To a child, the world is both full of wonder and anxiety; unknowns are both exciting and frightening; the wide open space outside their front door both calls for exploration and holds the terrifying possibility of becoming lost. The desire to understand is often overwhelming, even though the answer may exist beyond their grasp. In the Oscar-nominated animated film, Boy and the World, a child sets out alone to find out why his father has not returned home.
The boy lives with his mother and father on a farm. But when the land stops producing, his father leaves to go find work. In his absence, the boy frequently imagines his father’s return and recalls the time they shared together as his father played his flute. Overcome by his longing, the boy follows his father’s path in an attempt to find him. His journey takes him across Brazil to a cotton plantation and a textile factory. At the former, he befriends an older man and his dog who collects and transports cotton from the field to the trucks. The work is hard, but the old man does his best to keep his job. At the latter, a younger man works on the assembly line that turns the cotton into fabric. He also helps the boy by giving him a place to stay in what is presumably the more crowded Rio de Janeiro. Following hunches and music floating on the air, the boy maintains the impossible task of searching for his father while observing the unfavourable effects of globalization.
This film is not created in a traditional animated style. Instead, it appears to be drawn by a child to match the perspective of the boy in the story. Using bright colours typically found in a crayon box, the artists fashion the world; larger objects such as trees and the sky are painted with visible brush strokes. The people are composed of slightly fuller stick figures made distinct by their wardrobes and hairstyle. Yet even the simplest scene is filled with many moving parts, such as twinkling stars, moving clouds or flowers blowing in the wind. Moreover, the seemingly rudimentary drawings are occasionally paired with more complex illustrations such as that of a working train engine.
The imagery is even more important as the film is without language. The characters sometimes speak in sounds, but it is not intelligible and comparable to the speech of the adults in Peanuts cartoons. Similarly, one can reasonably determine what is meant based on the tone and context. There are also countless signs and billboards in the film, but they are likewise indecipherable and often cropped so they are incomplete. Yet little of the narrative is lost in translation and music replaces the need for words as most of the film is set to an influential score.
The story and its messages related to industrialization are relatively straightforward up to the concluding chapter, but then it becomes a little convoluted. The boy becomes caught between vibrant protesters marching to energetic music and dark authoritarian figures in riot gear. Then there is a confusion of timelines that repositions everything that’s occurred thus far. In addition, clips from archive footage of mechanization and deforestation make further political statements related to Brazil’s commerce, economic status and the hazards of globalization.
This film somewhat snuck into the Oscar race for best animated feature, but it certainly earns its place.