It’s not often I review something that won’t be imminently coming to local theaters. But in the case of “Zip and Zap and the Marble Gang,” I feel like making an exception.
Part of the first-ever “Sundance Kids” category of the notable film festival, “Zip and Zap” may be geared towards younger viewers, but this Spanish film takes enough cues from adventure movies of the 80s to keep older audiences’ attention.
Zip (Daniel Cerezo) and Zap (Raul Rivas) find their summer plans have taken a detour after they are caught stealing tests and are sent to the severe Hope Academy for reform. Right away they run afoul of the harsh headmaster, Falconetti (Javier Gutierrez); the watchful guard (Christian Mulas), nicknamed Heidi for his less-than-pleasant disposition; and school bully (Juan Gonzalez).
But they find friends, too, in the form of school outcast, Micro (Marcos Ruiz); timid new arrival, Filo (Fran Carcia); and Falconetti’s niece, Matilda (Claudia Vega). Together they decide to strike back at the draconian school by pulling a series of pranks, such as vandalizing the statue of the school’s founder, replacing the bully’s shampoo with glue or spoiling the faculty’s lunch, always leaving a marble behind as a calling card.
The stakes get higher when Falconetti discovers a treasure map left behind by the school’s founder, Sebastian Esperanza (Alex Angulo), and he and the Marble Gang race against each other to solve Esperanza’s riddles first.
The movie feels like a kickback to the adventure movies of the 80s, which is exactly what director Oskar Santos said he drew much of his inspiration from. One film in particular that he mentioned, 1985’s “Goonies,” is plainly visible in the balance between adventurous treasure hunt and evading the clutches of the bad guy.
No particular era is specified for when the movie takes place, which Santos said he also did purposefully to allow more viewers to ascribe the story to their childhood.
The result is almost magical. Besides the obvious references to films of the 80s, the theme of finding fun in the most austere places harkens to movies like “Matilda” (1996) and the whimsy they find evokes a sort of 2007’s “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium.”
The entire film is in Spanish, with English subtitles, but the foreign language, and even the Spanish accent, unusual to those of us more accustomed to hearing accents and dialects from Central and South America, dissolves into the story before long.
Zip and Zap themselves are popular comic book characters who are always getting in and out of trouble in inventive ways, much like Dennis the Menace if he were Spanish and a pair of twins. This adaptation has done well in Spain and is or is going to be released in other Spanish-speaking countries, like Mexico, and Santos said he would like to make a sequel — that is, if Spain’s somewhat precarious economic situation would allow adequate funding.
If he succeeds, I’d line up to see it. It’s unlikely that “Zip and Zap” gets picked up by a studio for a U.S. release because it’s foreign and we make plenty of our own kids movies. But Netflix often streams a number of Sundance movies after the festival. If this is one of them, I recommend you take a look. “Zip and Zap” is more than worth your time.
Time: 97 minutes