Netflix's 'Chupa': Director Jonás Cuarón reimagines harrowing legend into cuddly, 'beautiful fantasy'

Pamela Avila

The bloodsucking lore of the chupacabra is getting the CGI treatment and rebranding itself into a cute and cuddly creature. 

Netflix's "Chupa" (streaming now) – the adventure-fantasy film directed by Mexican filmmaker Jonás Cuarón, co-writer of the Oscar-winning film "Gravity" and son of "Roma" director Alfonso Cuarón – follows a shy 13-year-old Alex (Evan Whitten) who travels from Kansas City to Mexico to meet his grandfather Chava (Demián Bichir). On his grandfather's ranch, Alex meets a new furry, mythical friend and the two embark on a whirlwind adventure. 

Cuarón tells USA TODAY that working on "Chupa" was not only exciting but a "very personal story for me."

Growing up in Mexico in the '90s, and being around the same age as Alex in the film, Cuarón pulled from his memory of the first time he heard of the legend of the chupacabra. "As a kid, those things were exciting," he says. 

Ever heard of the chupacabra? In Netflix's "Chupa," the legend is reimagined into a family-friendly film starring Demián Bichir and Christian Slater. The adventure-fantasy will stream on Netflix April 7.

The trailer for "Chupa" – starring Bichir, Whitten and Christian Slater – shows a nervous Alex, still mourning the death of his father, being sent to Mexico by his mother amid sightings of the chupacabra dominating broadcast news. "He'll be our little secret," Chava tells Alex upon meeting the Chupa, who also warns him of "bad people out there" (scientist Richard Quinn, played by Slater) hunting the misunderstood creature to try and harness his powers.

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USA TODAY has the exclusive premiere of the new trailer for "Chupa," starring Demián Bichir, Evan Whitten and Christian Slater, including new first-look images.

The chupacabra, which translates to goat-sucker in English, was reportedly first spotted in the early '90s in Puerto Rico. As the story goes, sightings then spread across Latin America with people believing the creature attacked and drank the blood of livestock, including goats. 

"There was a frightening element about it but there's also so much curiosity and excitement about something magical being around you," Cuarón says. 

"It's fascinating how Latin American culture works and how easy prey we are," Bichir adds. "That creature never existed, are you kidding me? That's exactly why I think it's brilliant, that we took that crazy time of our history and converted it into a beautiful fantasy." 

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'Chupa' is about 'trusting your family' and 'magic in the world' 

Demián Bichir (from left) as former lucha libre grandpa Chava, Evan Whitten as Alex, Ashley Ciarra as Luna and Nickolas Verdugo as Memo in a new first-look photo from Netflix's upcoming "Chupa."

As oral historians, grandparents use their gift of storytelling to keep traditions alive, bestow unforgettable life lessons, and retell the folklore of their times. "Growing up surrounded by two big Mexican families, I know that grandparents are truly the carriers of the family narrative," Cuarón says. 

"Everything you need to know about life is right there in our parents and grandparents' experiences," Bichir added. "Alex goes through this interpersonal journey when he goes back to his roots and reconnects with his grandfather and at the same time with his late father." 

"Chupa" is about the importance of "trusting your family in order to overcome grief and any other growing pains," Bichir says. It's about believing in yourself and reconnecting with your roots. "I don't see this as a Latino or Mexican film," the actor adds. "It's a universal story about how we connect to our family." 

"It also shows the importance of (basking) in the magic that there is in the world," says Cuarón. 

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'Chupa' will be the 'cutest thing you've ever seen' 

"I thought the concept of reversing the myth of chupacabras and turning what is normally a horror movie type of creature into a family adventure type of story with a very cute 'Chupa' at the center of it all was interesting," Jonás Cuarón tells USA TODAY.

Cuarón flips the previously horrific chupacabra folklore on its back and creates what Bichir calls a "loving little creature." 

Production went through many iterations of the Chupa and based the design on real animals while also "playing with something that is fantastical, which is a creature that's kind of like a mammal but has wings and feathers – something we've never seen," says Cuarón.

"I want a chupacabra in my room, that little Chupa is the cutest thing you've ever seen," Bichir adds. 

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Jonás Cuarón on how 'E.T.' inspired 'Chupa' 

Jonás Cuarón took inspiration from movies like "E.T." when creating Netflix's "Chupa."

Cuarón says it was "impossible not to think about 'E.T.'" when working on "Chupa."

"As a filmmaker, you really look at the works that you admired to try to learn from them, and in this genre, there are so many references for me to grab on," Cuarón says. 

Throughout filming, the director rewatched the sci-fi/adventure classic over 10 times. 

Cuarón adds that "what would flatter me the most would be to meet someone 20 years from now and tell me that growing up, 'Chupa' really marked them. Because that's what movies like 'E.T.' did for my generation." 

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Jonás Cuarón, Demián Bichir want to make movies their children can watch

Ashley Ciarra (from left) as Luna, Demián Bichir as Chava, Evan Whitten as Alex and Nickolas Verdugo as Memo in Netflix's "Chupa."

As fathers, Cuarón and Bichir are excited to create a film their children can enjoy. 

"For the last five years, I've been watching so many kids' movies and trying to see the world of cinema through their eyes," the director father of two says, adding it led him to reconnect with movies from his own childhood including "E.T.", "Gremlins" and "The Goonies." 

Bichir, who has starred in films including "The Nun," "The Hateful Eight" and "The Grudge," jokes he doesn't "have many films that my daughter can watch." 

For Bichir it's also important to "connect with new generations, that's always the biggest challenge as an artist. You want to make sure the new generations know your work, and that they can connect with you too." 

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