LA Originals

Movie review by
Brian Costello, Common Sense Media
LA Originals Movie Poster Image
Excellent hip-hop culture docu has swearing, drug use.
  • NR
  • 2020
  • 92 minutes

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The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive Messages

The value of hard work and dedication in order to achieve success in life.  

Positive Role Models & Representations

The two subjects of the documentary attain international success through hard work, dedication, and humility while remaining true to their neighborhood and cultural roots. 


Talk of gang violence and shootings in 1990s Los Angeles. Talk of beating up bootleggers at concerts. 


Brief nudity: during concert footage, woman lifts shirt, exposes breasts. Artistic photographs of topless women, shot above the women. Talk of paying for a prostitute. A man "moons" the camera. 


Constant profanity. "F--k" and "motherf--er" often used. "N" word in rap song. "A--hole," "p---y," "s--t," "hell." Middle finger gesture. 


In addition to their artistic merits, Mr. Cartoon's tattoos are discussed by musicians and athletes as high-end status symbols. Mr. Cartoon discusses and shows the shoes he designed for Nike. 

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Marijuana smoking. Cigarette smoking. Beer drinking. Mr. Cartoon talks about the many different drugs he has tried. Residents and former residents of Skid Row in Los Angeles discuss their struggles with drug addiction. Footage of a man heating up heroin in a spoon. Man shown passed out on garbage cans, presumably from drugs. Formerly homeless man who was the subject of some of Estevan Oriol's photos discusses a drug binge that led to his hospitalization and near death. 

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that LA Originals is a documentary that chronicles the rise of photographer Estevan Oriol and tattoo artist "Mr. Cartoon" from humble beginnings in Los Angeles. Expect frequent profanity, including "f--k," "motherf---er," and the "N" word in hip-hop songs. Marijuana and cigarette smoking. Homeless people around their former office in Skid Row are shown passed out from drugs and/or alcohol, and a man is shown heating up heroin in a spoon. This man, formerly homeless, discusses his addictions, drug binges, and near overdose. In one scene, Mr. Cartoon discusses all the drugs he has tried. Brief nudity -- a woman lifts her shirt up during a Cypress Hill concert, black-and-white photographs of topless women shot from above, man exposes his rear end to the camera. In terms of positive messages, the documentary shows the massive worldwide cultural impact these two men have had on art and society, and how they have helped to champion hip-hop street culture and the Chicano culture of Los Angeles throughout the world. 

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What's the story?

LA ORIGINALS tells the story of the rise of two best friends, photographer Estevan Oriol and graffiti and tattoo artist "Mr. Cartoon." Emerging from humble beginnings in the Los Angeles area, these two visual artists worked together to develop unique and iconic styles that shaped and influenced both hip-hop culture and the LA Chicano culture as an international phenomenon. Until the market crash of 2008, the two had a creative agency called Soul Assassins in the Skid Row section of downtown LA, where they befriended and documented the transients who lived and died on the streets around them. As Oriol gained international recognition for the iconic "LA Fingers" photograph, as well as photographing definitive photos of everyone from Snoop Dogg to Blink 182, Cartoon became a tattoo artist for the stars, inking Beyoncé, Kobe Bryant, and Justin Timberlake, and others. 

Is it any good?

While on the surface a success story, this documentary encompasses so much more. While the work ethics and creative talents of photographer Estevan Oriol and graffiti/tattoo artist Mr. Cartoon are given proper respect in LA Originals, the pair's origins and involvement with hip-hop and Chicano culture share just as much space, if not more. As Oriol's photography and Cartoon's tattoo work became in demand and chic among the top celebrities of music, sports, and film, the two never forgot their roots, and never stopped documenting the not-glamorous life of the streets. What ultimately emerges is not only the rise of Oriol and Cartoon, but also the rise of hip-hop and the Chicano culture of Los Angeles into an international phenomenon. 

While the grit of gang bangers discussing surviving drive-bys or footage of drug addicts shooting heroin is intense at times, it also counterbalances the obnoxious status-symbol bragging of Eminem and the late Kobe Bryant when talking about the expense and prestige of getting their skin tatted up by Mr. Cartoon. Perhaps like Los Angeles itself, there isn't a middle class in this movie, as the two manage to live in the worlds of both the Haves and Have Nots. The ultimate takeaway isn't so much about the success of these two men from humble beginnings, but how so much that ends up being part of the worldwide uberculture -- music, food, language -- also comes out of humble beginnings. 

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Parents can talk about role models. In what ways can Estevan and Cartoon be seen as positive role models in LA Originals?

  • In addition to showing the rise of Estevan and Cartoon from humble beginnings, how does the movie address topics such as gentrification, homelessness, gangs, and drug addiction? 

  • Do you think the movie glorifies drug use, or does it try to reflect the realities of those in the movie who use or used drugs? Why?

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