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The Growing Pains of Brazilian Animation

The Growing Pains of Brazilian Animation

Otto Guerra grew up reading Tintin comic books and watching
Disney cartoons. He dreamed of creating his own animation films, but that was
not an easy task in Brazil, a country that had hardly any tradition in animated
film. He might as well dream of being an astronaut or a dragon-slayer as more
realistic children did.

Yet today, several decades later, he has just directed his
second feature animation film, “Til
Sbornia do us part
“, which has won two audience awards in the two major
Brazilian festivals where it was shown so far. Despite being an animation, it
aims more at the adult public than at young children. The film is scheduled to
be commercially released in theaters in Brazil in December, and the producers
are also looking forward to its exhibition in Los Angeles in 2014.  

I cannot impartially judge the story since I co-wrote the
screenplay, but the art direction and the animation (in which I took no part)
are simply beautiful. Co-directed by Ennio Torresan, a Brazilian animator who
lives in Los Angeles and works for the giant animation studio Dreamworks, the
film is perhaps the best animation film ever created in Brazil. Of course, that
is not saying much since there were only 33 animated feature films ever
produced in the country since the first one in 1951, but still, in terms of
rhythm, art and style it has nothing to envy to any other current international

As Guerra says, “It is a worldwide phenomenon. Portugal has
produced only five animation films. Hollywood and Japan have the monopoly of
production. We in the rest of the world are just in the periphery, in the beginning.
The difference is that a Disney movie costs 30 times more than all Brazilian
films together. It’s another universe.”

Brazilian cinema first sparked international interest in the
sixties, with the Cinema Novo movement and its gritty films inspired by both
Italian neo-realism and the French new wave. The movement did not last for long
and despite critical success in Cannes and Berlin it never achieved popular
success in Brazil, but its influence was pervasive.

When Brazilian cinema reemerged from its ashes in the
nineties and again attracted some international success, it was with films such
as ‘City of God’ and ‘Elite Squad’, which are indebted to Cinema Novo for the
focus on poverty and violence, although the inspiration for the style came less
from classic European cinema than from Hollywood.

While the films were good, the constant focus on crime and
poverty exhausted some Brazilians, and seemed to present a stereotyped image of
Brazil as a country on the eternal verge of civil war between the rich and the

Til Sbornia do us part, mercifully, has no favelas and no
drugs, unless the ‘bizuwin’ plant which is at the center of the plot can be
considered a type of hallucinogen. It is in fact that rarest of things, a
Brazilian fantasy film. While there are no links to Cinema Novo, perhaps some
critic will see some connections with the magical realism that shook Latin
American literature in the sixties.  

However, the film is less about Brazil than about Rio Grande
do Sul, the southernmost state of the country which in 1835 fought a ten-year
war for independence. They lost the war, but still today the “gauchos” (as the
inhabitants of the state are called) feel as if they belonged to a separate
country, closer in spirit to Argentina and Uruguay than to the rest of Brazil.
The island of Sbornia and its conflit with the “Continent” is, in part, an
allegory about the conflict of Rio Grande do Sul with the rest of Brazil.

Til Sbornia do us part is not the only recent Brazilian
animation film. Another animated feature, “The boy and
the world
“, by Ale Abreu, recently won an honorable mention at the Ottawa Animation
Festival, and “The
Adventures of the Red Airplane
“, by Federico Pinto and Jose Maia, based in
a classic children’s story, is set to be released soon. These are perhaps the
best of times for Brazilian animation productions. May they grow and prosper. 

Tom Creus is a teacher
and screenwriter. He wrote the screenplay of ‘Til Sbornia do us Part’ together
with Rodrigo John.


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