“Koati’s timeless 2D captures the heart of Latin America’s biodiversity
It is a paradise where armadillos wield magic, frogs and butterflies take flight on the backs of jabiru birds, and flowers of all shapes and colors, and animals of all species, live together as families. Originally from Venezuela and owner of the animation studio Upstairs, Anabella Sosa-Dovarganes tells her film Koati is “complete nonsense” as far as scientific correctness is concerned. But, at the same time, it’s an incredibly beautiful testament to its beloved Latin America, the creatures that inhabit its rainforests, and the timeless power of 2D animation.
âI am very proud,â says Sosa-Dovarganes. âWhat we did was amazing. And I think people are going to see that when they see the movie.
In theaters today, Koati follows the heroic adventure of three unlikely heroes – Nachi (SebastiÃ¡n Villalobos), a free-spirited coati; Xochi (Evaluna Montaner), a fearless monarch butterfly; and Pako (Eduardo Franco), an overactive glass frog – who embark on an exciting journey to stop an evil coral snake named Zaina (SofÃa Vergara) from destroying their homeland of Xo.
This is the first animated feature film produced by Upstairs, starring Los Hijos by Jack and Latin We. Starring longtime Disney collaborator Toon City Animation, the film not only features actor Vergara as the film’s primary antagonist, but the Modern family star also serves as executive producer.
Almost all KoatiThe main actors and key members of the production team, like Sosa-Dovarganes, have ties to Latin America, with Vergara from Colombia, production designer SimÃ³n Valdimir Varela from El Salvador, artistic directors Lubomir Arsov and Fernando Sawa from Argentina, and director Rodrigo Perez -Castro from Mexico.
âI want the audience to be moved,â says Perez-Castro, who is known for his storyboard work on Ferdinand and Rio 2. âLaugh, cry, all the good things. But I hope that by falling in love with the characters, they will realize that the natural world is disappearing. Because it’s up to the children to make the world survive.
It’s no secret that biodiversity has become an increasingly scarce commodity in our world. For Sosa-Dovarganes, it was a 10-year journey to come up with a story that would not only highlight all the unique regions of Latin America, but also grab attention – using 2D animations drawn in the hand – on the natural world and the endangered species in its forests which are disappearing as quickly.
âThe seed of this project was to make sure we sang for Latin America and its qualities, but one of the reasons the world really needs Latin America is because it is currently home to the great majority of tropical forests, âexplains Sosa-Dovarganes, whose team has joined forces with WWF (World Wide Fund For Nature) to promote more sustainable lifestyles and the film’s environmental message. “When we started creating the movie, we handpicked the animals that we knew were in danger to be the characters.”
She adds, âWe really wanted this movie to be different. We didn’t choose the prettiest animals that people would naturally be drawn to. We chose those who represented who we are as a culture and those who most needed our attention. “
All of the animals depicted in the film, with the exception of the coati protagonist Nachi, are currently on the verge of extinction: the Pako glass frog, the black jaguar Balam, the quetzal bird Amaya, the tamarind monkey Whiskers and many more. ‘others. But the animators have brought these animals, naturally attractive or not, a vibrant and graphic life in the hope that audiences will grow in their penchant for the strangely charming Pako, sage Balam, kindergarten Amaya, among others, and want embrace change see these animals survive.
And much of the public attraction to the rainforest world has been to bring back the nostalgic aesthetic of hand-drawn animation.
âWhen Anabella approached me, I was like, ‘Let’s do like one of those hand-drawn, rich, fully animated movies in the traditional way,'” Perez-Castro recalls. âWe both grew up with the classic hand-drawn animated films like The little Mermaid and The Lion King. So, it’s in our DNA. And I think one of the many reasons I got into the business was because of these movies.
He continues: âIt was a pretty ambitious idea and we had to search under every stone to find animators who could work on the film. But people really got into that idea, and we found a lot of animators who were keen to get their hands on character animation in a very naturalistic way. We didn’t want animals like Bugs Bunny or Madagascar. We wanted to reflect the natural world, the same way they did in Bambi, and the anatomy of these animals.
Like the animal characters, the film’s sets are incredibly captivating, from lush greenery and silky waterfalls to regal architecture and looming volcanoes. In total, KoatiThe fictional setting explores around a dozen real-life locations in Latin America, such as the Yucatan and the Amazon, and landmarks specific to these regions, from the Great Iguazu Falls to the Tepuis Mountains.
âWe even have the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuaries, which aren’t really in the jungle, so we’ve taken some artistic liberties,â Perez-Castro notes. âThere are a lot of Mayan motifs, not only in the pyramids but also in the very jungle where you see flowers designed in a manner representative of Mesoamerican cultures. It was a combination of trying to emulate some of that nostalgia we all had for the hand-drawn animated feel of those Disney classics, but, at the same time, give it that fresh look that’s very particular to Latin America.
Sosa-Dovarganes says the team has been extremely diligent with the development phase and taken it very seriously, given the amount of negotiation it took to convince investors and partners that 2D, rather than 3D, was the way to go.
âThey didn’t understand why we wanted to go back to 2D, but we were very lucky to have people who trusted us,â says Sosa-Dovarganes. âWe’ve spent almost two years doing development and I think you can see it in the level of detail of our work. One context, in particular, took us almost four months to approve.
Pete Denomme is a producer on Koati and is one of the only members without Latin American descent, although Sosa-Dovarganes says he has a “big Latin heart”. The CEO of Switch VFX and Animation is also no stranger to films that focus on highlighting the importance of the world’s various forests and the small lives that are often overlooked in the name of economic progress. “The first movie I worked on in my animation career was Fern Gully, and it’s ironic that one of the last movies I’m going to be working on is Koati, says Denomme. âIt’s just a full circle for me. âThe audience will fall in love with the characters and then they will fall in love with the story. Fern Gully, the script and the thinking in that film, it still resonates today. it will be the same with Koati. He’s going to have a legacy down the road. People are going to keep picking it up because of the environmental aspect and the characters. “
While KoatiThe mission of is to bring about change, Sosa-Dovarganes is adamant that this is first and foremost a “feel-good movie”, mixing characters and environments that would never scientifically fit together in aiming to impact the next generation of change makers and creating a beautiful quilt of Latin American representation.
âThe movie is not meant to be depressive,â she shares. âIt’s not a documentary. It is not our role. Our role is to retain families and make them love the characters. Then hopefully it will plant a seed. Although the World Wide Fund for Nature has already been able to involve people who care about the environment, they have not gone beyond this group. And in order for them to make a real impact, they really need young audiences to get involved.
She adds, âThere is a song in the movie called ‘Together Through Everything’ and, to me, that sums up this movie. It is a message of hope and happiness and that there is a future if we unite.
Victoria Davis is a full-time freelance journalist and part-time Otaku with an affinity for all things anime. She has reported on many stories ranging from activist news to entertainment. To learn more about his work, visit victoriadavisdepiction.com.