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Fantasia Fest 2020: 'A Costume for Nicolas' Review

Chris is a member of the Houston Film Critics Society and a writer/contributor at Bounding into Comics and God Hates Geeks.

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Never Stop Dreaming

Based on the novel Pablo and the Trunk by Jaime Mijares, A Costume for Nicolas is an animated film from Mexico originally in the Spanish language (the version watched for this review was in English). Written by Miguel Angel Uriegas and directed by Eduardo Rivero, A Costume for Nicolas is the second feature film from animation studio Fotosintesis Media.

The film follows a 10-year-old boy named Nicolas who has Down’s syndrome. Every year for his birthday, his mother would make Nicolas a new costume. Nicolas believes that all of his costumes are magical and he keeps them in a special trunk. His mother tells him a story of six brave warriors, which are based on his costumes; a cowboy, a pirate, a knight, a yeti, a skeleton, and a monkey.

But after his mother dies, Nicolas goes to live with his grandparents and his cousin David. David suffers from nightmares and is wrapped up in his father not being around due to work. David doesn’t understand why he’s forced to share his room and his stuff with his cousin and doesn’t want him around. Once a monster shows up trying to steal David’s nightmares, Nicolas gathers his costumes and sets off on an adventure that will save his cousin and allow him to do anything he sets his heart and his mind to.

A Costume for Nicolas has an estimated budget of $1.5 million, which is incredibly tiny for an animated film. The character designs are simple and could be considered basic, but it does seem like the animators tried to do as much as possible with such a limited budget. The kingdom in Nicolas’ trunk is overflowing with rich colors and lush rainforests.

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The film is at its most vivid whenever it’s dusk, whenever nighttime shadows take over David’s room, and the red scales on a particular fire breathing creature are the best details the film has to offer. The story told by Nicolas’ mother at the beginning of the film has some fairly impressive cel-shading going on, as well.

Maybe it’s because The Peanut Butter Falcon turned out so well, but it’s easy to sympathize with Nicolas and adore him as a character. He doesn’t understand why his mother is no longer around, but he’s a generally awesome young boy otherwise. He is fantastically imaginative, almost always happy, he’s extremely polite, and his demeanor is just so pure and innocent. He’s also voiced by someone who actually has Down’s syndrome, which only seems to add authenticity to the character. Nicolas wants to play with other kids, but has no problem entertaining himself on his own. He’s adorable, loves giving people hugs, and you can feel the warmth in his heart the minute you see him on screen.

Beware the Beaverdile

Without reading the novel the film is based on, it’s difficult to decipher whether or not A Costume for Nicolas is blatantly copying elements from other films or if it’s just a film staying true to its source material. Hugo, the monster that eats nightmares, looks like an evil version of Toothless from How to Train Your Dragon. He’s black and purple with orange eyes, claws on his feet, and a transparent, ghost-like lower half. While the snow monster/Yeti they encounter looks a lot like Sully from Monsters, Inc.

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Nicolas and David ride Hugo like Bastion riding Falcor in The Neverending Story. Anna has a cabin that walks on crab legs and it moves in similar fashion like Howl’s Moving Castle. And the weirdest element of all is that Jonas the Pirate’s big escape plan is an obvious replica of the “Wait for all of this to blow over,” gag from Shaun of the Dead.

In a way, this all seems kind of lazy. But, apart from Shaun, these all seem like films a ten year old could be introduced to by his parents. Nicolas, David, and even Richie the Monkey are dressed like Luke, Han, and Chewie from Star Wars at the end of the film. The trunk takes what Nicolas knows and turns it into an adventure to allow him to adapt to a strenuous and life-altering situation. While Nicolas doesn’t have nightmares, he dresses up in order to feel brave or confront a conflict. It only seems natural that if he saw these films they’d be recycled and morphed into this heart pounding adventure his brain and self-consciousness cooked up.

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While you fall in love with Nicolas as a character, it doesn’t seem like he goes through enough throughout the film. The heartbroken element of his mom being taken from him is swept under the rug rather quickly. Kids bully Nicolas at times, but it doesn’t go anywhere. Personally speaking, it would have been more satisfying if there was a moment where Nicolas broke down and cried uncontrollably or nearly gave up on his adventure. Whether it was because he missed his mom, he was bullied, because David didn’t want to be his friend, or because he just didn’t understand where his life was at this particular moment.

There’s this desire of seeing Nicolas push past those obstacles and become stronger as a character, but you want feel sad and possibly cry with this character. You are emotionally attached to him from the start and if he suffered any sort of actual heartbreak or emotional trauma in the film it would probably cause the audience to break down, as well. That kind of bond with a fictional character doesn’t come along very often, so it’s disappointing that Nicolas never experiences that.

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A Costume for Nicolas has a lot of flaws. It isn’t overly original and the story doesn’t go in unprecedented directions like you’d hope. The film sticks to being silly and childlike when it absolutely has every opportunity to be something deeper and more memorable. The animation is a little lackluster, but it also has the appearance of a child’s juvenile drawing you might put on the refrigerator being brought to life.

With everything working against it including Anna and Sophia having two of the most annoying English dub voices in the entire film, A Costume for Nicolas is still enjoyable. Somehow it manages to be charming, fun, and imaginative for all ages. The film goes out of its way to show why nightmares are important. Never stop dreaming. Never stop wearing costumes. Never stop channeling that inner Nicolas to face whatever scary thing that might come along. This is the type of animated film that makes the viewer’s heart swell. In a time when the world seems to be at its bleakest, Nicolas and his positive outlook on life should make anyone’s day a little brighter.

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© 2020 Chris Sawin

Comments

Cheryl E Preston from Roanoke on September 30, 2020:

This is very interesting and holds the attention.