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 Video and Audio
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.
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.