Give the kids a dystopian nightmare with Birdboy: The Forgotten Children

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      Featuring the voice of Andrea Alzuri. In Spanish, with English subtitles. Rating unavailable

      This Spanish production is based on Alberto Vázquez’s graphic novel, called Psiconautus: The Forgotten Children. Vázquez directed here with Pedro Rivero, with whom he has made several shorts—which is, in fact, how Birdboy began.

      Indie animation giant GKids picked up the distribution of this Basque-based effort, and an English-language version in the works. But it’s hard to picture North American screens aiming this grotesquely dystopian tale at children, even if it is about the wee ones of the title. As in Art Spiegelman’s Maus, the people in an unnamed place and unspecified future are all animals; there are no specific meanings attached to the different species, although they do seem to signal identity politics of some sort.

      Pretty rambling stuff, even for 75 minutes, the story is beautifully rendered on flat panes with deceptive simple lines and a bold, black-and-red-dominated colour palette. It takes place on an island haunted by a massive industrial accident—seemingly nuclear—that has left survivors rooting through garbage and imposing weird hierarchies on the resulting chaos. Lead character Dinky (voiced by newcomer Andrea Alzuri) is a young mouse living with a replacement father who values her robot alarm clock more than he does her, while Dinky’s meek mother squeezes a baby-Jesus doll that cries real blood to show what a disappointment her daughter is.

      Our little mouse wants to escape the island, and school, with her friends, a demon-haunted rabbit (Eva Ojanguren) and a timid fox (Josu Cubero). They steal some money from the hapless Pig Boy (Jon Goiri) and his invalid, drug-addicted mother, but probably should have just grabbed his boat, since they use his coins to purchase a getaway craft when they foolishly venture into a black-market forbidden zone plagued by glue-sniffing rats.

      Las drogas figure heavily throughout, as Pig Boy occasionally purloins white powder for the semimythical Birdboy, a mute human-avian hybrid whom Dinky loves. He’s the son of a lighthouse keeper killed by canine police who represent the Franco-style attitudes still animating Spanish authoritarianism. Birdboy (whose name is usually uttered in English) is likewise being pursued for spreading golden acorns that, presumably, carry spores of rebirth that nature is crying out for. Or something like that. You might actually need your children to explain it to you.

      Watch the trailer for Birdboy: The Forgotten Children.