Boy & the World, an exquisite animated adventure from Brazilian director Alê Abreu (Garoto Cósmico), opens on a pure-white background - a sheet of paper - and a solitary dot.
In a playful repetition of Genesis 1, the film's colorful, handcrafted world opens up before us as a series of paisley patterns that are swallowed up into larger shapes that move, swirl, and swell to an acoustic beat.
Nominated for a best animated-film Oscar, Abreu's visionary movie is a restless and dynamic creature that is forever reconstituting itself into complex visual and musical landscapes.
Slowly, there appear flowers and fields, a river and a sky, flora and fauna. This is the world as seen through the eyes of Cuca, an imaginative stick-figure boy living an ideal life in the countryside with his mom and dad.
Soon, the boy's fun and games are interrupted when dad, suitcase in hand, boards a long, segmented worm of a train. He needs to find work, we realize. Despondent, Cuca follows him.
Emotionally engaging and unhampered by dialogue, Boy & the World will appeal to children with its deceptively simple story and its visual splendor.
Adults will be drawn in by its strong - if not always subtle - historical and social message on the toll industrialization and urbanization take on a culture and its people. There's a Marxian dialectic here about how unchecked capitalism leads to the destruction of the environment, the mechanization of life, and the reduction of humans into faceless cogs in a heartless mechanism.
But the film also celebrates the irrepressible creative energy of ordinary people. Cuca meets men and women who work hard to improve their lives in an often hostile world. Wherever he goes, he sees people resist oppression with art, music, dance.
Cuca's journey leads him to farms and fields - gorgeous scenes depict hundreds of farmhands picking cotton. The boy visits mills where the cotton is spun into fabric, and the factories where it is stitched into clothes. Eventually, he ends up in a big, loud, strange city with its resplendent steel-and-glass skyscrapers and its ugly, overcrowded slums.
Abreu has fashioned an unforgettable piece of popular art that continues to enchant with repeated viewing.