Argentina’s Juan Jose Campanella makes the unusual move of following the Oscar-winning “The Secret in Their Eyes” with a soccer-themed 3D toon — and strikes gold. “Foosball” is a non-stop charmer allegedly geared to kids but just as likely to delight parents, featuring a nerdy table-soccer champ and the lead figurine players that come to life to trounce a bullying egomaniac. A summer release in Argentina went boffo, scoring the nation’s highest first-day B.O. bow, a feat likely to be repeated in other Spanish-lingo territories. The English version, with distribution from 369 Prods., should also see sky-high returns.
The media is championing the pic as the equal of U.S. animation giants, which isn’t an exaggeration given the slickness of the product as well as the cleverness of the design. “Foosball” is Latin America’s biggest budgeted cartoon feature — at $21 million — and will roll out in all territories once dubbing is completed.
As with the best sports-related films, “Foosball” uses the genre to raise larger themes like confidence, loyalty and teamwork, making it attractive to parents as well as their non-sporty tots. Campanella also brings in a generous amount of movie-related references, from “2001: A Space Odyssey” (the very funny opener) to “Star Wars,” Westerns and other cultural icons, ensuring the film works on multiple levels that satisfy all ages.
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The majority of the story takes place in flashback, bookended by the tale of a father, Amadeo (David Masajnik), and son Mati (Natalia Rosminati), in which the dad tries to get his loner offspring off his iPad by telling him about his own youth. Back in the day, young Amadeo (Luciana Falcon) himself was an outsider, obsessed with playing table soccer at his local cafe and too shy to let Laura (Lucia Maciel) know his true feelings. When a group of tough kids came looking for a fight, Laura’s encouragement inspired Amadeo to wipe the floor with them on the soccer table, resulting in the eternal enmity of bully Grosso (Mariana Otero).
Years later, Grosso (Diego Ramos) comes back to take revenge on the only person who ever beat him at anything. With an oily manager (Coco Sily) by his side, he’s bought the entire town, which he plans to bulldoze to build the world’s largest stadium with himself as undisputed star. Also key to his plan is destroying the offending soccer table, which Amadeo is desperate to protect. While the table is being carted away, he rescues one figurine, who comes to life when splashed with Amadeo’s tears, and together they set off to save the other players
Each player of course has a distinctive personality, with the blonde-afro’d Beto (Fabian Gianola) the most appealing, his puffed-up swagger and penchant for the spotlight (he does a terrific soft-shoe number) barely disguising his true-blue heart. It’s these unexpected touches of whimsicality that make “Foosball” such a pleasure to watch, from the hilarious list of stadium sponsors to Grosso’s outsized Xanadu of a mansion, replete with statues of himself in imitation of everything from Rodin’s “The Thinker” to, best of all, both figures in Michelangelo’s “Pieta.”
Oddly enough, the only place where “Foosball” falters is in the climactic soccer match, which has a certain drive but doesn’t quite achieve the level of excitement required. Ultimately it’s a minor quibble, and few will feel the temporary lag, instead swept up by the sight of Amadeo and the rag-tag assortment of underdog townspeople he’s pulled together, assisted by the soccer table figurines.
Given the toon’s clear stylistic debt to Pixar, comparisons with the “Toy Story” franchise are inevitable, though little here feels derivative thanks to the high entertainment value and impressive art direction. 3D is nicely integrated, adding amusement via details such as the flight of a foosball, or the oversized bosom of a townswoman. The rich orchestrations of Emilio Kauderer (“Miss Bala,” “The Secret in Their Eyes”), with hints of “Lion King,” Wagner, and a host of other sources, are true smile-inducers.