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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Boy & the World movie review: urban chaos and color

Boy and the World green light

Paints an impressionistic canvas of unease and disquiet, of hope and wonder, filled with glorious music. Magical… though sometimes it’s black magic.
I’m “biast” (pro): nothing

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The second feature from Brazilian filmmaker Alê Abreu is perhaps the most unlikely nominee for this year’s Best Animated Feature Oscar. Not that Boy & the World isn’t absolutely exquisite; it’s just that it got only a tiny release and so has bypassed even most animation fans, and it’s not from one of the major players in modern cartoons. Boy couldn’t be any further from the typical Pixar, Disney, Studio Ghibli, or Aardman movie: this is very nearly a one-man project from Abreu, who not only wrote and directed the film but also edited it and created the utterly unique hand-drawn animation himself. Using a style reminiscent of a child’s artistic view on the world — all stick limbs and overbright colors and machines turned into monsters — Abreu entices us into the fantastical perspective of a small boy from a remote farm in an unnamed country who follows his father, who is desperate for work, into the Big City. Or perhaps it’s all an anxiety dream happening in the boy’s head as he worries for his father.

But plot is not the primary concern here. Instead, Abreu paints an expansive impressionistic canvas of unease and disquiet, but also of hope and wonder, as memories of the carefree natural landscape of the boy’s home clash with the mechanistic regimentation of the urban chaos and mess. There is no dialogue to speak of in Boy; a few lines in a fake language (actually, backwards Portuguese) suggest grownups talking about adult worries the boy cannot really understand. Yet there is glorious music everywhere, expressed in color as well as in sound: the flute music the boy recalls his father playing dances in the air like fireflies; military marching music puffs out as black smoke.

There is one instance of intrusion of live-action, documentary-style footage that breaks the film’s spell; it’s an unneeded sledgehammer driving home a point about our destruction of nature that we’d already fully taken on. Mostly, though, this is a magical film — though sometimes it’s of the scary black-magic kind — full of imagery by turns lovely and startling, often both at the same time. Boy & the World is a stunning example of the power of animation, color, and music to evoke powerful and profound emotion.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Boy & the World for its representation of girls and women.

green light 4.5 stars

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Boy & the World
US/Can release: Dec 11 2015

MPAA: rated PG for thematic material and images

viewed at home on a small screen

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Danielm80

    I’m amazed at how…for lack of a better adjective…unDreamWorks the nominees are this year.

  • LaSargenta

    Actually, the title in portuguese ‘o menino…’ could be translated as “child”. It means both boy and girl, depending on the context. Yes, there is a feminine menina, but, it is often used ungendered.

  • Patty Cotman

    How refreshing to know that 2D animation is still appreciated by the Academy. Do you think you’ll get around to seeing “When Marnie Was There” ?

  • amanohyo

    Thank you for the review! I hate to dogpile on your limited time with Patty, but did you get a chance to watch World of Tomorrow? It’s another very nearly one-man project (with World in the title) drawn in a childish style that serves as a bit of a cautionary tale. At only 17 minutes, the Vimeo “rental” price of $3.99 feels steep; however, I got my money’s worth. It’s pretty good at navigating a tricky space between optimistic humanism and absurdly bleak nostalgia – by far the best thing Hertzfeldt has ever made.

  • It’s free on netflix right now. Ir was that Amazon Prime? hmmm. Regardless, I watched it the other night. Very interesting little short.

  • I look forward to seeing this when it eventually reaches Netflix(or wherever). Sounds right up my alley. I love traditional animation.

  • amanohyo

    Cool! I was hoping it might be by now.

  • I reviewed “World of Tomorrow” when it was included in a Sundance compilation earlier this year, and it’s also in my coverage of the Oscar-nominated animated shorts.

  • I am waiting for a screening of *Marnie* from the distributor, so yes, hopefully before the Oscars.

  • But it *wasn’t* translated as “child”!

  • LaSargenta

    I know! That’s why it’s weird to me…

    It easily *could* have been!

  • Carol

    Actually, “menino” means only boy, and it can’t be used ungendered, regardless of context. The ungendered word is “criança”, which means child.

  • LaSargenta

    Ah. I don’t know much Portuguese, but was going on how some Brazilian friends explained it when they were trying to teach me. They may have been meaning it in an idiomatic use. Thanks.

  • Carol

    Maybe they were referring to the plural, “meninos”. In some cases, when we have a group of people made of men and women/boys and girls, we refer to them with the masculine word. Just like in English you might say “you guys” to a group of men and women. Kind of a sexist way language is used to take the males as standard and universal, as always.

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