This film is from the 2021 virtual New York International Children’s Film Festival.
Nahuel and the Magic Book is a 2020 Chilean-Brazilian co-produced animated film whose down-to-Earth yet wondrous approach to fantasy I really enjoyed. In certain ways, it reminds me of The Lord of the Rings, despite the markedly different setting of a more contemporary real-world setting.
Nahuel is a young boy afraid of the sea, which causes problems for his fisherman father. Worried that he’ll never be of help to his dad and will always be seen as a screw-up, he desperately wants to overcome his phobia. When he discovers the Levisterio, a magic book said to be the most powerful of all, he steals it in order to use the bravery spell contained within. However, bringing the book out into the open makes it a prime target for an evil sorcerer who has been seeking the tome for a long time.
Likening anything to The Lord of the Rings might seem trite and a little meaningless, but the reason I make the comparison is because of the humble qualities of each story’s protagonist. Frodo is characterized as being no one special, especially not compared to the figures who accompany him on his quest, but it’s that lack of remarkableness that makes him suitable to deliver the One Ring to Mount Doom. Similarly, Nahuel’s ambitions are anything but grand—overcome a fear of the sea and help his father—but that’s also what makes him the right bearer of the Levisterio. Where others would abuse its near-limitless powers, his desires are from a simpler and kinder place. Anybody can imagine themselves as Nahuel, and his story and characterization are no lesser for it.
I don’t know much about South American folklore and religion other than that magic and witchcraft are such a part of the region that they’re even incorporated into the way Christianity is practiced. From that perspective, the way the magical and fantastical are portrayed in Nahuel and the Magic Book feels very natural and almost effortless—which is usually a sign that a great deal of effort was involved. There is a sense that magic is indeed far removed from Nahuel’s normal life, but is also just there and ever-present if only one looks.
Although I’m not a kid, I feel that Nahuel and the Magic Book has real potential to resonate with young viewers. That worry of being a disappointment to one’s parents is also a powerful and relatable fear for children as well as adults, and the world it portrays is one where love shines through even when things get dark and scary.