The canon of adult animated films is often dominated by big franchises and A-listers – think The Simpsons Movie, South Park: Bigger, Longer, and Uncut and Sausage Party – but Lava, an Argentinian film directed and written by Ayar Blasco, is here to change that. Its homemade aesthetics and likeable characters keep it light and bouncy, but it gets somewhat weighed down by the mid-level plotting and hit-or-miss humour.

Lava follows Deborah, a tattooist whose night in with her roommate and friends descends into chaos when an unexpected apocalypse suddenly dawns on Buenos Aires, with giant cats adorning rooftops, evil witches wreaking havoc, and hypnotic visuals from phone and television screens rendering the population zombified. But Blasco’s script – co-written by Nicolás Britos and Salvador Sanz – by no means takes itself seriously, with plenty of fourth-wall-breaking humour, slapstick comedy, and wacky exchanges. Not all of this lands – the humour is often not particularly funny, especially a dreadful end sequence that comprises of unrelated, poorly-animated skits with no relevance to Lava‘s plot – but it’s mostly light enough to uphold this bubbly, quirky film.

What divulges after is a dystopian adventure that flits between conspiracy, survival and romance, but Lava seems to have an identity crisis. It never quite fleshes its world or characters out enough, and too many late-game twists and turns render the payoff ultimately disappointing. It’s not helped by clunky animation that doesn’t do the enigmatic world design any favours, and a script that has some interesting ideas – notably around the power of media, and our notion of what ‘good’ really is – but doesn’t dig into it enough.

Which is the general issue for Blasco’s work here: there’s clearly a singular directorial vision here, but it’s not refined enough to carve out a film that’s sharp, focused and refreshing. There’s a good story in here somewhere, and the originality of the world and ideas is to be praised, but not much else really lands in Lava – and you’ll probably be more tempted to rewatch The Simpsons Movie instead.

★★

Rock Salt Releasing will release Lava onto various digital streaming platforms for pre-sale on 2/22 and on 3/15/2021 (Amazon, InDemand, iTunes, Google Play, DirecTV, AT&T, Vimeo on Demand, FANDANGO) in both English & Spanish.