'Boy and the World' Director on Oscar-Nominated Film's Latin American Inspiration

"I was inspired by the history of Latin America, countries that had their ‘childhoods’ marked by colonialism and exploitation," Ale Abreu said.
Courtesy of GKIDS
'Boy and the World'

GKIDS/Filme de Papel's Boy and the World, which recently won the Annie Award for best independent animated feature and is nominated for an Oscar, is a hand-drawn experience that depicts the wonders and struggles of the modern world as seen through the eyes of a young boy. There’s no dialogue, and the soundtrack includes such varied music as pan-flute, samba and Brazilian hip-hop.

For the Oscar for best animated feature, it's nominated alongside juggernaut Disney/Pixar's Inside Out, as well as Paramount/Starburns Industries' Anomalisa, Aardman Animation's Shaun the Sheep Movie, and a second GKIDS release, Studio Ghibli's When Marnie Was There.

Of Boy and the World, the film's director, Brazilian artist Ale Abreu, said: “The story is about a boy in search of his father. This is a very simple and a recurring theme in Latin American cinema. The search for father in the sense of the search for a fatherland."

“I was inspired by the history of Latin America, countries that had their ‘childhoods’ marked by colonialism and exploitation, by movements of national liberation followed by coup d’etat and bloody dictatorships in the name of economic interests,” he continued. “But in producing the film, the story started becoming very universal. This boy could be any poor child — in rich or poor countries — excluded from the globalized world. And in the way we envisaged this ‘world’ it could be on any planet.”

Of the simple, hand-drawn style, the director says: "I was especially guided in this film by seeing the world through the eyes of a child. I tried to keep as close as possible to this boy’s universe. And this was fundamental for the entire visual universe we created. Everything went through the boy. I tried to bring out something more primitive in my drawing, inspired by the freedom with which a child draws. The mix of materials and techniques was something inevitable. It was always a boy in the world. As far as the color palette, it was all very intuitive. With each section, I would try to imagine a new atmosphere, transporting myself to those places, trying to visualize the predominant colors and tones in that specific moment."

He added that there was “practically no script. I built story segments directly at the editing station, where I would draw, animate and test sounds and songs. I think that’s why I managed to keep finding the film without resorting to dialogue."

The little that does exist is an invented language, specifically, Portuguese spoken backwards.  ‘Airgela,’ which they sing throughout the film, spells ‘Alegria’ backwards, or ‘Joy,'" he explained.

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