As breath-taking in its variegated beauty as it is politically simplistic, Ale Abreu's Oscar-nominated Boy and the World is truly one of the year's most unique films. It seems like every few years one of these visually innovative animated movies arrives out of nowhere and sends people scrambling to the Wikipedia page to find out why they are competing with the likes of Pixar, Dreamworks, and Disney. In the case of Abreu's film it's the sense of childhood wonder and pure imagination that carries it to such tremendous acclaim.
Utilizing white space like a champ, Abreu presents a pencil and crayon tale that explores Brazil's harsh economic climate through a child's eyes. Told through striking visuals rather than spoken word, Boy and the World takes place in a world with one step in reality, another completely in myth. The titular boy, Cuca, explores this world with the eagerness that comes with new discovery. It's clear that his family is poor; the speckles of white and black on his plate signifying a meager amount of rice and beans. The farm his father tends is barren, the fruit no longer growing from the trees. One moment Cuca could be walking along this sad landscape, while the next he's literally leaping from cloud to sky in the sky.
When Cuca's father leaves home to go and look for work, a saddened Cuca follows him and it's then that the story, and thus Cuca's world, begin to expand. Abreu introduces him to the city where he witnesses the corrosive effects of industrialization on the environment and the poor migrant workers. Melting from scene to scene are images of creative oppression under the boot heel of a totalitarian state, where workers are cast aside like the city's growing trash heaps. While Abreu navigates these ideas from a child's perspective, he reaches too far by inexplicably switching to live-action depictions of Brazil's hardships. It's enough to snap us out of Abreu's lovingly-crafted surrealism, a place of surprising detail sketched together in modest strokes. Abreu's populist message may not be subtle,but his vibrant depiction of how children come to understand deeper issues is what makes Boy and the World unique.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5