On a mission to spread happiness throughout the land, Brazilian sexpot kids show host Xuxa (Xuxa Meneghel) rides around on a nifty white motorcycle handing out candy and positive vibes to children whilst singing about painting the sky with a rainbow. All of which proves too teeth-rottingly cute for Baixo Astral (Guilherme Karan), a malevolent subterranean-dwelling demon dedicated to upholding evil by means of war, famine, poverty and injustice. To foil his scantily-clad nemesis, Baixo Astral has his minions kidnap Xuxa's beloved glove puppet, er, talking dog Xuxo (voiced by Nair Amorim). He also abducts a young street urchin named Rafa, whose bad behaviour earns him an unwanted place amongst the demon's army of zombie brats. Plucky Xuxa promptly sets forth on a magical, at times downright metaphysical journey from the realm of Higher Ground into the dark domain of the Down Mood, to save not just her friends but also the world.
Quality coffee, samba music and a seemingly endless succession of gorgeous lingerie models all rank among Brazil's great gifts to the world. Add to that list one Maria da Graça Meneghel, better known by her stage name as Xuxa Meneghal: model, pop star, social activist, movie mogul, in short a one-woman entertainment industry. Only in Brazil could a scantily-clad sexpot who appeared nude in her debut film, controversial drama Amor Estranho Amor (1982), and later posed for Playboy, become the nation's most beloved children's entertainer without incurring the wrath of parents or moral guardians everywhere. God bless 'em. Xuxa started out as a model at the age of sixteen whereupon her relationship with football legend Pelé opened a career path into music, movies and crucially children's television. Her blonde bombshell looks and skimpy outfits may have established her as a sex symbol but it was a sweet disposition, sunny charm and evident sincerity along with a winning way with kids that endeared her to millions of youngsters across Latin America, qualities pushed to the fore in each of her films.
Super Xuxa contra Baixo Astral, known internationally as Super Xuxa versus the Down Mood and in the States as Super Xuxa vs. Satan (which would be something to see but is not strictly accurate), was Xuxa's breakthrough movie. After this her films regularly topped the Brazilian box office including Xuxa in Crystal Moon (1991), a version of Cinderella, Xuxa Abracadabra (1999) and a string of comedies pairing her with popular comedy group Os Trapalhões, notably the effects-laden Star Wars parody A Princessa Xuxa e os Trapalhões (1989). Her most recent success was the fairytale-themed Xuxa em O Misterio de Feiurinha (2009) co-starring her daughter, Sasha Meneghel.
Latin American children's films take their cue from Technicolor classics like The Wizard of Oz (1939), trading in bright colours, homespun morality and feelgood warmth without a trace of the irony commonplace throughout contemporary kids' fare. Yet Super Xuxa contra Baixo Astral juxtaposes its upbeat message against a disarmingly dark gothic sensibility. Art director Yuriko Yamasaki - who went on to direct several Xuxa movies - fashions Baixo Astral's subterranean kingdom into a nightmarish netherworld midway between a heavy metal rock video complete with dry ice and strobe lighting and a Terry Gilliam movie, whilst the creepy-eyed, drooling villain himself looks like something Clive Barker might have dreamed up. It has to be said the film steals shamelessly from mainstream fare, pilfering not just its villain and production design from Gilliam's Time Bandits (1981) but the satanic game show sequence, the possessed television set from Poltergeist (1982), the penultimate "light in the darkness" scene from The Neverending Story (1984), twisted visuals from the far from appropriate Hellraiser (1987) and most obviously, images and ideas from the Jim Henson favourite Labyrinth (1986), something even Brazilian critics noted at the time. But writer-director Anna Penido steers these elements down another, uniquely unhinged direction.
Although the comedy is pitched at pre-school level and Xuxa's vivacious pop songs, including the chart-topping "Rainbow", remain an acquired taste, the puppetry is really quite accomplished - particularly the underwater sequence where Xuxa rides a pink dolphin and hangs out with singing sea life - and the cinematography creates a vividly hallucinogenic feel. Shame they could not include Xuxa's big pink UFO from her TV show. Nevertheless, the film is staged with great energy and visual flair while Xuxa proves an undeniably peppy and charismatic presence. Most intriguingly, the film sports a genuine socio-political agenda, although which side of the fence it sits on remains somewhat ambiguous. The opening scene wherein Xuxa encourages kids to paint glum buildings in rainbow colours brings to mind the Brazilian government's policy of painting the favelas (local slums) in bright pastel shades to hide their squalor from the tourist trade. Towards the finale, Baixo Astral attempts to sap Xuxa of her powers of positivity by waving a demonic TV screen showing images of war atrocities and famine. She responds by averting her eyes, which suggests ignoring social problems is the key to maintaining a positive attitude. Hardly a sound message for kids.
On the other hand, throughout the film Xuxa repeatedly ask questions (in song of course) about social deprivation, the state of the environment, and why so little of Brazil's resources are spent feeding the poor. This questioning attitude is more in line with the messages at the heart of Xuxa's television shows and her real-life charity work combating child illness and exploitation. In a key scene, Xuxa climbs a tree lined with books, acting on the advice of wise Grandma Turtle who remarks that books a seeds that sprout ideas. As she climbs, colourful freaky-looking bird creatures assail her with philosophical debates satirising political corruption, big business despoiling the environment, political indifference to poverty, media manipulation and stifling bureaucracy. Eventually, Xuxa reaches the top where the Magic Crystal schools her about the power of positivity and making a difference in the world. While simplistic (this is a kids' movie, after all), the core message that only education can enable young people to overthrow oppression and achieve true freedom is both potent and heartening. That it is delivered in the form of a pop song performed by a sexily gyrating supermodel is simply a bonus.