Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang

Zip (Raúl Rivas) and Zap (Daniel Cerezo) aren’t exactly delighted to be spending their summer vacation at Hope Re-Education Centre, a remote correctional facility in the Spanish countryside; even less so once they’ve met their new director, Falconetti (Javier Gutiérrez), a strict and severe man who has declared war on all things frivolous and fun. In response to school’s the oppressive rules and restrictions, which regularly see Zap relegated to solitary confinement for wanton acts of insubordination, the brothers form the Marble Gang, recruiting fellow students Filo (Fran García) and Micro (Marcos Ruiz) to their underground resistance. Together with Falconetti’s own niece, Matilda (Claudia Vega), the group cause mayhem around the school, inadvertently unearthing a treasure map hidden by the centre’s founder.

“It’s like a pirate movie; a map, a one-eyed man, and a hidden treasure.” Though Spanish cartoon characters Zip and Zap may pre-date The Goonies by the better part of forty years, the debt their latest big screen adventure owes to Richard Donner’s 80s classic is inescapable. There are obvious physical similarities between Chunk and Filo, there are phonemic parallels between the Fratellis and Falconetti, and there are undeniably echoes of One-Eyed Willie’s missing gold in the Marble Gang’s search for long-lost diamonds. Not to mention the fact that both films boast similarly playful scores, plucky protagonists and cinematography that is wide-eyed with childlike wonder.

With children’s adventure movies skewing towards high fantasy in the wake of the Harry Potter phenomenon, often eschewing young anti-heroes in favour of young adult Christ-figures, it’s refreshing to watch a kids’ film where the world isn’t at stake. That’s not to suggest that Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang (or Zipi y Zape y el club de la canica, as it’s known in its native Spain) is particularly innocuous; the character’s burb, curse and, in the case of Mirco at least, become inebriated on alcoholic chocolates, but it nevertheless marks a welcome return to simpler times, when children could be children and marbles were considered the height of entertainment. Zip and Zap are cut from the same cloth as Dennis the Menace (both UK and US versions of the character) and Bart Simpson, and are likely to trigger a sense of nostalgia even in those unfamiliar with José Escobar Saliente’s Spanish cartoons.

Both Rivas and Cerezo make for endearing leads, convincing both as loving brothers and as budding rivals. They’re suitably irresponsible and immature, but without ever becoming churlish or irritating, keeping the audience on side and the bad guys at bay. Vega’s great too, often threatening to take things even further than the boys, either in an attempt to prove herself worthy of entry into the Marble Gang or due to rather unsettling underlying psychotic tendencies. There is a moment early on in the group’s criminal career when Zip and Zap are trying to decide who to prank next; Matilda has already escalated their plans to over-salt the teaching staff’s dinners by adding laxatives instead when she nonchalantly suggest poisoning the school’s water supply. The school’s janitor, Heidi (Christian Mulas), is just as prone to questionable behaviour, showing an abject disregard for the students’ safety and wellbeing.

Zip & Zap is never going to win any awards for originality, but it is so skilfully and lavishly produced that it comes across as more of a welcome addition to the genre than a pointless derivation of it. It’s already played at the 68th Edinburgh International Film Festival, but Oskar Santos’ film is surely destined for a wider release in the coming months, when it will likely appeal to youngsters and appease adults across the globe with its mischievous performances, witty script and engaging mystery.