A Costume for Nicholas Review: Becoming Your Own Superhero
Nightmares and fears is the theme of the new 2D Mexican animation feature A Costume for Nicholas, directed by Eduardo Rivero (and the second feature of Fotosintesis Media, after Angel in the Clock). Based on the book “Pablo and the Coffin” (Pablo y El Baúl)by Jaime Mijares, it adds the main character of Nicholas, a 10-year-old boy with Down Syndrome.
The lovable to look at Nicholas has lost his mother, and leaves with his loving (but somehow oddball) grandparents. To celebrate his birthday, each year his mother made a different costume: a monkey, a pirate, a giant dragon. Nicholas thought he would never need them anymore, but he does. His cousin Nicolas, angular-shaped and a nerd for planes (also with an absent father) suffers from nightmares. The only way to cure him is for Nicholas to open up this old trunk with magical costumes and transpose him to a magical adventure.
The film adopts a Wizard of Oz perspective (with a nod to Miyazaki's Howl's Moving Castle), where episodic scenes lead and encounters with all the characters Nicholas imagines lead to one goal, to save a little girl from imprisonment -and nightmares not to be feared anymore. There are more and less genial characters, and almost all bad characters are redeemed in the end.
Somehow curiously for the film, it adopts the creative decision of not changing fundamentally our visual landscape in the reality and fantasy sequences; the one looks like the extension of the other, which could help the narrative, but in the end it leaves us with something different (and grand) to be desired here.
The handling of the main character is here treated with sensitivity. Small Nicholas is the one who needs to do his calculations from 'the beginning', but he has all the superpowers that his cousin David cannot even dream of acquiring. Still, this narrative treatment ends of David (not Nicholas) being the most vulnerable character in the film; he's the one to have the nightmares, he suffers from father absence (the scene of his checking the phone for dad messages is the film's most dramatic moment). And when David finally joins Nicholas in his fantasy adventures with his friends, the film suddenly becomes more alive.
Mexican reality is subtly described here as a male-dominated society, and the grandparents' reversal of roles (the grandma who can't cook, the grandpa who attempts house chores) only confirms this. The designed and animated grandma as a kind Cruella de Vil at an old age is a pleasure to watch (and hear), as well as the Matthias cowboy rogue character. The multitude of characters won't work on the film's favour and pacing, and visual inventiveness is mostly reserved for film's early monsters.
A Costume for Nicholas gears up a developmental condition issue to a fantasy superhero stratosphere level with bold narrative strokes, and a sincere wish to win friends and allies in a world where societal nightmares don't matter. It still won't lift the film to a higher ground, but it has optimistic qualities children could appreciate and engage with.
A Costume for Nicholas
Director: Eduardo Rivero, Mexico 2019 83 Min.
Script: Miguel Angel Uriegas, Music: Manuel Vazquez, Editor: Roberto Almeida | Animation: Ramon Baturoni | Producer: Miguel Angel Uriegas, Genaro Lopez, Jaime Romandía, Eduardo Jimenez | Production: Fotosintesis Media | World Sales: Dexterity Entertainment
The film was screened in competition at the 2020 Stuttgart International Festival of Animated Film.