Though Netflix has encountered some online teasing for the movie's title, which can have sexual connotations in Spanish, Chupa in the film is the innocent nickname a child gives to the cub of the legendary figure of the goat-blood-sucking chupacabra.
The magic of the pink-and-blue feathered creature is one of the film's strengths, especially the adorable moments of boy-beast bonding. Chupa's parents might be fearsome, but the cub looks and sounds like a huggable stuffed animal.
Charming scenes show Alex tearfully singing Chupa a lullaby his own deceased dad used to sing to him and telling the creature he doesn't have to be alone anymore -- "I'll be your family" -- and Chupa harnessing his own powers to save Alex.
The film's themes of love, loss, and family are layered into a tale of a first-generation Mexican American middle-schooler learning to appreciate his roots, a uniqueness that makes him an outcast back home. Veteran Bichir and newcomers Ciarra and Verdugo make an appealing family unit.
A lot of worthwhile messages are delivered here, and some unique cultural aspects are highlighted, like the masked, acrobatic wrestling phenomenon of lucha libre. Mexican American audiences in particular may appreciate the celebration of Mexican culture seen through the eyes of a boy raised in the United States, as well as the mix of Spanish and English in the script.
That said, there's nothing subtle in the way the film sets up and resolves the personal issues of the main character, nor in what he learns of Mexico. Though Slater appears to be having a ball, his bad guy scientist feels like an amalgam of other characters we've seen before on screen.
Read the full review on Common Sense Media.
Images courtesy of Netflix.