Sita Sings the Blues -- Film Review

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Being dumped has longed served as a catalyst for artistic inspiration, but rarely has a dumpee turned their heartbreak into an end result as charming as "Sita Sings the Blues." This low-budget animated film was written, directed, animated and edited by Nina Paley, who proves that an army of technicians isn't necessary to produce something as terrific as anything by Pixar.

To be sure, the film, which interweaves a fictionalized version of its filmmaker's romantic history with excerpts from the ancient Indian epic tale the "Ramayana," is a rather rarified effort that will probably appeal more to adults than to children.

The main storyline concerns Nina, a Brooklyn woman whose boyfriend Dave leaves for India on a six-month work assignment only to wind up breaking up with her via e-mail. Narrating the action are three Indian-accented shadow puppets who use the story of the goddess Sita's ill-fated marriage to the Lord Rama as a parallel to Nina's romantic turmoil.

Appropriately themed musical numbers also figure prominently in the action, via a Betty Boop-style cartoon figure singing to vintage recordings by the 1920's blues singer Annette Hanshaw.

Paley uses a variety of animation styles, ranging from computer to hand-drawn to collage, to wonderful effect, presenting a vividly colorful and sophisticated visual palette that is consistently diverting.

The playfulness also extends to the presentation, with an "intermission" provided despite the film's relatively brief 82-minute running time.

Arriving amidst a tidal wave of overblown and frequently charmless big studio efforts, "Sita Sings the Blues" is a welcome reminder that when it comes to animation bigger isn't necessarily better.

Opened Friday, Dec. 25 (GKids)
Director/screenwriter/animator/editor: Nina Paley
No rating, 82 mins.