Film Review: ‘Tito and the Birds’

As Brazil falls heedlessly into far-right political clutches, the liberal message of Gustavo Steinberg, Gabriel Bitar and André Catoto’s ravishing animated feature “Tito and the Birds” turns out to be more unhappily timely than its makers would have hoped: Put simply, a society gripped by fear will never take flight. If the boy-against-the-world allegory carrying this moral is painted with a broad brush, so — often quite literally — is the film itself. Employing a darkly iridescent fusion of oil paint and digital embellishment, it renders a growing dystopia in shifting, seasick colors, distorted into about as much exquisite, Expressionist-inspired nightmare fuel as its family-film remit will allow.

A classy acquisition for newbie distributors Shout! Studios, this Annecy and Toronto premiere is among the 25 titles submitted in this year’s animated feature Oscar race. Comparisons to fellow Brazilian dazzler “Boy and the World,” a surprise 2015 nominee, are both obvious and merited, particularly with regard to both films’ use of striking, mixed-media animation to realise an amorphous, serious-minded blend of real and fantasy worlds. The overtly painterly effect here will put many toon buffs in mind of last year’s van Gogh homage “Loving Vincent,” but the aesthetic conjured by art directors Vitar and Vini Wolf is entirely its own creation, fluidly rotating from shadowed urban claustrophobia to blazing kaleidoscopic hellscapes, with secondary forms and backdrops flickering and shape-shifting like flames.