What we have in this animated Brazilian Oscar nominee is a really dumb, typical environmental, somebody-do-something tirade wrapped in a very aesthetic, worthwhile story of a boy searching for his father in a hostile world that is populated by friendly people. The director has stated that he was making a documentary and it turned into an animated sci-fi cartoon just sorta natural-like, which is almost good news, because as an odd, dystopic sci-fi it works really well. The bad news aspect is about five minutes or so of live-action footage of industrial goings-on on earth which is badly misplaced and ridiculously trite to boot.
But that’s only five minutes, so let’s talk about the good stuff.
Mom, Dad and Boy live on the farm. Things get rough (as they will, on the farm) so Dad goes to the big city to get a factory job. But Boy misses Dad, so he goes on a quest to find him, starting with a cotton farm. This is where I began to think this was sci-fi, since cotton farms don’t work that way, as far as I know, with giant trees cotton gets plucked from. (Cotton plants are low; that’s why picking cotton is so horrible. But maybe they gots different cotton down Brasil way.) From the cotton farm, he finds his way into the city and, I guess to what you’d call a cotton mill. His quest continues from there, taking some dark turns.
There were two dumb aspects to this: First, every person Boy runs into is good, unless they’re part of The System, which is, I don’t know, a thing full of riot cops (who, I guess, are not people) and movie stars (who make you want stuff you can’t afford, maybe). I didn’t mind this part of it: As science-fiction it works.
Then there’s the aforementioned dumb stuff, with actual “documentary” footage woven into the movie that includes real factories, American money, and other unrelated material. Being an artist of course means never having to explain this progression:
“Life is so horrible on the farm we gotta go get horrible factory jobs.”
“Our horrible factory jobs are so horrible.”
“Oh, no, we’re losing our horrible factory jobs!”
Nor even trying to understand it or apportion responsibility. There are faceless villains—people with money—and good-hearted peasants.
But, set that aside, and you have an interesting and entertaining movie that makes good use of its primitive aesthetic. The characters are largely stick figures. The landscapes take the simple line drawings to interesting places, however. There’s no real dialog: When words are spoken, they’re in Portuguese, but backwards, as I had to inform a few somewhat disgruntled moviegoers. There were signs in the movie, too, also in Portuguese, but upside-down mirror-image Portuguese.
I can’t imagine actual dialogue would’ve helped this movie in the least. It works, to the extent that it works, as an emotional cri de coeur. If it’s not obvious from what I’ve written so far, this isn’t really a kid’s movie. It’s melancholy and dark, with a sort of existential ennui pervading. There were some kids in the audience; they seemed restless and a little confused. I would’ve liked to take The Flower but she was busy starting a new art project, and those generally take precedence for her.
But The Boy and I liked it—just keep it in the sci-fi/fantasy realm in your head, and you’ll be fine.