Of the most enduring topics of social satire, consumer culture seems to be the easiest target for filmmakers. This notion is demonstrated and deeply rooted in Boy & the World, a Brazilian animated feature with almost no dialogue and impressive visual storytelling created by what seems to be rudimentary, two-dimensional animation. Despite its achievements in its visual design, I’m constantly frustrated and baffled by Boy & the World’s relatively one-dimensional and heavy-handed approach. This approach, in particular is geared towards a subject whose issues are a lot more nuanced and profound in how they affect society than this movie actually gives credit for.
From the opening scene, the visuals may first appear unimpressive. Black shapes to indicate characters and environment and a cold white backdrop which seem to do very little in immersing us into the world visually. However, as the film progresses so do both its visuals and narrative. The opening scenes ease the viewer into a more resplendent, colourful world of a more disingenuous, almost utopian portrayal of agrarian life. It’s a beautiful, yet self-indulgent visual connotation, suggesting that for all of its colourful and intricate world building, its anti-consumerism rhetoric remains black-and-white.
One of the few things crucial to our knowledge growth (specifically as children) is that we should not simplify the issues we’re trying to address. While these problems exist in Boy & the World’s anti-consumerist themes, the film actually does a good job avoiding these issues in the actual story. Due to its lack of dialogue, the film’s visuals have to tell a story on their own — this allows room for children to interpret what they’re watching, something that’s almost non-existent in today’s mainstream medium of animated features.
With that said, there are some major setbacks in the film’s animation department as well. While Boy & the World’s story is told visually through subtle indicators and audience inference, the film’s tone is the utter opposite. It’s audience pandering, using faded blues for sadness, piercing blacks for menace and an optimistic rainbow confetti design for vivacity. It tells the audience what and how to feel, and when to feel it. Its images, while beautifully illustrated, must resign themselves to the simplicity of the filmmaker’s vision. When we’re introduced to the story’s antagonist, it’s in a fitting palette of literal black-and-white, with the evil army’s band puffing soot from their instruments and the sound of their beat echoing an industrial roar, placing this movie further from reality than its fantasy-escaping protagonist.
I would be lying if I didn’t admit that the film had visual motifs that resounded with piercing honesty, especially the ones which exhibited the depressing emptiness of the working-class. A factory in which workers are set up like cogs in a clock, or a young boy seeing the faces of his father on every man, symbolizing the dehumanization process of the hierarchical working-class system. These motifs work as a way to add leverage towards the movie’s greater themes, which itself never comes full circle. They are sparse but powerful, a way to establish the world’s dystopic realism as well as referencing the real-world in a unique, artistic fashion. It’s a shame that the movie couldn’t relay them as frequently.
Boy & the World is an ambitious film, it’s not particularly intelligent or standout but visually engaging and even sometimes interesting. If the director had treated its issues with more awareness it could be a far more compelling film — otherwise it remains a fair attempt in animation, trumped by its pro-ecological counterparts (Princess Mononoke, WALL-E, etc.) in every comparable field. Boy & the World nevertheless distinguishes itself enough as a unique presence, enough to actually rank with some of the best. So, if you can get past the hamfisted morality and simplistic political rhetoric, there is actually a well-made film here that’s eye-grabbing, if nothing else.