Ainbo (voiced by Lola Raie), a young orphan living in the deep parts of the Amazon, yearns to find her calling as a warrior in order to save her village from an unknown “curse”. Joined by two spirit guides – Dillo and Vaca (voiced by Dino Andrade and Joe Hernandez respectively) – Ainbo sets off on a journey to discover the cause of the curse and find out why she is the one destined to stop it.
Advertised as Moana meets Brave is no small boast and should be taken lightly considering the success Disney has with it’s Princess properties. Unfortunately, Ainbo just can’t keep up with the films that brought it inspiration. From its strange animation, dull script, and blatant copying of some of the more iconic animated tales out there (all from Disney), Director Jose Zelada unfortunately creates a tale that can’t think for itself and offers nothing new to the growing library of animated films on the market.
What hurts most about Ainbo is that there is so much great about the premise that is ruined by being derivative. The setting is lush and beautiful and is hands down the best part of the film. The moment it starts you are thrust into deep greens and vibrant blues and other colors commonly found in the Amazon rainforest. As the story develops, each location pops with color and life that is honestly on par with some of Disney’s best work. Layer this in with a deforestation sub-plot and you have yourself a poignant and timely exploration of a very real issue currently happening. Unfortunately, the world that is created here is developed at a surface level in favor of focusing more on the story and characters.
It’s immediately apparent that Ainbo just isn’t capable of being like the films in which it is inspired by. Ainbo, who is meant to be our protagonist, is annoying at best while her two spirit guides could easily be swapped out with any tiny-agile and fat-funny sidekicks. The other characters are either cardboard cutouts of character tropes or are written to be so unlikable you can’t help but not connect with any of them.
It’s a shame too because with a little more care, the story here could have been the one Zelada envisioned. I wanted to learn so much more about the Amazonian stories and beliefs that are only just touched on here. If a little more focus and attention was placed on the setting and its rich traditions, the story and viewing experience for Ainbo would have been greatly increased. Instead, what happens is the five writers rush through each act to ensure they’ve included every obligatory animated princess stereotype they could to, what feels like, cash in on the success of the genre.
That being said, Ainbo is a good film for those young ones who enjoy Saturday morning, rated Y-7 type shows. It checks off the boxes for what makes a good animated film (independent heroine, comical sidekicks, lush setting) so it’s bound to be a hit with a younger audience. In addition, there is always value in delving into the stories of a new culture while subliminally teaching of the affects deforestation has on the Amazon and the Indigenous peoples who live there. Outside of that demographic though, it’s going to be hard for anyone to ignore the flaws that this film has.
Reviewed online (screener provided by Signature Entertainment), August 28, 2021. Rating: PG. Running time: 84 min.
PRODUCTION: A Cinema Management Group and Tunche Films production. Producers: Richard Claus, Cesar Zelada, Jose Zelada, and Sergio Zelada. Executive Producer: Edward Noeltner.
CREW: Director/Writer: Jose Zelada. Screenplay: Richard Claus, Brian Cleveland, Jason Cleveland, and Larry Wilson. Editing: Job ter Burg. Art Direction: Pierre Salazar. Music: Vidjay Beerepoot.
CAST: Thom Hoffman, Alejandra Gollas, Bernardo De Paula, Dino Andrade, Yeni Alvarez, Joe Hernandez, Lola Raie, Naomi Serrano, Rene Mujica, Susana Ballesteros, Gerardo Prat, and Rico Sola.