolated to the Anglophone world. Las Leyendas (Legends) is a massively popular Mexican animated film series, where children face off against all kinds of legendary monsters, including El Chupacabra, El Charro Negro, the Mummies of Guanajuato, and... you guessed it.
Surprise! It's La Llorona!
La Leyenda de la Llorona is the second film in the franchise after it debuted with La Leyenda de la Nahuala in 2007. I was worried I might be missing some vital context for the story of the franchise, but luckily these stories are definitely standalone. As long as you're willing to accept without question the fact that our young hero Andres (Andrés Couturier) flies around in a hot air balloon with two skeleton kids, the ghost of an ancient knight, and a dragon named Alebrije (Rafael Inclán). Easy peasy.
Set in the 18th century in the indigenous region of Xochimilco, this is the story of a town besieged by La Llorona, who has been kidnapping children left and right, as she tends to do. Andres is separated from his party, who must battle their way through the horrors of an island of living puppets while he teams up with local irritating child Kika (Mónica Del Carmen), who wants to rescue her brother from La Llorona's clutches.
And though she shares a name with an Almodóvar film, she does not share its gravitas or grace. Or volume.
This film hails from the grand tradition of the Tim Burtons and Scooby Doos of yesteryear, and it's certainly a worthy entry in the creepy animation genre. And while we're at it, this is absolutely one of the scarier cinematic Lloronas out there (and while I've seen a great many of them this year, I can say the bell curve on actual horror has been low).
They do pull a major punch on her backstory, saying that her kids died in an accident when she wasn't watching them rather than having her drown them, but they're still dead is the thing, so at least there's still a bit of an edge here. And the way she wails, drifting down empty moonlit streets is ethereal and strange, helped along quite a bit by the medium of animation that allows her to actually seem ghostly and inhuman rather than some P.A. in a fright wig. And the subplot here is even scarier, because creepy puppets never ever fail.
And speaking of the animation itself, it's... while I wouldn't say beautiful, it's certainly interesting. The backgrounds - especially the buildings in town - are rendered with 3D computer animation, while the characters interacting them are more classically 2D and cartoonish. It's a curious juxtaposition that does draw the eye, and the character designs are pleasantly round and surreal; the adult women in particular are drawn with elegant curving lines and detailed textures that are entirely appealing.
And then there's whatever this is.
All that said, Leyenda is very kiddy. That's certainly not a design flaw, it's doing exactly what it's supposed to be doing. I just don't count myself within the demographic for whom fart/pee/booger jokes can sustain an entire feature film, even one that's barely scraping 80 minutes. There is a false scare built around a pun on La Llorona's catch phrase "Ay, mis hijos" that was satisfying after watching a dozen of these things, and a joke involving a mariachi boat interrupting a quiet contemplative moment that both got me, but all in all I was unmoved. Much in the same way that my adult digestive system is no longer appreciative to me downing a bag of Fun Dip, La Leyenda de La Llorona is not appealing to my film palate, but certainly could have been back in the day.
In terms of movies specifically geared for young children (and I mean young), you could hardly go wrong here. It's probably not convenient for anyone reading this that the movie is currently only streaming in Spanish with English subtitles, because a child old enough to have the patience and reading comprehension for this has probably already aged too far past its interest bracket, but hey! There are kids everywhere who do speak Spanish and they've been given quite a treat here.
TL;DR: La Leyenda de la Llorona is definitely a fine film I would recommend to children, but not one that really speaks to me.
Rating: 6/10Word Count: 841