Children’s movies are fascinating triumphs of simplicity and clarity. Often these movies render complex issues so succinctly that they become masterworks full of sophisticated ideas, a trait that some of the best “adult” works cannot hold a candle to. For proof, look no further than the Brazilian animated movie Boy & the World.

This deceptively complex movie begins as innocently as the opening line of James Joyce’s Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, with Cuca, a young boy who speaks little—if at all—but giggles at the wonder and vast scope of the world before him.

Cuca lives on a farm with this family, and it is a good life for Cuca, but viewers will immediately realize it is not always peaches and cream for Cuca’s parents. Cuca’s family is poor, and Cuca’s father must leave home for work. First, to the cotton fields, then to the factories, before ending up where all discards go: the dump in an ever-expanding city.

Cuca follows, tracking his father down until he too is lost in the impersonal and dispassionate world of commerce. A system where human beings are turned into cogs, working endlessly and tirelessly in unison to make clothes that are then sold back to them until they are discarded, just like the tired and spent workers who made them.

Boy & the World is not a subtle movie. It wears its politics on its sleeve, and that’s probably where they belong. Not for the children, mind you; they are having too much fun with the combination of stick figures and color pencil animation. No, this bluntness is for the parents and relatives that brought the child. This message is for them, and it needs to be obvious, for these are the very people who often believe children’s movies are of little substance. They will think twice after seeing this one.

This might make Boy & the World sound like a dour message movie, but it isn’t. Writer/director Alê Abreu utilizes a crude animation style—fitting the world it depicts—but this only engages the imagination more as the simplistic characters take on a wealth of emotions depending on the scenario. And what is happening around them is magical and fantastic, all of it accompanied by a joyous samba chorus from musicians Ruben Feffer and Gustavo Kurlat, a lovely reminder that no matter how grim life gets, music is often the antidote.

Boy & the World is one of the five nominees for this year’s animation Academy Award, a category stacked with some of the year’s best, including the stop-motion despair, Anomalisa; the computer-generated world of an 11-year-old girl’s emotions, Inside Out; a flock of claymation sheep on the loose, Shaun the Sheep; or Ghibli’s gentle and hand drawn, When Marnie Was There. Boy & the World fits perfectly into the group, one that refuses to be pigeonholed. Each one is an individualistic triumph and deserves your attention, no matter your age.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Boy & the World / O Menino e o Mundo (2013)
Written and directed by Alê Abreu
Produced by Fernanda Carvalho, Tita Tessler
GKIDS, Rated PG, Running time 80 minutes, Premiered Sept. 20, 2013 at the Ottawa International Animation Festival

The above review first appeared in the pages of Boulder Weekly Vol. 23, No. 25, “Through a sparkling glass.”