Film, Foreign

Not much to love about “LAVA.”

There are two things that I absolutely DESPISE in adult animation: simplified and ugly animation styles and unnecessary meta-commentary. Okay…I hate both of those in general, but adult animation is a notorious offender of both these tropes. And of course, the Argentinian adult animated film, LAVA – that is if you can call a 70-minute slog, a film – does both.

I was given a screener of this film by TriCoast Studios – and though it was nominated at the Annecy International Animated Film Festival – I probably wouldn’t have heard of it otherwise.

Though my last experience with a film from the company was – less than mediocre, I was hoping that an adult film would bring something new to the table.

I was wrong.

The film was a mess. It had some of the absolute worst dubbing I have ever seen. And honestly, just made no sense most of the time. Despite the short run-time, it felt like a much longer movie.

The film follows tattoo artist Deborah and her friends through what basically amounts to the apocalypse. It starts when odd images appear on screens all around the world causing mass death and general chaos. Soon, strange creatures; giant cats, snakes, and witches appear causing even more mayhem and death.

A fan-zine that Deborah found earlier, called LAVA, ends up having all the information the gang needs to protect themselves because apparently being tattoo artists makes them special.

I can almost understand why people may enjoy this movie, but there are too many flaws for me. There’s no direction, no character arcs or development, the animation style is unappealing and’s kind of bigoted. I truly do not understand it and honestly, I don’t want to.

South Park Wanna-Be

The animation style is distinct but not in a good way. It’s…I don’t know really know what to call it. 

The character designs are pretty bad. Everything is drawn simply.  All of the characters have the same dull eyes and mouth.

Sure, their head shapes and sizes change; and they all have slightly different proportions – but they’re just boring to look at and I kept confusing characters with each other. They look like they were all drawn in Microsoft Paint. 

The backgrounds aren’t any better for the most part. There’s no shading, the cityscape doesn’t stand out. 

I know this style could be cool to some people, and I’m sure the animators worked hard and were passionate about it – but it’s not for me. I’m sick of adult cartoons being purposefully ugly and unappealing.

Adults want art.

They want good art.

So make the cartoons pretty! 

Make them have shading, interesting backgrounds, give the characters more personality in their styles….Make them pop! Make them realistic, make them stylized but pleasing to the eye. Just actually put in the same kind of passion that kids’ cartoons put into designing their characters.

I have also never seen worse dubbing in my life. 

It’s like they didn’t even bother trying to match sounds with the lip flaps. Sometimes the flaps wouldn’t be moving but a person would be talking or the flaps would continue going long after the dialogue had ended,

The translated dialogue often felt forced, stifled, and too formal for the setting. It distracted me from the rest of the movie. This art style does nothing to make itself stand out or do anything to help the story. And the story itself is on pretty thin ice.

A Partial Plot

LAVA has a simple plot.

The apocalypse happens – caused by weird cat aliens, giant snakes, and witch-like beings who are sending out constant hypnotizing blasts to defeat the populace. And for whatever reason only tattoo artists are immune.

That could be interesting- if the movie did anything with it. But it doesn’t. Most of the movie is spent trying to figure out the source of the blasts and the rest, basically avoiding the dangers to…honestly I’m not sure. Survive I guess.

There’s also a whole bit where tattoo artists turn out to be the ones behind the images that keeping popping up – and are also evil? And media, in general, is kind of evil, not just electronic media like we’ve been led to believe.

I really don’t know.

Either I wasn’t paying attention (because I was bored) or the film doesn’t really care about making any sense. I don’t get how the events are leading into each other or how exactly some people were aware of the imminent attack or really anything after the first like 15 minutes.

Like not everything needs to be explained but context sure is nice and helps me be aware of the exact danger our characters are in. And it’s hard to take the threats seriously when all of our heroes seem to easily survive.

I just…I just don’t like total nonsense plots – and that we’re just supposed to accept it because it’s “funny” that it doesn’t make sense. It’s not.

Dadaism is fine. But there’s a technique to it. And this isn’t it.

Just having a bunch of random stuff happening and calling it humor doesn’t make it humorous. I mean like there should actually be some kind of punchline? 

Animation Doesn’t Mean Nonsense

While I love the non-existent limits of animation and how creative it lets you be – some people tend to take animation as a reason to excuse their nonsense plot. I’ll hold a suspension of disbelief for giant alien cats in animation, sure, but there still needs to be some semblance of a story.

I don’t know what the theme or idea of this movie is supposed to be. And the characters are self-aware sometimes but not all the time – which doesn’t make any sense. If you’re going to do fourth wall-breaks you either use them sparingly or it’s your schtick like Deadpool – you don’t get to use it once every 20 minutes in your film and for random reasons.

That doesn’t make your nonsense plot any less nonsensical and it doesn’t excuse poor writing. At one point they literally bring up the fact that they survived a fall because they are cartoon characters.

Which also ruined any sort of fear I had for them. After all, if they survived that fall because they are cartoon characters and know this for a fact –why the hell should I be concerned about them?

I don’t know why people think certain aspects can be excused if the characters themselves bring it up. Disney is especially guilty of this lately and I absolutely despise it. 

I don’t find it funny, or clever. 

There needs to be some kind of logic behind your nonsense and the way your world works.

I just don’t get why adult animation suddenly means things don’t have to make sense as long as they’re funny (which they’re usually not because it’s all randomness and chaos.) 

Comedy is HARD. Good comedy is near impossible. And good original comedy? Forget about it.

This film is original, but the comedy isn’t good enough to pull it off. Even its edginess is pretty dull. And kind of outdated.

This isn’t how being progressive works

The movie tries to use its metacommentary to discuss progressive aspects but absolutely fails. Deborah is shown to have a crush on her roommate – who kind of reciprocates and one of the guys in the group comments how you rarely see same-sex couples in a cartoon. Which while is true – just feels out of place. He also refers to them as lesbians despite that both girls have been in previous relationships and expressing interest in guys.

It feels weird.

It feels like the movie included that small, pretty irrelevant plotline more as a way to be “edgy” and “adult,” rather than out of a real desire to represent a minority group and give them full characterization.

And the movie is also making use of racist stereotypes! All the black background characters, who don’t get any lines are drawn with minstrel, blackface style lips for no reason. None of the other characters have this trait. 

And then there’s the Chinese Girl, who joins the group and is never given a proper name. She has slanted, closed eyes and buck teeth – an outdated stereotype of Chinese people and she’s overly capable. She’s constantly doing flips and martial arts and helping protect the others…though she abandons them at the last minute and isn’t seen after that.

She serves no real role in the narrative proper and only performs Asian stereotypes. It feels genuinely racist. Being white I may not be the best person to explain this – but it definitely feels off to me.

It is 2021 – these things shouldn’t be okay anymore.

Being edgy is one thing. If you want to go all 2007-punk pop nihilistic dark in your movies – do that. More power to you. But doing that kind of stuff doesn’t mean you can insert racial and ethnic stereotypes into your work for funsies. And it especially doesn’t mean you can’t get called out on it.

If these racial stereotypes were removed the film would be mediocre, leaning closer to being tolerable but I can’t excuse this kind of stuff. I can see why certain aspects of the film could be interesting to people and why the premise may draw audiences is – but the actual performance is lacking

You can find something better.

And that’s the scoop.


Grade: C –


Year of release: 2021

Length: 74 minutes

Film by: Ayar Blasco

Produced by: Jimena Monteoliva and Florencia Franco

Based on a screenplay by Salvador Sanz, with Ayar Blasco and Nicolas Britos

This movie will be available for streaming on-demand on March 15


5 thoughts on “Not much to love about “LAVA.””

  1. I heard of it, but it didn’t look appealing. Good to know I was right. The West is so poor when it comes to making adult animated movies. It’s no wonder Japan has been excelling in that regard for decades now. Shame on them for the indulgent self-referential humor and the racist stuff. Don’t even get me started with how bad race relations are in Argentina. Thanks for calling that stuff. Not many reviewers do so.

      1. I hear you right there. No wonder I’m so disappointed in a lot of Western adult animated films. The last one that I really liked was Wrinkles which actually had a powerful story and very original.

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