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Birdboy and the Forgotten Children (2015)

Dinky has had enough of her life on the Island. Her foster father belittles her constantly and her mother does nothing to stop it. Not to mention her good friend, Birdboy, has cut himself off from both her and is constantly evading the police. Tormented by his inner demons that can only seem to be placated with "happy pills". Unable to support him any longer, Dinky teams up with her two friends, Sandra and Zorrito to escape the desolate isle and find a new life elsewhere. Little does she or anyone else know that Birdboy may hold the key to bring life back to the island.

Birdboy and the Forgotten Children is a 2D animated Spanish production first released in 2015. The film was co-directed by Alberto Vazquez and Pedro Rivera. Both men originally teamed up, with Rivera seeking out Vazquez to create an animated film based on one of Vazquez graphic novels. They originally created a short film of Birdboy back in 2011 (a semi prequel to the feature film) which was done to not only test out ideas that would eventually come to life in the feature film, but act as a stand alone in case the feature film was never made. However, thanks to the success of the short, both directors were able to fund the feature film, expanding on story and characters that appear in the feature. This was an eight year process.

 Birdboy and the Forgotten Children was produced by Zircozine Animation and Basque Films. The film won a Goya Award for "Best Animated Feature" the same year Vazquez won a similar award for "Best Animated Short" for his short film, Decorado. After two years since the films original release, GKIDS will be releasing the film for screenings in the US starting on December 15th, 2017.

“Not everything with a body is alive.”

Even long after I had finished watching the movie, this single line spoken in the very beginning (almost in passing) still continues to echo in my brain as I think back to what I witnessed. Even as I write this review, I'm not entirely sure if I truly understand the message that was being conveyed. I do know, however, that I have NEVER seen an animated film like this before. A film that is both amusing and disarming in its narrative and presentation that it almost seems to subvert expectations from scene to scene. Adding new information about this dystopian world of anthropomorphic animals (talking piggybanks, alarm clocks, etc) to the point that it can be a little hard to follow. Still what holds the film together for me is the ideas that are at the story's core. The idea that as kids grow older, the world's darker aspect become more pronounced. Leaving them to decide whether or not to run away from it (both in a physical and mental sense) or to simply face it head on. That if one isn't careful, and allows their inner demons to fully consume them, that they will become something that isn't truly alive.

Instead of a generic coming of age narrative where the kids would have to fight some big bad guy and thus learn something about themselves they didn't know before, I love how viscerally real Birdboy chooses to take its story. Despite the cute design of the main protagonists, each character has a good deal of inner darkness that they need to face or deal with. And the film masterfully shows this by literally manifesting these demons as shadowy creatures. Speaking terrible ideas into the characters ears or simply acting out against the characters themselves. Though visually shocking, it is a neat idea to blend both the world of the story and the character's mental states so we can see how it affects them. One of my favorite scenes that attempts this is the short lived story of the pig Zacarias and his ailing mother. A scene that was equally engaging as it was disturbing. It is with scenes like where the grim reality of the characters is put on full display that the film really takes off. Better yet, it is the small acts of kindness or personal triumphs the characters achieve that provides some truly touching moments in the story.

That being said, there were a few things that bothered me in this film. Primarily the editing. The film has a tendency to jump back and forth between several different stories. First, we are with two rat brothers of the Forgotten Children (a sort of trash cult that formed after the Industrial area was destroyed), then we are with Birdboy, then Dinky, then Dinky's talking alarm clock and so forth. Though this is not entirely a bad thing, some of the lighter comedic moments do give the film room to breath, it can feel a little sudden or choppy (at least it felt that way to me). Though I feel this is more due to the nature of the comic than the film itself, so the problem is pretty much a nitpick. It did make it complicated to really identify, however, how all the characters stories would end up connecting. Making it a touch hard to follow (it came together by the end though).

As far as the film's design and animation goes I was really impressed with both the color pallet (which ranges from harsh reds/blacks to soft pastels and muted bright colors) to the cute anthropomorphic designs. The latter of which really plays a big role in disarming the viewers' expectations. Even little touches like making Dinky's foster father clearly human to demonstrate how alien he is to her life, was impactful. Birdboy, though voiced by Pedro Rivera himself, doesn't actually speak, we learn about what kind of persona he is through his actions and animation. Something I always admire when a film allows a character to just be without any dialogue. Although Birdboy takes it a step further by also taking away the character's eyes. Which can still express emotion but not to the same degree the other character can. Again, leaving the character's body language to tell his story on how his life of tragedy has affected him (that and the haunting visions he occasionally gets).

It really will come down to personal preference with this movie on who will enjoy it or not, but personally speaking, I'm really glad I had the opportunity to see it. It has made me curious to seek out the graphic novel to see the story in its original context and learn more about the visual presentation.

If you're looking for an animated film that doesn't pull any punches with its macabre imagery, but still has a bit levity to it, Birdboy and the Forgotten Children is a recommended watch. If only to see a wonderful example of a film adaptation.

RATINGNot Yet Rated
76 mins

IN A NUTSHELL: Though it may be hard to find, light and beauty will always live on.

A screener for this film was provided via GKIDS for this review.