It started like any typical movie night in my home. My kids shuffled around the couch like we were playing musical chairs, everyone vying for the best spot. My husband took on the role of short-order popcorn chef: Who wants ranch seasoning? Garlic salt? I curled up with my favorite blanket, doing my best to corral the chaos so we could actually hit play on the pick: Netflix’s new family film CHUPA.
By the end of the night, my kids had another movie for their to-be-replayed roster. I had an aching sense of nostalgia — not for me, but for my kids. They would have loved the ‘90s, when the movie takes place. But that’s part of what makes CHUPA special: It captures so much of what made the decade magical.
I recently had the chance to chat with director Jonás Cuarón, and our conversation only reinforced to me that every ‘90s kid should watch this movie with their own kids. Here are a few compelling reasons why.
1. Alex is the underdog adolescent hero for a new generation.
In CHUPA, we meet a young teen named Alex having a difficult time making friends at his school in Kansas City. He rejects his Hispanic culture in the hope that he might fit in better. So when his mom insists he takes a trip to visit his late father’s family in Mexico, he isn’t exactly thrilled.
But Mexico holds more for Alex than he could ever imagine, and it all culminates in the kind of epic adventure quest you and I spent the better part of our childhoods being wholly invested in — from Eliot helping E.T. “go home” to Atreyu fighting off “The Nothing” that threatens to overtake the fantasy land of Fantasia in the ‘80s-movie-turned-’90s-cult-classic The NeverEnding Story.
Alex will remind you of the unlikely adolescent heroes from the movies you grew up loving.
2. It’ll make you want all the chupacabra merch.
Remember how much your ‘90s self dreamed of getting a Mogwai or an Ewok? Or finding an alien like E.T. in your backyard? In CHUPA, the mythical creature at the heart of the tale is the legendary chupacabra. And a baby one, at that. So, yeah, your entire family is going to want one.
Cuarón understands. He, too, was a child of the ‘90s, and every bit as swept up by the family-friendly fantasy films of the decade. “I grew up with Gizmo on my bed; I think Gizmo was so important for all the kids of our generation. Even there’s one Easter egg in the movie of Gizmo … that’s what we all had in the ‘90s in our bedroom,” Cuarón says, alluding to a plushie sitting on the shelf in Alex’s room, nestled among a Jurassic Park SUV, Taz, a plastic Lion King figure, and other peak ‘90s collectibles.
3. Seriously, though, baby “Chupa” is really f*cking cute.
It’s so cute you’ll have a hard time convincing your kids they can’t have one… because they don’t exist in real life (or do they?!). While Cuarón didn’t have future merch deals in mind at the time, he did want to create the creature to be realistic enough to be believable.
“The chupacabra was an important myth for me in the sense that, when it started, I was a little kid, and it was very real because it was a recent myth. Unlike Bigfoot and Loch Ness Monster that happened a long time ago, the first sightings of the chupacabras were in the ‘90s,” he explains. “So, as a kid in the ‘90s, there was a possibility that this one might be real. Growing up in Mexico, where a lot of the sightings happened, it was very exciting — the possibility of that being right outside my door.”
He wanted that same sense of possibility to translate onscreen. They pulled from stories of sightings, as well as real animals: “A lot of the design honestly ended up coming from my dogs. Like the floppy ear that Chupa has, one of my dogs has that floppy ear. I see how it shows vulnerability and helps my kids connect more with him and gives him a persona.”
4. It features the sport of the decade (sort of).
If only we all had a dollar for every time someone in the ‘90s watched or referenced the WWE or WWF! Wrestling felt bigger than baseball back then. Cuarón remembers the hype, except the sport he obsessed over was lucha libre. In CHUPA, actor Demián Bichir plays Alex’s grandfather Chava, a former luchador champion. “I grew up watching lucha libre in Mexico, so I was always happy with that theme,” he says. “But I love the spark that Chava gives to the character. As soon as he puts on the mask, there’s so much humor.”
Having this traditional Latinx narrative sport in the movie gave it even more meaning for Cuarón, who explains, “I think that’s what was extra special for me of this movie: that I was able to ground it in the ‘90s, but also in the ‘90s of Mexico, which is where I grew up.”
5. Two words: Christian Slater.
Pump Up the Volume. Robinhood: Prince of Thieves. Bed of Roses (!!). C’mon — Christian Slater’s ‘90s iconoclasm precedes him. And, even more fun, he plays CHUPA’s main antagonist. Rest assured; Slater’s not a bad guy in real life. Cuarón calls working with the actor “a really fun experience.”
6. It’s a movie made for people of the ‘90s by people of the ‘90s.
To be fair, Cuarón really wanted to make CHUPA for his kids, who stuck with him through the nostalgic-movie-stroll down memory lane over lockdown. When the world at large shut down, the ‘90s seemed to form a universe of its own where those of us who grew up then found comfort — and those who didn’t started to feel the gravitation pull of the decade.
“During the pandemic, I spent a lot of time locked down with my kids, watching movies from my childhood … a lot of ‘90s, Amblin-esque movies. So when the story, which was in that genre, came to me, I immediately became interested,” he explains.
When he then discovered that filmmakers Chris Columbus and Michael Barnathan — whose credits between them include ‘90s classics like Mrs. Doubtfire, Nine Months, Gremlins, and The Goonies — were behind the project, he became infinitely more interested. Many of Columbus’ movies, in particular, “marked” Cuarón’s childhood.
7. It feels like home.
Family dynamics have shifted in the last three decades; the days when cousins piled five people deep on Grandma’s couch after Sunday lunch seem like a relic of bygone days. But that inter-connectedness of family sits at the heart of CHUPA, says Cuarón.
“I grew up in a big Mexican family, and at the root of that family was my grandmothers, my grandfathers, and the narrative they told me. I think what brings a family together is the stories that build that family, and all those stories are in your grandparents,” he says. “[CHUPA’s] a movie about family, and the importance of family, and how family will always be there for you. And so, in that sense, that to me is the message at its core.”