“Boy & the World” begins in a colorful Eden. In this lovely animated movie by Brazilian filmmaker Alê Abreu, fanciful birds, butterflies and beasts cavort in lush sylvan landscapes of bright greens, yellows, blues and pinks.
The world is a playland, and playing joyfully in it is a little roundheaded boy. Frolicking with giddy delight, he climbs ever higher into the wonderland until he’s using clouds as steppingstones. Aloft, he gazes down at the peaceful planet below. It’s all good.
Slowly, subtly, the mood shifts as a spirit of gentle melancholy creeps into the whimsy of this Oscar-nominated fantasy.
The boy is the cherished child of a farm couple. When the land can’t sustain the family, the father departs for the city to try to find work. Lonely and sad, the boy will eventually leave home to try to track down his dad.
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The picture is, for the most part, without words. Squeaks, puffs, gasps and trills are the boy’s vocabulary. Evocative flute music functions as dialogue, establishing mood, setting the tone.
Visually, the boy is a comical-looking kid with a round Charlie Brown head topped with three stand-up strands of hair, a red-and-white striped shirt, black shorts and stick-figure arms and legs. His eyes are two vertical stripes, and yet, lengthening and shortening, they are marvelously expressive.
Abreu handcrafted his images, and the imagination from which those images spring is astonishingly fertile. A train takes the form of a seemingly endless centipede, disappearing toward the distant horizon. Cargo ships resembling peculiar sea creatures head for faraway destinations. A city floats in midair.
The eye is enchanted by the richness of the picture’s spectacle.
In the course of his odyssey, the boy’s innocence and joy fade as his elder self meets and guides his young self through a jumble of impersonal, industrialized cityscapes.
Can he find his father? Can he find his way home? Can he find peace and perhaps regain innocence?
The answers in “Boy & the World” touch the heart.
Boy & the World
☆☆☆☆ out of 5
Director: Alê Abreu.
Running time: 80 minutes.
Rated: PG, for thematic material and images.