Boy & the World (2013) ☆☆☆(3/4): Simple but Marvelous

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Brazilian animated feature film “Boy & the World” looks quite simple at first, but its kaleidoscopic presentation of colors and lines and shapes on the screen is something to behold. I was involved in its numerous marvelous visual moments, and I observed its creative style and imagination with lots of curiosity and interest. Although it is a small modest work on the whole, it will linger on you after you watch it, and it is no wonder that it was recently nominated for Best Animated Feature Film Oscar.

After zooming out through a dazzling series of various colorful patterns during its opening sequence, the movie presents its young boy hero and the rural background surrounding him. While he and his world are depicted through the seemingly rudimentary animation style reminiscent of kids’ crude sketches, the screen is soon filled with boundless curiosity and excitement as the boy freely roams here and there around his world. He bounces around a field whose blank space is spotted with colorful flowers and grasses, he climbs up in a forest full of many different creatures, and he even jumps on clouds in the sky once he reaches to the top of trees.

He has lived happily with his parents in their small hut, but his father soon leaves the family for earning money in some big city far away from their place. The boy naturally feels sad to see his father going away, but there is nothing he can do, and he misses his father more as days goes by. He remembers when he and his father once spent a night together, and his father’s flute gives us one of the most enchanting moments in the film.

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On one day, the boy decides to go to the city for finding his father. Along with a suitcase, he somehow gets drifted away from his home during one surreal sequence, and then he finds himself waking up in a small shabby tent belonging to some old man. When the boy gets out of the tent, we see that there are so many other tents around it, and their abstract shapes are all lined up in several rows across the screen. Along with the old man and his dog, the boy goes to a big, wide cotton plantation where the old man and many other people work, and we cannot help but dazzled by countless clockwork movements on the screen as the workers busily work in the plantation, while also reminded of how expendable they are as cheap laborers.

When the boy goes to a factory where loads of cotton are processed into fabrics, we see another sight of labor exploitation. Doing their respective jobs again and again throughout their work hour, the factory workers look pretty much like cogs of a huge machine, and that aspect took me back to those horrifyingly breathtaking factory scenes in great SF film “Metropolis” (1927).

Speaking of “Metropolis”, the movie goes into a more futuristic mode as the boy arrives in the city, which looks like a tall, giant tower when it is viewed from the distance. Around the base of the city, countless houses belonging to poor people are stacked around each other with webs of steep steps, and we also see many buildings being built in the upper area of the city. As following a young factory worker who lives in the city, the boy experiences so many things here and there around this alien urban environment, and he eventually stays around that young man while keeping looking for his father.

And we continue to get impressive moments to remember. We see several silly commercials which look deliberately cheap in their droll collage style. We enjoy many vehicles and machines which amusingly look like big metal animals. We savor a number of musical scenes where their rapturous mood is expressed through thousands of colorful bubbles emitted from musical instruments. We behold a place floated above the sea in the sky, and there is an exciting scene which shows how this place efficiently handles many container ships loaded with supplies.

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The movie becomes darker as the boy witnesses the other side of this curious world later in the story. When machines are introduced into the factory, the factory workers instantly become jobless and have to look for job again. During one sad scene at a train station, the boy painfully realizes how futile his attempt to find his father in the city is. It seems the city and its citizens are ruled under some military dictatorship, and one striking sequence indirectly reflects that harsh reality through a brutal metaphoric duel in the sky.

The director/writer Alê Abreu goes further with the insertion of a sudden montage sequence of archival footage showing destructive industrial activities on nature environment, but I am not so sure about whether this part is effective, for we have already get his messages around that point. As stretching out its thin plot which could have been more suitable for short animated film, the movie loses some of its narrative momentum during its last act, but it manages to arrive at the poignant ending which will make you look back on what you have seen from its young hero’s journey.

Overall, I had a fun, interesting time with “Boy and the World”, and I think you will enjoy it a lot if you are looking for something different from those usual digital animated films. I do not know whether young audiences will get the messages behind the film, but they will certainly be charmed by its lively animation and joyous spirit on the screen. It may be merely all about style, but sometimes that is more than enough in case of animated film.

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