Courtney Howard is a LAFCA, CCA, OFCS and AWFJ member, as well as a Rotten Tomatometer-approved film critic. Her work has been published on Variety, She Knows and Awards Circuit.
Courtney Howard // Film Critic
BIRDBOY: THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN
I know what you’re thinking. No. BIRDBOY: THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN isn’t the prequel to BIRDMAN OR (THE UNEXPECTED VIRTUE OF IGNORANCE), though there is a character in it called Birdman. Based on director Alberto Vázquez’s graphic novel and short film, and co-directed by Pedro Rivero, this dark dystopian fantasy feature finds a powerful voice amidst ruin. Perhaps what’s so striking about this are the ways in which the filmmakers contextualize societal breakdowns, drug addiction, adolescence, pollution, abuse, violence, greed and psychosis. While this is definitely not for youngsters, it’s necessary viewing for teens on up – specifically those who believe that the medium isn’t solely for wholesome family entertainment.
A nuclear blast has rendered at least half of an animal-inhabited island under quarantine. Trash heaps have sprung up over the lawless land – a land governed by its animal denizens’ survival instincts and greed for copper. Several teens yearn to flee this island of broken dreams: Mouse Dinky (voiced by Andrea Alzuri) suffers under the tyrannical rule of a fake stepfather who loves the gimp-outfitted family dog Jonathan more than her. Fox Zorrito (voiced by Josu Cubero) is bullied by his school mates and he’s sick of it. Bunny Sandra (Eva Ojanguren) hears voices in her head, urging her to do the darkest of deeds. Fisherman Pig Zacarías (Jon Goiri) has left school to make money to support his ailing mom’s drug habit – or rather, the spider that lives inside his practically vegetative mom. And the titular Yakuza-clothed character dreams of replanting the island with lush trees that shed golden acorns (it’s a METAPHOR). It’s just too bad the authorities think he’s up to no good and want him dead.
The manner in which the filmmakers explore very real world issues in a fantasy-based world is handled with great craft and care. It keeps the audience engaged the entire time. The spider changes in size with the mother’s feverish addiction ebbs and flows. BirdBoy also relies on the booger sugar to quell the pitch black, gargantuan fanged and winged demons growing inside him. He’s forced to confront impending adulthood represented by the obstacle of the lighthouse, which holds scary secrets of his family’s past. Bird Boy’s fresh blood that sprouts a red lotus is indicative of his purity, floating above attachment. Dinky’s good heart is shown when she gives BirdBoy her “happy pills.” Though it’s never explicitly mentioned, the way in which they cloak her stepfather in a fake stuffed headpiece with mouse ears implies their relationship dynamic in a subtle way.
The garbage rats seem evocative of something out of THE SECRET OF NIMH and WATERSHIP DOWN. Thematic ties to both those provocative animated classics also runs through BIRDBOY. It would make for the perfect triple feature. That said, it’s not all heavy, weighty, depressing dramatics. There’s an undercurrent of humor and dry wit infused. Shining examples are doggie Jonathan, who humps Dinky’s stepdad’s leg during his introduction, Señor Reloggio (voiced by Josu Varela), whose blind naiveté and bouncy strut are absolutely hilarious (“It’s a massacre,” he decrees as he spots opened empty cans on the roadside), and Pato Hinchable (Jon Goiri), the blowup duck raft with a tragic backstory. Plus, the squeeze toy baby Jesus whose eyes bleed profusely would make an awesome press junket gift.
Despite not really finding an effortless balance between the dark and the light aspects within the narrative, BIRDBOY excels in other areas most animated films never dare to traverse. The passionate ingenuity of its creators is what audiences should flock (pun intended) to see.
BIRDBOY: THE FORGOTTEN CHILDREN played the Animation is Film Festival on October 21. GKIDS will release it on December 15th in Los Angeles at the Laemmle Monica Film Center and New York at Quad Cinema.