About six months ago, I saw “La Llama que llama” for the first time, on a friend’s Facebook wall, and I fell in love. Normally I can’t stand television commercials, but this series, produced for the phone company Telecom in Argentina in the very late 1990s, is lively, amusing, and memorable.
The llama puppets remind me a great deal of the Muppets, the colorful foam rubber marionette-puppet combinations created by Jim Henson in the 1950s, that starred on the U.S. public TV children’s education program Sesame Street beginning in 1969. When I was a young adolescent, my family and I used to watch the Muppet Show every week (in the days when lower-middle-class families had one television and everyone who felt like it gathered around the set to watch programs together) and laugh at the antics of Kermit the Frog (Rana René in Latin America), Miss Piggy, and their friends. I still occasionally imitate the Swedish Chef when no one’s listening.
“La Llama que llama” can be translated simply as “the llama who calls.” The joke is that the name of the South American domesticated camelid is the same as the Spanish present-tense verb for “call”; another layer of humor is that these llamas have Argentine accents, so the one on the phone says “Zhama” instead of “yama,” as a Bolivian or Peruvian llama would (presuming the llama would speak Spanish, and not Quechua, Aymara, or another indigenous language). I love the llamas who call for the same reasons I loved the Muppets – the humor is broad, at times dumb, but it appeals simultaneously to children and adults. This is how the best kid’s movies succeed: employing humor that’s visual and physical, and also verbal, with layers of sophisticated wordplay that works for all ages and maturity levels.
“La Llama que llama” contains enough rapid-fire punning that I’m still stumped by half of what these puppets say – much of it is specific to the culture and era, so it flies right over my head. One fan explained on a learn-Spanish website that the “Chamot” to which the llamas refer in one commercial is the name of a football/soccer star of the day. Didn’t matter whether I got the joke or not – I still loved the little llama bouncing around saying, “¡Llama a Chamot! Llama a Chamot!”
If you’re looking for political correctness and lessons in how to treat each other kindly, you won’t find it in “La Llama que llama.” I suspect the producers chose llamas not only as a symbol of South America, but also because they have a reputation for meanness. These animal puppets make annoying prank phone calls to various countries, celebrate when grandpa keels over, and are just generally obnoxious. They appeal to the naughty child in all of us.
When I visited Buenos Aires in March, I stayed in a wonderful bed and breakfast run by a husband and wife. While moving to a different room for my last two nights, I passed through the foyer and saw that they had a cute, handcrafted llama covered in real wool, about 35 centimeters (1 foot) tall. “I like your llama!” I yelled in Spanish to Ada, who was in the couple’s dining area.
“¡La Llama que llama!” she answered, and I cracked up and launched into one of the commercials: “¿Hola, Zoológico de Buenos Aires?… ¡Liberen a las llamas!” Ada seemed amused, and I tried to explain to the other guest from the U.S. what the heck I was talking about. But I think something was lost in translation.
The most complete series I can find of “La Llama que llama”: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mFOBlAX-W3g&list=PLF5EFD60941BA7EF8