Tito and the Birds (2018)
Well, this certainly was… interesting?
I’ll have to admit, it’s rare for me to go into a movie not knowing anything about what to expect. Usually I have at least some idea of the basic plot or concept before I step in, but I ended up going into Tito and the Birds more-or-less completely blind. The movie itself is an animated film from Brazil, like the Oscar nominated The Boy and the World a couple years back (which I actually wasn’t all that fond of, to be honest). The story is about a boy, the titular Tito, attempting to create a machine based on plans from his missing father, so that it will allow him to commune with pigeons in an attempt to find the cure to a mysterious outbreak gripping the world. (It makes sense in context. Kinda.) It’s a movie that has made a few minor waves recently as potentially one to look out for in the coveted ‘Best Animated Feature Token Foreign/Indie Nomination’ so when I got the chance to watch it at the Manchester Animation Festival earlier this week, I couldn’t help but a little interested.
My thoughts? …It was alright.
One of the things I will credit it for right off the bat is that the animation style is exceptional. The movie uses a oil-painting esque style to create a very abstract and off-kilter world and it’s really interesting to watch. If you watched last year’s Loving Vincent, you might get an idea of it how it looks, but where that movie clearly conformed to Van Gogh’s style, this is a lot more loose and off-model in regards to its background and so. You can almost actively see the brushstrokes on the screen a lot of the time and it’s a really unique experience.
If I did have to criticise anything about the animation thought it’s that, as remarkable as the whole oil-painting effect is, it’s largely confined to the background and setting shots and not the actual character designs or movements, which is much more traditional and less unique simple 2D animation. As much as I wasn’t amazingly fond of Loving Vincent clearly rotoscoping the animation for most of its characters, it at least had that same interesting animation style throughout. So that was a bit of a shame that this movie couldn’t do the same.
As for the story itself, in a lot of ways it’s a fairly basic kids film. Kid has a lost parent, weird stuff happens, he’s the only who can solve it with a bunch of ragtag friends and so on and so forth. I will say that a fair amount of the early stuff, like the slow creep of the disease and Tito trying to solve the mystery of the birds and so on was actually fairly interesting. Unfortunately, the second half mainly devolves into a series of chases and a fairly unsatisfying revelation/conclusion that I wasn’t too happy about. But I’ll get into that later.
Another thing I’ll say about the movie is that it is not very subtle about its anti-fear messaging. At all. Seriously, it opens with a sleazy Fox-News esque talk show host speaking out of the TV and telling people to be afraid of everything while clearly grifting them for money, the movie centers around a mysterious disease targeting scared people and giving them extremely fear-like symptoms and the disease itself is called the Outbreak, which is about as unsettling and terrifying a name as I can possibly imagine. Even certain character designs are clearly designed to look as frightened and paranoid as possible.
Of course, this isn’t necessarily a negative. On the contrary, sometimes it’s actually beneficial to a movie to hit your audience over the head with a hammer until they get the point and I thought the movie handled the whole ‘Outbreak as symbolism for fear’ thing fairly decently. In this time of constant internet/politics-fuelled paranoia and hate, it’s hard to claim that the message of this movie isn’t one that’s needed. Heck, it even works really well with the abstract off-model background animation, with the wonky surreal buildings and mishmash of dark colours really helping to create an atmosphere of fear and dystopia.
However, it also feels like it doesn’t really fit with the titular ‘birds’ side of the ‘Tito and the Birds’ story. After all, what does a disease caused by fear have to do with pigeons? The movie tries to handwave this with a bunch of stuff about how ‘birds have always tried to warn humanity away from danger’ but- and maybe this is simply a difference in culture and mythology- that never really gelled with me throughout the movie. As a result the film feels like a story with two different halves that never quite gel together in spite of its best efforts. The ultimate twist at the end as to why the two end up being connected felt poorly foreshadowed and hokey and, by extension, kinda undermined the entire point of the movie. Plus the main villain gets a massive Karma Houdini at the end which really bothered me.
Still, as far as kids movies go, it’s far from bad. It has a unique animation style, a relatively interesting plot, some decent characters and relationships and, even if it doesn’t really fit together perfectly, still has enough pieces that do to make it worth watching. So if you’re interested, check it out I guess.
Overall Grade: B