Let’s be fair: if it weren’t for the Oscars, no one would be talking about Boy & the World. Kicking out animation juggernauts like Minions or The Peanuts Movie, Boy & the World is an experimental, hand-drawn, silent Brazilian tale made for less than half a million dollars. Over the last half decade, film distributor GKIDS has released the “dark horse” nominees that come out of nowhere to surprise Oscar completists with beauty and depth lacking in many of the nominees. Past GKIDS inclusion to the best animated feature race include The Secret of Kells, Chico & Rita, A Cat in Paris, Ernest and Celestine, as well as the 2014 masterpiece Song of the Sea. What GKIDS and now Boy & the World gives us is a fascinating look at global animation: experimental, beautiful, full of chances and surprises.
Boy & the World starts with a blank canvas, then fills with wondrous patterns and colors before introducing us to our nameless child lead (press notes name him as Cuca). We see the childish wonder of Cuca as he plays in nature and embraces the music that the world all around him provides. During a seemingly normal day, Cuca’s father gets on a train to look for work in the city, leaving him and his mother behind. Cuca goes out to find his father and in doing so, explores the world around him, full of beauty, but also pain and other ideas that Cuca has not had to reckon with yet.
Along the way, Cuca meets several protectors that help him along his way, such as a cotton worker, or a struggling musician in the city. There’s a sorrow in these older character’s simplistic, almost button-like faces, as if there’s some unknown sorrow that Cuca has yet to notice yet. Director Alê Abreu doesn’t offer easy answers about the story underneath he’s trying to tell until the end, and even then Boy & the World remains ambiguous, with a message that doesn’t get too preachy.
Abreu style is simple, yet excitingly complex, as Boy & the World is drawn almost as if young Cuca animates his whole story after the fact. Grass is multicolored, trees are giant circles of green, and clothing is abstracted to a series of lines. But the deeper Cuca goes on his adventure, the more intricate the world becomes. People synchronize in hypnotic ways, while the jungle and city have a rhythmic quality that create beautiful, naturalistic music. Yet despite how detailed everything can be come, it still remains in the style of simple drawings.
Boy & the World ends up being more meaningful and deep, dealing with our global impact on the environment and the difficulties of growing up, but it never feels burdened by these larger ideas. Because we’re seeing these events from Cuca’s perspective, we can see the world simply for the beauty he sees, or we can look at his surroundings and see the larger story at hand.
Boy & the World is a deep, introspective dive made with seemingly basic ideas. It’s deceptively simple when viewed up close, but the larger picture is filled with layers. Boy & the World is a wonderful experience that showcases the gorgeous and ambitious way smaller animated films can tell a compelling, deep story, even with the bare minimum.