C+ Animated family fantasy
Written by Eduardo Benaim, Gustavo Steinberg
Directed by Gabriel Bitar, André Catoto, Gustavo Steinberg
This Brazilian cartoon has two important messages for young children: We need to overcome our pointless fears, and we should listen to the birds – especially the wild pigeons that both beautify our cities and make a mess of them.
Despite the beautiful visual style and a theme that’s very relevant in Trump’s USA (and, for that matter, in Bolsonaro’s Brazil), it never really pulls you into its story of a raging epidemic. The problem is with the lead character. Tito is just another animated child hero – smart, brave, and ethical. Most of his friends are similarly uninteresting.
But not all of them. Buiú, one of Tito’s friends, is a hacker who never talks; he’s kind of adorable in a strange way. And Tito’s mother is petrified with fear. She’s scared about germs, inventions, birds, and just about anything. She provides a few laughs.
Tito’s father, on the other hand, doesn’t seem to be afraid of anything. He’s an inventor trying to discover the important message that birds, specifically wild pigeons, are trying to tell us. He moves out of the house after one of his inventions-gone-wrong is too much for his wife.
The villain, a TV mogul, makes a fortune out of fear. He’s creating a walled, domed city that will protect its citizens from germs and other parasites. Of course, he’s going to make a fortune on the panic.
And nothing creates a panic like an epidemic. People are getting sick in a way that could only happen in a cartoon. Their arms and legs begin the shrink. Eventually, they’re largish, egg-shaped creatures who can’t move. No one actually dies; this is a children’s movie.
The epidemic, of course, is a metaphor for fear. When you’re afraid, you can’t move. When the people around you are getting sick, it terrifies you. And that makes you a target for the epidemic. To make things worse, the media and the politicians tell you to be scared. Of course, someone is profiting on this.
And if only we had listened to the birds.
As is so often with non-Hollywood animated features, Tito and the Birds uses beautiful designs in place of expensive, full animation. The characters move simply, but the backgrounds behind them are beautiful. Some scenes look like (and may be) oil paintings.
I’m not sure how well young children will understand the message, which is one worth teaching. And speaking of children and understanding, there will be screenings in both dubbed English and the original Portuguese with English subtitles.
Tito and the Birds opens Friday at the Opera Plaza.