Brazilian director Ale Abreu’s Boy and the World was nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature in 2015 but lost out to Pete Docter’s Inside Out. The films couldn’t be more different. Inside Out, about the personified emotions of a young girl, has the bustle and hum of the conventional animated production. By contrast, Boy and the World is dialogue-free, has a quiet background score, and acres of white amidst splashes of colour.
Boy and the World is available on MUBI. The 76-minute film begins on a white canvas with a few dabs of colour before opening out to a wonderland that conceals an underbelly.
A young boy with a round face, a few sprigs of hair and two eyes that appear to be lines drawn with black chalk set out to look for his beloved father. The boy’s adventures take him out of the countryside into a futuristic city filled with workers toiling in robotic fashion, strange-looking machines, soldiers forcefully maintain order. There are moments of grace and poetry as the boy continues to hunt for his father – a dog becomes his friend, a man in a multi-hued poncho plays sweet music – but the world that has swallowed up his parent is bewildering and ugly.
The stunning frames feel like pages of a colouring book that belongs to a highly imaginative child. Abreu’s imagination is boundless too as he keeps moving from one fantastical landscape to another.
While some sequences are suffused with colour, Abreu daringly cuts to blinding white to convey the boy’s aching sense of loss. While tackling larger themes of forced migration, displacement, the exploitation of labour, and ecological destruction (a live-action sequence of deforestation is spliced into the animation) the film is at its most powerful when its canvas is stripped of sensation – a boy’s world turned inside out.