It is a paradise where armadillos do magic, frogs and butterflies fly on the backs of jabiru birds, and flowers of all shapes and colors and animals of all kinds live together as families. Anabella Sosa-Dovarganes, born in Venezuela and owner of the Upstairs animation studio, says her film Koati is “complete nonsense” when it comes to scientific accuracy. But at the same time it is an incredibly beautiful testimony to her beloved Latin America, the creatures that inhabit its rainforests, and the timeless power of 2D animation.
“I am very proud,” says Sosa-Dovarganes. “What we did was amazing. And I think people will see that when they see the film. “
Released in theaters today, Koati follows the heroic adventure of three unlikely heroes – Nachi (Sebastián Villalobos), a free-spirited coati; Xochi (Evaluna Montaner), a fearless monarch butterfly; and Pako (Eduardo Franco), a hyperactive glass frog, embark on an exciting journey to prevent an evil coral snake named Zaina (Sofía Vergara) from destroying their home, Xo.
This is the first animated feature film to be produced by Upstairs with Los Hijos de Jack and Latin We. With animations by long-time Disney collaborator Toon City Animation, the film not only shows the actor Vergara as the main antagonist of the film, but also the Modern family star also acts as executive producer.
Almost all Koati‘s leading actors and key members of the production team, such as Sosa-Dovarganes, have ties to Latin America, with Vergara from Colombia, production designer Simón Valdimir Varela from El Salvador, art directors Lubomir Arsov and Fernando Sawa from Argentina, and director Rodrigo Perez-Castro from Mexico.
“I want the audience to be moved,” says Perez-Castro, who is known for his storyboard work Ferdinand and Rio 2. “Laugh, cry, all the good things. But I hope that as they fall in love with the characters, they gain an awareness of the disappearing nature. Because it is up to the children to make sure that the world survives. “
It is no secret that biodiversity has become an increasingly rare commodity in our world. For Sosa-Dovarganes, it’s been a 10-year journey with a story that not only highlights all of Latin America’s unique regions, but also uses hand-drawn 2D animations to draw attention to the natural world and endangered species around it, forests that are also rapidly disappearing .
“The essence of this project was to make sure we sing for Latin America and its qualities, but one of the reasons the world really needs Latin America is because it is now home to the vast majority of rainforests,” explains Sosa-Dovarganes, whose Team has partnered with WWF (World Wide Fund For Nature) to promote more sustainable lifestyles and the film’s conservation message. “When we started making the film, we chose the characters that we knew were in danger.”
She adds, “We really wanted this film to be different. We didn’t select the most beautiful animals that humans are naturally drawn to. We selected those who represented who we are as a culture and those who needed our attention the most. “
Every animal depicted in the film, with the exception of the coati protagonist Nachi, is currently threatened with extinction – the pako glass frog, the black jaguar balam, the quetzal bird Amaya, the tamarin monkey whiskers and many others. But the animators have given these animals, naturally attractive or not, vivid, graphic life in the hopes that the audience will grow and bring about change for the strangely charming Pako, the wise Balam, the maternal Amaya, among others would like to see how these animals survive.
And a big part of drawing audiences into the world of the rainforest has been bringing back the nostalgic aesthetic of hand-drawn animation.
“When Anabella approached me, I thought, ‘Let’s make one of those hand-drawn films, rich and traditionally fully animated,'” recalls Perez-Castro. “We both grew up with the classic hand-drawn animation 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 films. “
He continues, “It was a pretty ambitious idea and we had to look under every stone to find animators to work on the film. But people really got this idea and we found a lot of animators who longed to animate characters in very naturalistic ways. We didn’t want animals like Bugs Bunny or von Madagascar. We wanted to reflect the natural world, much like they did Bambi, and the anatomy of these animals. “
Like the animal characters, the movie’s backdrops are incredibly captivating, from lush greenery and silky waterfalls to regal architecture and menacing volcanoes. In total, Koati‘s fictional backdrop explores around a dozen real-world locations in Latin America, such as the Yucatan and the Amazon, and landmarks specific to those regions, from the great Iguazu Falls to the Tepuis Mountains.
“We even have the Monarch Butterfly Sanctuaries, which aren’t actually in the jungle, so we took some artistic liberties,” notes Perez-Castro. “There are many Mayan motifs, not only in the pyramids, but also in the actual jungle, where you can see flowers that are representative of the Mesoamerican cultures. It was a combination of trying to emulate some of the nostalgia we all had for the hand-drawn animated feel of these Disney classics while giving it that fresh look that is very typical of Latin America. “
According to Sosa-Dovarganes, the team was extremely careful during the development phase and took it very seriously, considering how many negotiations it took to convince investors and partners that 2D rather than 3D was the way to go.
“They didn’t understand why we wanted to go back to 2D, but we were very lucky to have people who trusted us,” says Sosa-Dovarganes. “We spent almost two years developing it, and I think you can see that in the level of detail in our work. Especially with one background, it took us almost four months to approve. “
Pete Denomme acts as a producer Koati and is one of the few members without a Latin American background, although Sosa-Dovarganes says he has a “big Latin American heart”. The CEO of Switch VFX and Animation is also no stranger to films that highlight the importance of the world’s diverse forests and the little life that is often overlooked in the name of economic advancement. “The first movie I ever worked on in my animation career was Ferngully, and it’s ironic that this is one of the last films I’ll ever work on Koati“Says Denomme. “For me it comes full circle. “The audience will fall in love with the characters and then with the story. Ferngully, the plot and the thoughtfulness in this movie, it still resonates today. It will be the same with Koati. It will have a legacy on the road. People will take it up again and again because of the environmental aspect and the characters. “
While Koati‘s mission is to bring about change. Sosa-Dovarganes firmly believes that it is primarily a “feel good film” that mixes characters and environments that would never scientifically match to influence the next generation of change and create a great quilt of Latin representation.
“The film shouldn’t be depressed,” she says. “It’s not a documentary. It’s not our role. Our job is to engage the families and make them fall in love with the characters. Then hopefully a seed will be sown. Although the World Wide Fund for Nature has already been able to engage people who care about the environment, they have not outgrown this group. And so that they can really make an impact, they really need a young audience to get involved. “
She adds, “There’s a song in the movie called Together Through Everything that for me sums up this movie. It is a message of hope and happiness and that there is a future when we get together. “
Victoria Davis is a full-time, freelance journalist and part-time otaku with an affinity for everything anime-related. She has covered numerous stories, from activist news to entertainment. Learn more about their work at victoriadavisdepiction.com.