‘Boy and the World’
Director: Ale Abreu
4 (out of 5) Globes
Most animated features tend to keep wild abstraction to a minimum. The 1978 film of “Watership Down” opens a lot like the Brazilian movie “Boy and the World” does: with a riot of colors and shapes, overloading the eyes with pure sensations. “Watership Down” quickly settles into a semi-realistic portrayal of the real world. “Boy and the World” does not. As it settles into a tale of a kid searching for his way home it remains abstract and eye-popping; even a crudely drawn boy standing against a pure white backdrop is a feast for the eyes.
The story itself is simple to the point of barely existing. A boy drifts away from home — a place so boring it's represented by just a few doodles. He quickly becomes lost, wandering into unforgiving terrains, a seastorm and a terrifying city where the impoverished live in slums that reach into the heavens, not unlike Rio’s favelas. His attempts to find his way back call to mind a few other 2015 films, namely “The Good Dinosaur” and “The Revenant” — and, reaching farther back, the chilling 1985 Russian war film “Come and See." Like in those movies, the farther afield "Boy and the World"'s hero finds himself, the more he changes on the inside, traumatized by the cruelties of humanity, especially to the lower castes of society.
As the boy experiences these terrors, the images get more dense and overwhelming. Sometimes the landscapes appear as smudgy crayon colors; other times they’re near photo-realistic. Director Abreu occasionally switches to a god’s-eye view, where the action is reduced to patterns, much like its eyesore of an opening. Intense as things sometimes get, it remains playful, experimental. Even the boy himself remains a doogle; he's just a few strokes more defined than a Don Herztfeldt stick figure. His big head contains only two vertical lines for eyes and rosy cheeks; and his cranium boasts only one more strand of hair than Homer Simpson's. (In profile, he looks like one of The Residents.)
Films of pure abstraction can overstay their welcome, which is why so many of them are short. But “Boy and the World” offers enough diversity of places and colors that it stays fresh. Plus, its concern for class inequality gives its story an urgency, even if it rarely makes literal sense. By the end we feel like we’ve been through something at once beautiful and horrifying, reduced to a state of childlike wonder that comes undone with experience. Frame for frame, brushstroke for brushstroke, it’s one of the year’s prettiest films.