I have been wrestling with what to say about Alê Abreu’s Oscar-nominated animated parable for days now and have reached a point (at 4 a.m. on a Monday moring) where I have to say something, so here goes. First of all, before undertaking this 80-minute film — or deciding to take the kids to it, since it’s animated — know that it has no coherent language (apparently it’s backwards Portuguese) and no subtitles. The tale is told completely in visual terms. (Those more in tune with it than I have likened it to Jacques Tati’s Playtime (1967), which probably makes sense, as Playtime is my least favorite of Tati’s films.) Also know that Boy & the World — for all its colorful, fanciful design — is far more interested in being a polemic against the evils of capitalist and consumer society than it is in telling its story of the boy in the title searching for his missing father.
In theory, I have nothing against any of this as a concept, nor am I out of sympathy with its message. In truth, I have nothing against Boy & the World and am, in fact, of the opinion that it is a work of some considerable merit. It’s just that little about it appeals to me personally. I don’t care for the look of the characters with their stick figure appendages and rather skull-like heads. The animation and drawing style has been compared to The Secret of Kells (2010), which is reasonable, and to Sita Sings the Blues (2008), which is less so. The drawings here are deliberately childlike, resembling nothing so much as colorful crayon drawings. It’s often quite delightful in its combination of children’s drawings and 1960s trippy poster art — all of which were hand-drawn by Abreu.
My basic problem with all this is that I might have loved it at 30 minutes, but at 80 minutes … that’s another matter. Once I got the point of Boy & the World as an assault on modern times, pollution, conformity, industrialization, dehumanization, etc. I couldn’t escape the sense of sameness to what followed. It wasn’t so much variations on a theme as it was the same theme repeated over and over. The upshot of this was that my mind tended to wander during the second half of the film — and when Abreu opted to insert live action footage of pollution and forests being cut down, I felt I was being lectured to in the worst PSA way.
If you can just sit back and go for the ride with all the brightly colored fancifulness, chances are good that you’ll be better off — unless, of course, you just can’t get enough of the existential blues that comprise the movie’s thematic center. If that’s the case, you will probably adore Boy & the World on every level. I wish I could, because I feel strangely guilty that I don’t. Rated PG for thematic material and images.