The Unbeatables

The Unbeatables

****1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Editor's note: The following review is of the Spanish language 3D version of the film that opened San Sebastian Film Festival in 2013. An English language dub is on release this month in the UK

One of the best scenes in Juan José Campanella's immaculate The Secret In Their Eyes involved a breathtaking camera ride that swooped into a full football stadium. That film also featured a character whose greatest passion was football. In the director's first animation film, which broke box office records when it opened in his native Argentina, this passion for football mixes with a passion for friendship - and it's a winner, proving yet again how adept he is at managing large casts and multiple plotlines.

The film inhabits a land closer to Merry Melodies than Disney, where sponsorship and branding are mocked and where anticipation of a punchline is often as enjoyable as watching it play out. Wile E Coyote would approve.

Amadeo is a star player, although not of the sort you might imagine. His ball skills lie on the football table in his local bar, which is inhabited by the sort of eclectic and eccentric inhabitants who could easily pass as extras in a Sylvain Chomet animation. Like all the characters in Campanella's film - even the ones made out of lead - they are beautifully detailed and come in all shapes and sizes, wrinkles, chipped paint and all.

The object of Amadeo's affection is the feisty Laura, whose presence and enthusiasm animate him. But it's not long before the two of them and their town face a threat from Grosso - the footballing ace he once beat at table football and who is bent on revenge. After a little bit of magic, involving a lovingly animated teardrop, the captain of his table team comes to life and soon they're off on an adventure, first to rescue his compadres and then to win back the town.

There are several frantic and enjoyable action sequences that grow out of the narrative rather than being grafted on and Campanella never drops the story ball, bravely letting his main characters leave the screen for chunks of time in order to give the table football squad time to be established. This is a team movie and each of the ensemble has their part to play.

Every team has star players, though, and the two here are Beto and Loco. Beto has big hair and big ideas, most of which focus on how invaluable he is to the team, while Loco takes a New Age zen approach to life - "I don't have ideas," he tells Amadeo, "I'm pure feeling."

As the story ball is passed from one set of characters to the next, you sense the dexterity without being distracted by it, while the messages about being a team player and winning by fair means not foul underpin the action without getting in the way. The animation is consistently excellent and endlessly inventive, whether it is swinging in for close-ups of Amadeo, playing out the best clown demise since Mary And Max or keeping the backdrop busy with additional sight gags. And while young kids will doubtless love the rush of a rat chase and thrill of the pitch battles (although they'll probably be less keen on the 'smoochy bit'), there is plenty of humour for adults too - from football player parody to, perhaps surprisingly for a film from a predominantly Catholic country, some gentle mocking of religion.

The size of the story and cast do make this quite long for a family film and perhaps matching the 90 minutes of a football game might have been wiser, but who wants to quibble when you're having this much fun? An English dub is reported to be in the works, but the language is no barrier to enjoyment. After a lacklustre summer of animation, Foosball delivers the goods.

Reviewed on: 20 Sep 2013
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A man goes on an adventure with the characters on his table football game.
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Director: Juan José Campanella

Writer: Juan José Campanella, Roberto Fontanarrosa, Gastón Gorali, Eduardo Sacheri

Starring: Juan José Campanella, Diego Ramos, Pablo Rago, Axel Kuschevatzky, Lucía Maciel, David Masajnik, Marcos Mundstock, Diego Mesaglío, Miguel Ángel Rodríguez, Fabián Gianola, Horacio Fontova, Federico Cecere, Sebastián Mogordoy, Mariana Otero, Roberto Kim

Year: 2013

Runtime: 106 minutes

Country: Argentina, Spain

Festivals:

SSFF 2013
London 2013

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