Jonás Cuarón on Creating a Family-Friendly Adventure

Apr 5, 2023

Fans of magical adventure films like E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial are in for a treat with the new Netflix movie Chupa. The film follows Alex, a young teen, as he visits family in Mexico. What begins as an ordinary trip turns into something filled with fantasy and adventure as he and his cousins, Luna and Memo, discover a baby chupacabra on their grandfather’s property.

However, there are others trying to capture the chupacabra, which spurs Alex and his cousins to protect the chupacabra, which they’ve named Chupa, at all costs. This takes them into the Mexican desert as they try to reunite the baby creature with other chupacabras while learning the importance of family along the way.
We recently spoke with Jonás Cuarón, the director of Chupa, about crafting a film with his children in mind and how he brought the Puerto Rican folklore creature to life on screen.

Creating an Authentic Portrayal of Mexico


Cuarón was initially drawn to the project because of the prospect of creating a film like the ones he watched as a child. During the pandemic, he watched the films of his childhood with his two children. When the opportunity presented itself, the director noted Chupa gave him a chance to craft a movie for his kids that could portray the place he grew up and that was reminiscent of what he watched when he was their age.

“We saw movies from my childhood like E.T., and Gremlins and Jurassic Park, and they’re all movies that I grew up loving, and I suddenly become very excited about the idea of doing a movie that I could share with my kids and a movie that felt like those movies from my childhood.”

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Growing up in Mexico in the 1990s, Cuarón has a very personal connection to the chupacabra legend. Making Chupa became not just a chance to create a movie for his kids, but also to show Mexico and the development of the legend during that time period.

“The chupacabras was very exciting for me because, as a kid, the idea that there could be a magical creature outside your door is very exciting. So suddenly when I realized I could tell an Amblin-esque type movie but with a chupacabras became very fun because I realized that not only could I do a movie for my kids, but also portray the context I grew up in, in Mexico in the ‘90s.”

Part of achieving an accurate and authentic portrayal of Mexico in the 1990s came from the environment and the crew. Though they filmed in New Mexico, Cuarón “made sure to have a huge part of our team come from Mexico” to achieve the “realistic portrayal” he wanted to come across on screen.

Bringing the Chupacabra to Life

The director looked at several different depictions of the mythological beast when deciding what to feature in the film. Many are familiar with the canine-like description that is featured across the news today, or even the reptilian-like one from the original sightings and news reports in Puerto Rico. Cuarón wanted to include the quadrupedal aspect that is prevalent today, but also some other elements to add to the magic of the creature. The director’s goal was to use “elements from animals that I know kids really respond to and relate to.”

“To me, it was important to ground the creature in the information from different sightings. A lot of the sightings describe the quadruped like we knew it had to be a quadruped. There were some descriptions that described it as… having wings, and to me, it was kind of magical, the idea of having a quadruped with wings. So, that was our starting point…”

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Cuarón was also concerned about what Evan Whitten, the young actor that plays Alex, would interact with on set. Part of the magic of the film is the relationship that develops between the young chupacabra and Alex, and the director wanted the actor “to have something real to act with” to portray that. This resulted in using a dog as a placeholder for Chupa.

“I really wanted the actor Evan to have something real to act with, so we brought in this dog Harper, which was incredibly cute and super well-behaved. And so every time you see Chupa on screen, Alex is… truly acting with the dog and that really allowed us to bring in a true relationship between Alex and Chupa.”

The director wanted “the innocent and pure relationship” between the teen and the creature to come across well on screen, and using a real Chupa stand-in instead of a puppet is how he achieved that.

Chupa will be available to stream on Netflix starting April 7.

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