Runtime: 98 minutes
Director: German Acuna
Starring: Consuelo Pizarro, Marcelo Liapiz, Jorge Lillo
By: Tom Moore
Director German Acuna creates a delightfully adventurous animated coming of age tale with his directorial debut “Nahuel and the Magic Book”(2020).
The film follows a young boy named Nahuel (voiced by Consuelo Pizarro) who yearns to impress his sea-faring father but struggles to work beside him because of his fear of the sea. One day though, Nahuel comes across a magical book that not only makes him able to get over his fear of the sea, but also catches the eye of a dark wizard named Kalku (voiced by Marcelo Liapiz) who is also seeking the book to summon a destructive beast. So, to lure Nahuel to him and snag the book, Kalku kidnaps his father Antonio (voiced by Jorge Lillo) forcing Nahuel to face his fears to rescue his father.
The film’s animation and character designs have a great mixture of modern story book drawings and Cartoon Network animation. It looks sort of anime-esque with a slight reminiscence to more modern Cartoon Network shows, and it matches the film’s great balance of magical mysticism and grounded personal narratives. So, it has a somewhat nostalgic quality to its look and, honestly, there’s something refreshing about seeing a 2-D animated film with many major studios transitioning to 3-D lately. There’re also some elements of Chilean and Mapuchean folklore brought to life through the animation and the more mystical elements and characters of the film.
At its heart though, the film is about Nahuel overcoming his fears and it’s what makes his journey universally relatable and easy to attach yourself to. With his father still reeling from the death of Nahuel’s mother, Nahuel tries everything his power to make him proud. His desires to overcome his fear to do so make him instantly admirable and keep you right by his side as he ventures to face Kalku to his rescue his father. While Nahuel’s journey might play out in the ways that we’ve seen in many fantasy adventures before, the personal aspects of it for Nahuel and his relationship with his father give the film a warmth that makes it easily enjoyable and tug at your heart in the right ways. It also helps that the voice acting is so strong and that Kalku is a delightfully raspy villain that has a lot of fun power that’s animated really well.
Where the film struggles to make a greater impression is that it’s just a little plain and unremarkable. As said before, it’s a pretty familiar and standard fantasy adventure that actually feels more reminiscent to a Studio Ghibli film the more I think about it. However, “Nahuel and the Magic Book” lacks strong supporting characters or storylines to elevate the personal main tale. None of the supporting characters are all that memorable and some of their story arcs that are weaved within Nahuel’s journey have interesting elements, like the connection between a talking wolf named Ruende (voiced by Sebastian Dupont Gallardo) and Kalku’s enforcer Raiquen (voiced by Vanesa Silva), but don’t connect as well.
Also, the world-building as a whole isn’t that memorable, and it feels like there could’ve been more elements of Chilean and Mapuchean lore to expand on the world. It’s great that characters like Kalku and other characters stem from that mythology, but it never feels like their presence or historical connections play a big role in the film or that if they do, they don’t come across in a memorable way. It just would’ve helped the film’s world not feel so plain and given the film a strong cultural tie that would give it a more unique identity.
“Nahuel and the Magic Book” is a solid coming of age animated tale full of refreshing animation and good personal themes of overcoming fears that’re fitting for all ages, but it just doesn’t leave a lasting impression. It’s a film that’s easy to love and carries an adventurous spirit, but just isn’t all that special.