I was not entirely sure what I was in for when I sat down to watch Birdboy: The Forgotten Children, the Spanish animated film from Alberto Vazquez and Pedro Rivero. I had seen the trailer and was intrigued, but it gave very little away about the story, and I had purposefully not researched it ahead of time to avoid spoilers.
From almost the first moment, however, I was completely drawn in by the story, the colors, and most of all, the characters of this tension filled film. It seemed to walk a razor sharp edge between reality and fantasy that kept me on the edge of my seat from beginning to end.
Birdboy: The Forgotten Children takes place on a secluded island that was devastated by a nuclear meltdown at their power plant. Dinki, an adolescent mouse, and her two friends have decided to try to escape the terrible place that is now overrun with drugs and violence. Meanwhile, Birdboy, a junkie who is only a child himself really, is hunted by the police.
Yes, this story is fantasy, but as Vazquez, who originally created the graphic novel that Birdboy is based upon, told me, it born from a situation that was all too real.
“I am from Galicia, an area in northwestern Spain, which in the 80s was the entry point of heroin and cocaine to Spain and part of Europe,” Vazquez told me via email. “Galicia is an area with a high unemployment rate and an industry based on fishing and the sea. At the same time, I drew this comic when I was very young and I was interested in talking about the only thing I knew in my life: adolescence.”
The animated film is filled with references and metaphors for Vazquez’s theme of adolescence including the use of the animal characters which, Rivero says has interested him since his own teenage years.
“I saw The Secret of NIMH when I was 16 years old,” he explained, “and it was a great influence [on me[ to create a microcosm of animals (something that I carried out in my two feature films).”
Birdboy is a beautifully textured film, much like The Secret of NIMH, with a vivid palette of colors, many of which relate to specific characters and their emotions. Dinki, the one seeming ray of hope in the film, is painted in light colors and pastels for instance, while Birdboy, who is simply black and white, is often shadowed and surrounded by deeper hues.
“As an art director I was very concerned about the use of color. The color has an expressive, symbolic treatment far removed from naturalism,” Vazquez says. “We try to do a narrative color. We take it as if it were an illustrated book, trying to incorporate textures and finishes typical of book design and not looking at what is done in other productions or the fashion of the moment. To do this, we follow a logic: the whole story traverses on the same day, from dawn to night and each scene had to reflect a time change, trying not to repeat the chromatic ranges. We use colors in the same range with some small elements of complementary color.”
Birdboy, as I pointed out, is black and white. He’s also the only truly silent character in the entire film. While many might be caught up in his drug use and the violence around him, it is another function on the island that he fulfills which stood out most to me. He can enter a place where the souls of the dead congregate, gathered around an all too real Tree of Life. As acorns drop from this massive tree nurtured by the dead, Birdboy collects them and takes them back into the living world to plant, slowly bringing life back to the island.
The local police never cease in trying to track down Birdboy. They believe him to be an evil personality and attempt to cease what he is doing to the island, never stopping to note that though he is flawed, some of his intentions might just be good. Rivero admits that Birdboy and his intentions are open to interpretation, but he did offer his own.
” In my opinion, Birdboy has crossed a threshold to endure the pain of the loss of his childhood; he has abandoned his ego completely emptying. While the other characters continue fighting for their survival, Birdboy has broken everything: his previous relationship with Dinki, his integration into the new world after the explosion,” Rivero wrote. “At the same time he is the heir -throughout his father’s history- of an alternative culture against the blind progress that despises the natural environment and he is persecuted for it. Perhaps only when we detach ourselves from our individuality and seek our connection with nature are we able to understand this and therefore establish a relationship with it that allows us to transcend the conventional barriers between life and death. Birdboy has entered a mystical world in which all beings have a voice that is not extinguished with death and that is the inheritance that he can leave to Dinki.”
Indeed, through a series of events I won’t go into in an effort to avoid spoilers, Dinki finds herself taking on Birdboy”s role as healer by the end of the film, and though the island’s horrors–rats who spend their days gathering copper and other valuables to sell for food, a corrupt police force, cult-like religious fervor, etc.–still exist, there is a certain amount of hope that she brings to the task.
Birdboy: The Forgotten Children is now showing in select movie theaters. For more information about the film, you can visit their official website. Check out the trailer below!