A sparkling gem, The Boy and the World lives up to its title, following a young boy whose search for his father leads him to all corners of his native land, both for good and for bad.
Written and directed by Alê Abreu, the animated adventure was made in Brazil by a relatively small team; the style of animation resembles handmade line drawings, and looks extremely simple by the standards of today’s extravagant, computer-aided blockbusters. While I’m certainly not an expert on movie animation, it reminds me of indie comic books that must compete against those published by Marvel and DC. The big companies can produce work that looks marvelously complex and detailed, yet is still dependent on relatable characters and a strong story.
While The Boy and the World does not have a compelling story — much of the time, the titular boy wanders with little rhyme or reason from one scenario to the next — the characters more than make up for it. The little boy is beguiling, and “the world” soon becomes its own unique character. It can be baffling to try and understand its likes and dislikes, its dangers and rewards, its charms and snares.
Yet Abreu and his team tap into a childish perspective on life. Of course it’s not always easy to understand what’s happening; that’s how it appears to children, and perhaps some of us can remember times in our childhood when adults did things that were not logical; that events occurred that seemed neither fair nor rational; that feelings and emotions were often more powerful than comprehension or even understanding.
What comes across very clearly is that The Boy and the World is fascinated by the varying environments in which we live. Whether a rural property, apparently located in the middle of nowhere, or a bustling city, or any landscape between here and there, the boy remains curious about his surroundings. He doesn’t shy away from factories or farms or public transportation or any sort of new experience, which is a rather bold stance that reflects the fearless nature of childhood and helps to make the film endlessly confusing and amusing.
The driving force for all this wandering is that the boy’s father has left home, suitcase in hand. Is he seeking new employment to provide for his family? Is he heading off to help other family members in need? The purpose of his journey appears to be discussed by him and his wife, but the words are not meaningful in the context of the story. No subtitles are provided, and the dialect spoken is apparently gibberish. What’s more important are the strong emotions that are evoked. By keeping such story details off the table, our focus turns to the visuals, and they are marvelous indeed.
Despite its title, The Boy and the World will not necessarily translate well for all people, but for those who are as open as the boy to new experiences, it’s a rather glorious trip.
The film, which has been nominated for an Academy Award as best animated film, opens at Angelika Dallas and Angelika Plano on Friday, February 12.