Pablo’s Hippos (Antonio Von Hildebrand, 2011): UK

Reviewed by Stacie Manifold.  Viewed at the Santa Barbara Film Festival 2011.

Pablo’s Hippos is a documentary style film about the life of famous Colombian drug lord Pablo Escobar.  Escobar was born in Columbia in 1949, the fourth of six children, and grew up poor.  After being forced out of University for not being able to pay the school fees, Escobar started his life of crime.  His first hijinks included stealing gravestones, sanding them clean and reselling them.  Throughout his late teens and early twenties, Escobar scammed, stole and conned people anyway he could to make money.  His breakthrough to becoming an millionaire was when he started working for contraband smuggler Alvaro Prieto.  After learning the business, Escobar began his own smuggling empire based at his estate Hacienda Naples.  It’s not clear why, but at some point, Escobar started purchasing large animals and populating a zoo on the estate grounds.  Giraffes, elephants, antelopes and the famous hippos all lived there and were well taken care of.

This film takes the unique twist to tell the story of Escobar from the point of view of one of the hippos.  The hippo is the elder of his group and is telling the story to his grandson of how wonderful life use to be at Hacienda Naples before Escobar’s untimely death.  When Pablo was around the hippos lived like kings.  Fed as much as they wanted, cared for by Pablo’s staff and enjoyed the wealth passed on to them by Pablo’s success.  Now that Pablo is no longer around and the estate is nearly abandoned, the hippos have to fend for themselves for food and always have a watchful eye out for humans.

Pablo’s Hippos was written, directed and produced by Antonio Von Hildebrand, and is his first feature film.  The screening at the film festival was the movie’s world premiere.  The opening is fast-paced and introduces all the players in Pablo’s life who will be featured in the movie through interviews and clips.  They are not necessarily introduced by name as much as their role in the film such as The Assassin, The Journalist, The Photographer, etc.  The animated hippos are introduced as the story’s narrators.  The animation reminded me of Charlie Brown comics.  Not trying to be completely realistic, but not too cartoon like.  As the hippo’s narrate the film, their tale is backed up with real life interviews, news stories and videos.

I loved this film.  I was not aware of Pablo Escobar’s storied life before and am now very informed.  A film this style would be a great teaching device for school children.  What a great way to learn history!  An animated hippopotumus keeps the movie interesting, light-hearted and fun and does not make it feel like fact after fact is being thrown at you.  A truly unique premiere piece from Antonio Von Hildebrand.  I wonder and look forward to what he brings us next.

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