San José, Costa Rica, since 1956

Tico Artist Behind Robin Williams’ ‘Happy Feet’ Character

Ramón, a star penguin in this year s Antarctic animated movie Happy Feet, is bringing the world a touch of Costa Rican Spanish, as he teaches another animated penguin to woo the ladies through rap music.

But where did Ramón, in the voice of Robin Williams, learn the styles of Latino rap? He learned from Paco, the Costa Rican hip-hop and reggaeton artist now living in Los Angeles.

It was incredible, and educational, Paco told The Tico Times in a telephone interview. He gave a brief synopsis of the film, complete with musical interludes as they came along: Mumble, a young emperor penguin with the voice of Elijah Wood, doesn t know how to sing, but he s a great tap dancer. He goes on a journey and falls in with some Adélie penguins, who happen to be Latinos, who happen to rap. Ramón teaches Mumble to rap and Mumble shows his new friends how to tap-dance.

After its second weekend in U.S. theaters, the George Miller film hit $100 million in ticket sales, holding position number one against James Bond in the season s second place Casino Royale.

Paco, who wrote some of Ramón s musical lines, said he auditioned against the likes of Cypress Hill and Control Machete to become a language coach for one of his heroes, Robin Williams. Composer John Powell, who also wrote the music for The Lion King and Shrek, picked the Costa Rican artist for his kid-friendly groove, Paco said.

Paco s hip-hop isn t the drugs-and-violence kind, he explained, adding, I m from Costa Rica you know? Pura vida.

My passion is telling jokes, making people laugh, Paco said, comparing himself to Williams and, implicitly, to a penguin named Ramón.

Williams speaks little Spanish, Paco said, but he learned to rap in Spanish over several days of patient instruction.

Yo soy Ramón, Paco rapped in a slowmotion example.

Yo soy Ramón? (Slightly different inflection.)

No! Yo soy Ramón

Yo soy Ramón!

Yo soy Ramón.

And so on Paco said Williams is a genius and could do anything.

If he wanted to, he could speak Spanish in a month, he said.

Paco, also known as Francisco Jiménez, is 28 years old, married and the father of three.

In 1991 he founded the now-defunct Costa Rican group Ragga by Roots. He s recorded a few solo albums, most recently the self-released Urbano, Latinoamericano. His songs have been on several TV programs, and he s done Spanish-language commercials for dozens of corporations, including McDonalds, Coca-Cola, Toyota, Nike and ABC. The voice of Taco Bell s Central American Chihuahua is Paco s, according to his Web site,

While he got low marks at a handful of high schools around San José, Paco said he had a great time imitating the voices of other kids, teachers and school administrators.

I would grab the microphone and talk like the director, he said.

This line of study went well for him a student a few years older than Paco worked in advertising, and landed him a role in a Coca-Cola commercial. He s since been a voice for a long list of Costa Rican enterprises.

In 2000 he moved to Los Angeles,where he continues to write rap music and sell Spanish voice-overs to multinational corporations.

Paco is presently working on a project with Tupac Shakur s half-brother, Mopreme Shakur, he said, and is a candidate for a role in MGM s upcoming film Barbershop 3.

Happy Feet opened last week in Costa Rica.Most theaters are showing the dubbed in Spanish version, but moviegoers can catch Robin Williams Paco-influenced performance at Cinépolis in Terramall, on the road to Cartago, east of San José, which is showing the movie in English with Spanish subtitles. For times, call 518-0002.


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