‘Zip and Zap and the Captain’s Island' (‘Zipe y Zape y la Isla del Capitan’): Film Review

Courtesy of Mod Producciones
Visually zippy, dramatically unzappy.

Oskar Santos’ second update on the 1950s Spanish comic-book heroes follows 2013’s successful ‘Zip and Zap and the Marble Gang.'

In the creepy house in which Spanish comic-book heroes Zip and Zap find themselves in Zip and Zap and the Captain’s Island, there is a mural showing the likes of Sherlock Holmes, Allan Quartermain and Jekyll and Hyde, adventure staples from an earlier time. “How boring,” the two heroes mutter, and turn away, which is a shame, because their film could have done with a little more of that old-fashioned heroic spirit. Since its mid-August release in Spain, Captain’s Island has failed to replicate the success of the first film, 2013's Zip and Zap and the Marble Gang, but offshore distributors in selected territories should still be seduced by the pic’s visual flair and generally slick production values.

With a deranged storyline which doesn’t so much employ poetic license as a whole poetic driving academy, Oskar Santos’ second update of Jose Escobar’s 1950s Spanish comic strip boy heroes follows up the successful, more grounded Marble Gang. It’s agreeable enough for a single viewing before being swiftly forgotten by its 7- to 12-year-old demographic. But tweenies need real suspense too, and there’s not much of that on show. Neither, despite the promise of the title, are the heroes properly naughty but charming: just a couple of pleasant-looking but rather sullen floppy haired kids (for obvious reasons, neither reprise from the earlier film) whose adventure this supposedly is.

After burning down a store while trying to steal from a Christmas tree, Zip (Teo Planell) and Zap (Toni Gomez) accompany their parents (Jorge Bosch and Carolina Lapausa) to a remote island, where the father has a meeting. Lost, they end up in a house run by Miss Pam (Elena Anaya), the butler Jaime (Fermi Reixach) and a deranged nun, Sister Enriqueta (Goizalde Nunez). Otherwise inhabited only by children, the island is run by Miss Pam on a no-rules, happiness-only basis, touching but not exploring themes about how to raise your child, which will briefly make the viewers’ parents sit up and take notice.

When Zip and Zap awaken the next morning, it is to find their parents gone — they’ve been abandoned, as MIss Pam tells them. But actually, Miss Pam has a big machine with lots of explosions and smoke which turns "troubled parents" (a nice touch) into the children they once were, in this case Flequi (Iria Castellano) and Maqui (Maximo Pastor). They also befriend the mysterious Pipi (Ana Blanco de Cordova) and a gorilla, and realizing that something is afoot, they decide to flee the island and find their parents.

So far, so intriguing: There’s plenty of fascinating stuff going on through the first half. What could be better than a quest to find your parents when your parents are themselves in your gang? And why do these supposedly free children behave in such a shiny, happy and robotic manner? But the second half is standard chase fare, not very suspenseful, with the script seemingly unable to explore the fabulous world it has set up. The filmmakers, instead of seeking to intrigue their young viewers, have decided that their idea is actually pretty boring and must be rushed through. There are brief hit-the-spot moments, as when the kids happen upon a load of abandoned cars with no license plates which formerly belonged to the now-transformed parents who inhabit the island. While fascinating from an Oedipal point of view, Zap has a crush on Flequi, his own mother, which luckily remains unconsummated. But all the potential complications finally resolve into cliche.

Zip and Zap are supposed to be naughty boy heroes, but the scriptwriters have succeeded in making them merely obnoxious, with much of their dialogue merely unfunny abuse of their elders. Neither are they particularly instrumental in saving the day, which is what heroes are supposed to do. It’s the other child characters who largely do so, with all of them, especially Flequi, more engaging than the titular heroes.

Visually, it’s all pretty impressive in a lovingly detailed, retro kind of way, with digital effects and canny lighting making a satisfyingly creepy location of both Miss Pam’s roving country house and the island’s shadowy forest. Fernando Velazquez’s rousing score makes an unoriginal but appropriate contribution.

Production companies: Mod Producciones, Zeta Cinema, Atresmedia Cinema, Kowalski Film
Cast: Teo Planell, Toni Gomez, Elena Anaya
Director: Oskar Santos
Screenwriters: Jorge A. Lara, Oskar Santos
Producers: Fernando Bovaira, Francisco Ramos, Mikel Lejarza, Mercedes Gamero, Koldo Zuazua
Executive producer: Urko Errazquin
Director of photography: Daniel Sosa
Production designer: Juan Pedro de Sosa
Costume designer: Andrea Flesch
Editor: Carolina Martinez Urbina
Composer: Fernando Velazquez
Casting director: Rosa Morales
Sales: Film Factory Entertainment

Not rated, 105 minutes