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Boy & the World

At this point, it’s pretty much a guarantee that Inside Out is winning Best Animated Feature. At the very least, we can expect a huge uproar if it doesn’t win. That said, at least we got a few pleasant surprises with the other nominations. It seems that the Academy wisely took the opportunity to bring some good press to more obscure animated features like Anomalisa and Shaun the Sheep Movie instead of giving knee-jerk nominations to more mainstream flicks like The Peanuts Movie or The Good Dinosaur.

And this year’s winner of the Tomm Moore Sweepstakes is Boy & the World, which was lucky enough to get a Best Animated Feature nomination long before just about anyone in America had ever even seen it, much less heard of it (see also: The Secret of Kells and The Song of the Sea).

By its very nature, the film is aggressively simple in its presentation. There are no subtitles and I don’t speak a word of Portuguese, so I don’t know if the dialogue was meant to sound like pure gibberish, but the dialogue is so scarce that it barely makes a difference. The plot — concerning a young boy who runs away from home in search of his father — is so thin that it may as well not exist. The artwork looks like it was put together with whatever could be found in your average first grade classroom.

But that simplistic approach is refined with incredible talent, creativity, and heart. And that makes all the difference.

First of all, it’s absolutely true that everything looks like it was drawn with crayon, smudged together with finger paint, or glued on from magazine clippings. Yet that grade school aesthetic helps sell the notion that we’re seeing this world through the eyes of a small child. As a direct result, even the most mundane activity is filtered through our main character’s imagination into something wondrous. City life, work environments, political demonstrations, and so many other things that we take for granted as part of adult life are made to look far more amazing and magical and dangerous through this young boy’s perspective.

It certainly helps that the animators use color and movement in tremendously creative ways. Music also plays an important part, especially a recurring motif so simple that a child could (and probably did, for this score) play it on a recorder. Last but not least, these characters were designed with no facial features except two straight vertical lines for eyes, and it’s amazing how much emotion the animators are able to convey with so little.

Getting back to the boy’s various adventures, the movie primarily focuses on textile work. Specifically the process of picking cotton, turning it into fabric, and shipping it out to be turned into clothing to be bought by the super-rich. So of course we get depictions of class inequality, corporate greed, oppression by authority, deforestation, the steady encroachment of a more brainless and superficial society as it becomes more industrialized, etc. The closing minutes even touch on the cyclical nature of time. And again, all of this is seen through the eyes of a young boy who sees color and magic around every corner.

That said, it’s not like the movie is completely void of nuance — we very clearly see workers in the field getting mistreated and overworked before they’re replaced by machine labor. So the workers may be out of a job, but at least they’re not working themselves to death for slave wages, so I guess that’s maybe a plus?

At 80 minutes’ runtime, Boy & the World is the epitome of “sweet but short”. Anyone who wants a surreal and dreamlike experience by way of hand-drawn animation should definitely check it out. Anyone interested in a creative and expressive movie that depicts complex ideas from a novel perspective would do well to try it.

But anyone who wants characters and plotlines developed beyond the bare minimum should look elsewhere.

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