Brazilian Music Voices Animated 'Boy and the World'

Boy-and-the-World
Courtesy Photo

A still from the animated film Boy and the World.

Oscar-shortlisted hand-drawn animation feature uses percussion, hip hop to enhance magic realist message

The beautiful Brazilian animated movie Boy and the World is a carnival of color and sounds, a magical tale of a little boy wandering in the very real world as he travels from his home in search of his itinerant worker father.

Like flowers growing in the crack in the sidewalk (an image depicted in the film), the miracle of nature and the impact of small acts of human kindness triumph against a backdrop of poverty, globalization, exploitation, over-industrialization and shadows of the history of military rule in South America.

“For me [the message] is the possibility of children’s faith surviving in adults,” director Alê Abreu told Billboard. “The faith that anything is possible. Anything. And that's very powerful.”

The boy’s journey of discovery is conveyed through the extraordinary animated art, and the music that accompanies the dialogue-free action.

“Music is a fundamental element of this film,” Abreu says. “It’s a spirit which surrounds the characters and what they go through. It’s the narrator that speaks to us without words.”

Boy and the World is now playing in New York and Los Angeles, where it made its U.S. theatrical debut on Dec. 11. It will open in other cities in the U.S. and Canada in the coming weeks. The family friendly must see has won over 40 international festival awards and is short-listed for the Oscars in the animation category. It has two nominations for the upcoming Annie animation awards, one for best soundtrack.

Abreu says the concept of the soundtrack, helmed by composers Ruben Feffer and Gustavo Kurlat, “was to mix music, sounds and settings, forming a single "body”  of sound -- birds in the forest or ship whistles turning into music, or music turning into sounds of nature.”

The great Brazilian percussionist Naná Vasconcelos, known for bringing the Afro-Brazilian birimbau and a reverberating spirituality to jazz, performs on the enchanting soundtrack, which moves the story forward with exquisite detail.

“Naná arrived [at the studio] with a new musical instrument,” Abreu recalls. “Hundreds of keys hanging from a piece of wood, which gave us a very particular sound. He said it was the sound of the boy’s arrival in the world, and that he wanted to start the recordings from that premise."

Vasconcelos also brought to life a battle between symbolic good and evil birds, among other scenes.

“Naná went into the studio alone and turned two microphones on,” says Abreu. “While the film played, he would run from side to side, on one side producing the sounds of the colored bird and on the other, the sounds of the black bird. I found it very symbolic and it helped me understand, through music, a little more about the film we were making. It is the struggle of a single man, a war that is waged, before everything, inside of each one of us.”

Another powerful moment comes at the end of Boy and the World, when a track by the popular Brazilian MC Emicida plays as the credits roll. The song is called “Aos olhos de uma criança" (“In the Eyes of a Child").

“When we were close to finishing “Boy” we asked ourselves what song we should use for the credits,” Abreu explains. “Because it is such an abstract film, we thought it would be a good idea to use music that would bring us back to the real world, to bring our feet back to the ground.

“...This film was born from another movie I was doing, an animated documentary about Latin America from the perspective of ‘60s and ‘70s protest songs...it occurred to us that we could re-think the protest songs, but in a more contemporary context. Rap is the present day protest music.”

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