Spanish school adventures with 'Zip and Zap and the Marble Gang'

31 Mar 2017 BY Elinor Walpole in Film Features

5 mins
Zip and Zap and the Marble Gang
Zip and Zap and the Marble Gang

Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang is a vibrant children's film that combines a treasure hunt, a secret gang, and a strict boarding school, with deep-hidden secrets to thrilling effect, making it a great introduction to Spanish language learning for primary-aged audiences. Fans of adventure films in the vein of The Goonies and Raiders of the Lost Ark will delight in the challenges that the children face as they work together to decipher a series of clues while avoiding capture by the school authorities!

Based on a Spanish comic strip from the 1950s, Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang opens with narration from twin brothers Zip and Zap, who fight over how best to describe what has happened to them over the summer. While one conjures up idealised images of the promise of the holidays, the other intervenes to tell things as they really were, and how they ended up at the Instituto Esperanza, a summer school aimed at reforming uncontrollable children. Despite the school's name meaning 'hope', the brothers soon discover that the regime there promises anything but, instead finding a culture of strict discipline, harsh punishment, and the encouragement of bullies and tell-tales.

Determined not to conform to the new regime, Zip and Zap come under the especial notice of the school's director Falconetti, who assures them he will succeed in breaking their spirits. Falconetti is a character who, in his relish of oppressing young children, is not unlike Miss Trunchbull in Matilda. The number one rule of the summer school is that games of any kind are forbidden, as "play breeds foolishness, and work breeds righteousness". However, the kids have their own opinions about this, and while outright rebellion doesn't get them very far under Falconetti's watchful eye, they soon find more secretive ways of defying the system. Forming the 'marble gang' along with other newbie Filo, bullied kid Micro, and reluctantly admitting a girl into their midst with Mathilde, the gang decide to indulge their high spirits under cover of darkness - but discover all sorts of mysterious goings-on in the process!

The film shares the same glee for youthful hijinks as the recent adaptation of Swallows and AmazonsPetit Nicolas (which is also based on a comic strip), and Belle & Sebastian. Celebrating the spirit of the gang, the film makes heroes of individuals who have been singled out for bullying or exclusion, and who find strength together, with everyone having a part to play. Using teamwork, problem-solving through games (proving that play can be productive!), and a child's intuition and insight, the gang often manage to outwit the draconian Falconetti and his henchmen.

With the gang's desire to uncover the mystery driven by curiosity rather than greed, there are parallels with films such as Hue and Cry, a post-war British take on the children's adventure, with a thrilling dash of crime for the young detectives to solve. Capture the Flag also puts faith in children sometimes knowing best, when a group of space travel-obsessed friends defy their parents to follow their dreams, and while this causes a few issues, they manage to overcome bigger problems in forcing the adults to work together.

While the film is very relatable in its portrayal of school hierarchies - in a similar way to the Diary of a Wimpy Kid films - it also embraces some more unrealistic aspects of the school experience. Using special effects to bring to life ever-more whimsical and fantastical contraptions to confront the gang with every clue they solve, the film has a similar wonder to Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone. Led towards the heart of the mystery by a board-game-style map, the film is also reminiscent of Jumanji (although the most terrifying adversaries here are still the adults who run the school) and even Scooby Doo in its portrayal of a brave gang of friends battling their fears to get to the truth.

Full of imagination, charm and wit, Zip & Zap and the Marble Gang is a celebration of the right to play, and champions children who break the mould. While the marble gang may not be model citizens, their actions certainly deserve respect, and their hearts are always in the right place. Combining each person's creativity and energy, the gang manage to conquer some pretty intimidating foes, and bring new hope to all the downtrodden children of the Instituto Esperanza.

Elinor Walpole, Film Programmer

Elinor Walpole , Film Programmer

Elinor has a BA in English Literature from the University of Warwick. She has worked as Education and Community Officer for Picturehouse Cinemas, and as Outreach Coordinator for Human Rights Watch Film Festival.

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