Tito (Pedro Henrique) might be a young boy, but his belief in his father is unwavering. Despite repeated attempts by his mother to tell him to stay quiet or play by the rules, the young boy pushes his father’s invention to the middle of the stage. He gears up the machine, and with his hope still intact, he puts on his best show. The machine does not work, and his mother remains quite angry at him. Yet despite another failure, this one in front of hundreds of witnesses, Tito will not lose faith.
When you dive into Tito and the Birds, the story seems fairly straightforward. In a dystopian future, disease has spread across the world. This disease infects its host as they feel fear and turns them into odd looking creatures incapable of movement. The physical manifestation of how fear grips people may have a cure, lying with Tito’s father Rufus (Matheus Nachtergaele) and his work with birds. However, when Rufus disappears, Tito recruits his friends Buiú, Teo, and Sarah to help him find the answer to the mystery illness, and reunite him with his father.
Directors Gustavo Steinberg, Gabriel Bitar, and André Catoto had no idea how relevant their story would be in 2019. The long-gestating project began before President Donald Trump would win his election. Yet in some part, villains of this film feel impeccably inspired by his role as a businessman on the world stage. Trading on fear has not been a tactic of Trump since taking office but dates back decades to the Central Park Five. His fear-mongering on the international stage was cause for concern, and while his far-right agenda took shape, other conservative parties rose in Europe. Considering the US government was shut down for the last month because of xenophobic fear-mongering, Tito’s story feels more essential than ever. Now, Steinberg, Bitar, and Catoto have released one of the most prescient films of the year, despite never attending to do so.
Beyond its political messages, Tito and the Birds offers a lot as an artistic work. The actual animation looks gorgeous, utilizing oil-based paintings to craft a wonderful world. The landscapes are beautiful, and the wide shots with birds flying are some of the best animation sequences of the year. However, there are issues with the character design. Several characters appear grotesque (especially in how the mouths were animated) for seemingly no reason. The commitment to the style was admirable but occasionally pulled me out of the narrative because it felt distracting. Overall, the animation itself was fun to look at, but the awkwardness in the design of our heroes and human characters could act as a turnoff at times.
Ultimately, Tito and the Birds succeeds when it becomes an adventure tale. The group of Tito and his friends works very well together. It adds a bit of a Goonies vibe to the events on screen, and the kids realize they are the ones who must save the day at some point. This pushes through another beautiful message, that our futures may be determined by those of us who do not lose hope. This admirable message might be cliche at times, but sometimes the truth can tip to that side of the aisle. Aided by a wonderfully adventurous score, Tito puts you in the mood for a fun ride.
While Tito and the Birds was sadly snubbed by the Oscars, it stands out as one of the best foreign produced animated films in recent memory. The story hits home, and with some special animation, it rises to the occasion. While some moments feel a bit predictable or cliche, the movie succeeds due to the groundwork it lays regarding Tito. He may be the laughing stock of the school one minute, but his faith allowed him to believe in something greater than himself. His heart is in the right place, and when that’s the case, there is nothing to be scared of.