The trailer for Netflix’s 2018 Pachamama promised a rare glimpse into the culture surrounding Mother Cosmos, worshipped by the indigenous people of the Andes. Instead, the film took certain ideas and beliefs only to bounce off their surface, happy enough to simply allude to a historically – and anthropologically – rich backstory. And as someone who enjoys animated films to a perplexing degree, I was left disappointed by the amount of holes I had to patch up on my own.
The French-Luxembourgian-Canadian animated film, directed by Juan Antin [Mercano the Martian], follows young Tepulpai (Andrea Santamarina) on his quest to become the next shaman of his village. At first, his world revolves around his inability to be accepted as a “Great One”, until it spins out of control when an external threat emerges. As an Incan tax collector appears to confiscate most of the village’s crops, the people’s prized Huaca statue also finds its way into his hands. Outraged, Tepulpai and his friend Naïra (India Coenen) set out to retrieve it from the Incan emperor. Along the way, they learn about “gods with metal skins”, or beings from a different world. To bring their cherished Huaca statue home, they must risk their lives by crossing paths with the foreign invaders – and survive.
The film draws substantial inspiration from the 2000 animated adventures The Emperor’s New Groove and The Road to El Dorado. The former features a spoiled Incan emperor, much like the one we meet in Pachamama. The latter portrays the arrival of Hernán Cortés, the merciless Spanish Conquistador, who led an expedition that caused the fall of the Aztec Empire. Pachamama depicts the leader of the “metal gods” precisely the same way as the creators of The Road to El Dorado – we are faced with the same gruff voice and pointy nose. In fact, it’s as though the makers of Pachamama copied the design that was drawn up eighteen years prior – down to the very same haircut. The problem with that, of course, is that Cortés wasn’t the one who invaded the Incan empire. It was Francisco Pizarro.
The 2D graphics go in tandem with a very one-dimensional story. Plenty of potential, but hardy any substance – maybe it would have worked better as a short film. The lack of intricate storytelling narrows down the film’s audience to the youngest of children. But seeing as kids nowadays are used to flashing images, and even swiping, this logic might be a bit too hopeful. To put it into perspective, Pachamama and The Emperor’s New Groove received the same age rating – G. The latter glimmers with witty dialogue and intricate subplots that possess the power to engage an adult audience. The former resembles Dora the Explorer. That being said, the film does force us to reconnect with the world around us – and adopt a more holistic approach to life.