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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Boy & The World (Blu-ray)
Boy & The World (Blu-ray)
Universal // PG // July 5, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $34.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Tyler Foster | posted August 4, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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Highly Recommended
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An Academy Award nominee for Best Animated feature film, Boy & the World is a visual masterpiece that starts out simple, with more emphasis on spectacle, but manages to build the viewer's connection to its "silent" hero, Cuca, until the film is emotionally engaging as well, while also integrating some surprisingly pointed social commentary, and a gorgeous instrumental soundtrack. The story begins when Cuca, a young boy living in some unidentified farmland, watches his father depart for the big city. Desperate to see him again, he embarks on an adventure that takes him through cotton fields, an industrial plant, into the big city, and beyond. Although Cuca has an objective, the film is mostly free of conflict as he drifts from place to place, discovering new companions and new adventures.

The phrase "silent" in the first paragraph is in quotes because Cuca makes the occasional noise, but similar to the (equally lovely) French animated film The Triplets of Belleville, Boy & the World doesn't actually feature characters that speak an existing langauge. For the most part, they express wordlessly or with the occasional grunt or mumble, and the film's occasional sentence or two is delivered in a backward, garbled nonsense version of Portuguese devised by the filmmakers.

Instead, the story is told through director Ale Abreu's distinctive, low-fi animation style (which emphasizes details that reveal how the animation was created, such as pencil lines and pieces of cut-out magazines), and the use of music to emphasize emotional beats and key character moments. It's a stunning blend of old technology and new technology, with computers obviously used to take orignal artwork and combine it into something with a wider spectrum of color and a more intense level of detail than would otherwise be possible with traditional animation, without losing the spirit of hand-drawn work. Abreu's basic style is also quite lovely, using simple lines and negative space to convey complex ideas. Visual storytelling is aided greatly by the sound design, which adds the extra bit of information that allows a cart rolling along a series of hills and valleys to suddenly be rolling on crashing waves, or circular paint blots to represent musical notes floating up and into the sky.

Although the film is gorgeous from beginning to end, there are a number of sequences that really stand out. In one, Cuca gets stuck on a ship carrying cotton sheets headed out to sea, where it docks with a faraway port in a completely unexpected fashion (I won't spoil it). The sequence leading up to it is also a stand-out, a throwback to classic silent comedy, reminiscent of Buster Keaton. In another, the camera pans through a factory as workers process freshly-picked cotton on an array of repetitive machines, all working in a consistent rythym. A late-breaking sequence involving an army of soldiers recalls Richard Williams' lost masterpiece The Thief and the Cobbler, with various machines and weaponry marching toward the city. Even when the animation itself is not stunning, the complex, semi-futuristic designs of cities and various machines are a wonder to behold.

It's in terms of those machines and armies that Abreu's commentary creeps in, a fairly straightfoward story about workers being rendered unnecessary by the march of technological process. Although the film seems to contain quite a bit of Brazilian culture, it's unclear how pointedly Abreu intends this to be a criticism of things happening in his own country. In any case, the inclusion of these stories give Boy & The World its final element: a strain of melancholy that helps the movie segue into its final moments. Although making sense of how he recontextualizes certain details is a little hard to parse, and the final scenes feel a touch drawn out, Abreu successfully takes the viewer on the same journey as Cuca, widening the scope of the world until a bit of reality -- just a bit -- seeps in.

The Blu-ray
Boy & The World gets colorful artwork that does a decent job of capturing its unique visual style, depicting Cuca in the middle of the city. That said, I think the rear cover does a slightly better version of capturing the more melancholy nature of the movie -- the front cover's very clean primary color scheme feels a touch sanitized. The two-disc set includes both a Blu-ray and a DVD copy inside a 2-disc Vortex case, and there is also a sheet featuring an UltraViolet Digital HD Copy code.

The Video and Audio
Above all, Boy & the World is a stunning visual and aural feast, and Universal's 1.78:1 1080p AVC video and DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 do not disappoint. Texture is a big factor in the animation, with the distinctive imperfect lines of colored pencils or crayons easily visible in each line. Although the film has a digital polish, it never loses the hand-drawn quality of the original artwork, and the color palette is always vivid and striking. The disc has no problem with small and complex patterns, and no banding or artifacting is noticeable.

Sound-wise, so much of the world is created and filled in with the use of realistic sound effects that remind viewers of real-world elements that are being presented in a more abstract way through the visuals. Occasionally, the sound is also used to create space, to indicate the expansiveness of a setting or place through its scope. The hi-def surround track here (which is listed on the package as "Brazilian", but made up only of nonsense, reversed Portuguese) does a great job at completing the illusion, as well as presenting the film's vibrant and memorable soundtrack, which is infectious (even aside from several themes repeating themselves). Although the film doesn't need translation, an English caption track for the deaf and hard of hearing is included.

The Extras
The disc's main extra is "The Making of Boy & the World" (25:57) sits down with director Ale Abreu to discuss the development of the project, from his earliest drawing of Cuca to the finished film. His process is almost improvisational, with the director showing off several sketchbooks with various images of characters and designs that ended up incorporated into the film even when Abreu had no backstory or concept of what they meant when he initially drew them. The featurette also gives the viewer a good look at Abreu's actual animation process, which involves crafting lots of hand-drawn imagery before being put into the computer. Later portions focus in on the sound design, from the voice acting to the soundtrack to the effects, all filtered through Abreu's willingness to experiment and change things based on what ideas grab his attention. Should be a fascinating watch for any fans of the film. There is also a music video (3:53) for Emcida's "Aos Olhos de Uma Crianca."

Trailers for April and the Extraordinary World, Only Yesterday, Kahlil Gibran's The Prophet, When Marnie Was There, and Song of the Sea play before the main menu. An original theatrical trailer for Boy & the World is also included.

For a little while, Boy & The World is merely pleasant, an adventure film that feels more aimed at kids like Cuca than adults, but as Cuca's understanding of the world grows, so does the viewer's, as Abreu slips in some heavier material that slowly balances the film out. The film would earn a recommendation for its look and sound alone; but its tinge of wistfulness and eye for reality make it highly recommended.

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