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Sleeper of the Week: ‘The Boy and the World’

Sleeper of the Week: 'The Boy and the World'

Sleeper of the Week takes a film that only few critics have seen and shines some light on it.

“The Boy and the World”
Dir: Alê Abreu
Criticwire Average: A-

Beautifully drawn and remarkably perceptive about industrialization, Alê Abreu’s “The Boy and the World” functions as a parable about modernity’s effect on the world, and how it ultimately widens the gap between the classes in any society. The film follows “Boy” as he journeys into the city to find his father who has gone there to find work. Along the way, he discovers a world outside of his family farm, one filled with hard-working people struggling to stay afloat. Abreu’s animation is a marvel, using colors and shapes to capture both psychology and environment in equal measure. Critics have praised “The Boy and the World” for its visual style but also its political content and how Abreu has filtered his unique experience into the film. For those seeking another entry into the wonderful world of animation, this is for you.

More thoughts from the Criticwire Network:

Nicolas Rapold
, The New York Times

Alê Abreu’s “Boy and the World” unleashes the exuberance of a child on the harsh realities of Brazil today. It’s both the best children’s animated film this year since “Inside Out” — you might call it “Outside In” — and, unexpectedly, a more stirring depiction of the deadening modern megalopolis than most heal-the-world documentaries. The curious, nameless boy — his face is like a shirt button — is at first our portal to the unfiltered beauty of the fields and jungles of rural Brazil. Mr. Abreu’s bouquets of crayon color and jazzy sound design explode on the screen, treated as an arena to roam left and right, up and down. Then the tyke’s journey plunges into the depths of reality when he hops a train, joining the spindly migrants heading to the city in search of work. What follows is a jaw-dropping sketch of towering cities and mechanized factories that brings in dark wit and satire (and clever collage) without abandoning the child’s wonder. Mr. Abreu and his film’s music makers further set up a rousing duel of leitmotifs: the cacophony of the brown-gray city, apparently in the throes of a fascist takeover, versus a recurring parade of folk music accompanied by a florid phoenix. Read more.

Ella Taylor, NPR

Amid all this spectacle, we barely notice that this classic tale of the country versus the city, without ever losing its fairy-tale enchantment, has turned political. “Boy and the World” grew incidentally out of an animated documentary Abreu was making about Brazil’s volcanic post-colonial history. His is a proudly populist, even Marxist vision, but never for a moment programmatic. The volatile score is cobbled together from protest songs of the 1960s and 1970s and world music gathered into a thrilling mix by Gustavo Kurlat and Ruben Feffer. Nobody has a name, and the cadaverous sameness of the faces of men Boy keeps mistaking for his father bears witness to the millions of workers who suffer the collateral damage of a military coup, followed by aggressive industrialization that pollutes both the city and the lovely countryside of Boy’s youth. At once a contemporary allegory and an ancient fable, “Boy and the World” may be read in its entirety as a dream or a fantasy in which it hard to separate Boy from the male figures who shelter and protect him. Are the silent young worker in a cap, or that bent old under a tree, variants of his own evolving self, or even of Brazil growing up? Read more.

Christy Lemire, RogerEbert.com

As a parable about the perils of industrialization and the gaping disparity between the haves and have-nots, it may not say much that’s new (and it doesn’t say it in a way that’s terribly subtle). But as an artistic exercise, it’s a marvel of imagination. It is at once innocent and cynical, hopeful and hard-eyed. At the start, the boy enjoys a carefree existence on his family’s farm. He frolics in cool, blue streams and climbs endless trees — so high, he can even bounce around in the clouds. Anything seems possible to him. And yet to us, it’s obvious that his family is struggling. So one day, his father packs a suitcase and hops on a train — rendered as a steam-belching, industrial centipede that snakes away into the distance — to the big city, ostensibly in hopes of improving their financial situation. (Although the movie’s philosophical stance is always clear, its plot points sometimes are not, and things can get a tiny bit confusing given that all the crudely-drawn characters essentially look the same. I watched “Boy and the World” with my 6-year-old son and the question “Who’s that?” came up a lot. But he also loved the look of the film and the boy’s playful spirit, as well as the infectious, samba-infused score from Ruben Feffer and Gustavo Kurlat.) Read more.

Noel Murray, The A.V. Club

The Boy And The World” is part fantasy, part social realism. It’s both joyous and angry — an explosion of abstract colors that resolves into a vision of stooped human figures struggling to survive. Once The Boy leaves the country, he encounters both parades and sweatshops, and mountaintop metropolises that look magnificent from below but cramped and cruddy up close. The arc here is simple, and easy to follow: The tiny hero is driven out of paradise, and on his travels he gets a closer look at how things actually are. He sees rich kids floating above him in glittering cities, and arenas full of sports fans cheering pogo-booted athletes, while people in nearby slums subsist on canned glop (when they can afford it). But he also sees the working classes helping each other, when no one else will. Although Abreu is Brazilian, and though the hilly slums in “The Boy And The World” resemble Rio’s favelas, the movie is set in an unspecified country, in some not-too-distant future. When the characters speak — which is rarely — they use an incomprehensible babble of nonsense syllables, and any street signs or billboards that The Boy encounters are rendered as a jagged collage of cut-up numbers, letters, and faces from magazines. The vagueness can be frustrating at times, especially since the story here is slight and episodic, and doesn’t reveal much about economic injustice that informed audiences shouldn’t already know. Read more.

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