REVIEW: ZIP & ZAP AND THE MARBLE GANG / CERT: PG / DIRECTOR: OSKAR SANTOS / SCREENPLAY: JORGE LARA, FRANCISCO RONCAL, OSKAR SANTOS / STARRING: RAÚL RIVAS, DANIEL CEREZO, CLAUDIA VEGA, FRAN GARCÍA, MARCOS RUIZ, JAVIER GUTIÉRREZ, CHRISTIAN MULAS / RELEASE DATE: TBA
Sent to a remote summer school as punishment for one indiscretion too many, hellraising twin bothers Zip and Zap soon earn the ire of headmaster Falconetti, an eye-patched sadist who runs the Gothic mansion like a Siberian gulag and is determined to destroy any sense of fun for its young pupils. Forming an underground resistance movement with sweet-natured Filo, brainy Micro, and Falconetti’s mischievous niece Matilde, the gang uncover a map that could lead them to a hoard of hidden treasure.
Despite being made only last year and set somewhere in the middle of the last century, Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang feels very, very '80s. Even the music of the opening sequence takes you back to that decade and the crowd-pleasing family films of Steven Spielberg and George Lucas, and the feeling is maintained by the child’s-eye perspective of the world and the perception of life as an adventure.
The protagonists come together quickly, united by their outsider status and refusal to be beaten down by the school’s harsh conditions. Even when functioning as a unit their individual personalities remain distinct, and each viewer will likely have their own favourite. Some of their actions might seem a bit irrational, but you should remember that children are not rational people but creatures of emotion, and while they can be quick to anger and blame, they are also just as swift to forgive and move past any differences.
The most anticipated aspect of the film, the puzzles and riddles of the hidden pathway to the treasure, doesn’t come into play until the last act and although it is traversed relatively quickly, the requirements to pass each gateway never stop feeling like a challenge, especially with the villainous characters in pursuit. Even though it doesn’t really matter, the over-elaborate design of the makeshift labyrinth actually makes sense in context; it was built by a toymaker and so was basically designed to be one big game. As such, even a situation that appears to put the children in genuine peril has an explanation.
The translation of the film from Spanish is perfect; the kids actually sound like kids rather than an adult writer failing to do so, while several jokes and one important plot development each relying on wordplay all still make sense in English.
Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang is inevitably reminiscent of any number of '80s films with a treasure hunt plot, The Goonies in particular (which, along with Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade, some shots are more or less directly lifted from), but the true heart of the film is the relationship between its central quintet and being reminded of the simple unadulterated joy of being a child, having fun with your friends, and the sense of loyalty that binds you together. Charming, funny and entertaining, this is a family film in the truest sense: children of all ages will love it, and parents watching it with their kids will still enjoy themselves.