At the center of the story is Tito, a schoolboy whose now-missing scientist father was attempting to cure the outbreak at its nascent stage by communicating with birds, specifically pigeons. Tito’s mother was sure this was a stupid plan and hated how close Tito was to the dirty, gross sky rodents.
Years later, the city’s birds have all stopped singing, Tito’s mother is in constant fear of fear, while Tito is sure his father’s research into birdsong is the key to reversing the plague. Naturally, some want to keep things the way they are—fear is very profitable for those who know how to harness it—and the children end up being the only ones capable of seeing beyond groupthink paranoia.
Tito and the Birds is a perfect melding of animation style and material. Like a living oil painting influenced by Edvard Munch’s The Scream, the exaggerated visuals reflect the terror felt by all the characters. The further along in the sickness people are, the scarier they look, feeding back into the fear felt by those seemingly uninfected. When people reach the disease’s endpoint, and become literal egg-shaped passes of granite with faces, it’s as effective as it is ridiculous.
The filmmakers use those afflicted by this disease as a stand-in for any “othered” group. Tito is a middle-class kid who lives okay, but his best friend Buiu is a poor kid from the bad part of town. He always looks like someone with the early stages of the disease and so he’s bullied and left out by the richer kids. The film’s villain, Alaor, is a shady rich TV host who keeps the fear spreading via his shouting rants while making a fortune selling condos in his “fear-free” domed community, pretty much all of whom are drawn with lighter skin tones. As an American, it’s not hard to see similarities to certain people in our government, but as Brazil has just elected its own far-right president, the film’s point of view is both local and global.
An exciting and unique presentation coupled with a troubling, dystopian narrative make Tito and the Birds a movie unlike any you’re likely to see in animation. It’s a movie adults and children should watch together, because it’s so easy in 2019 to get caught up in fear- and hate-mongering voices and a movie with a message like this is one of the clearest and most decisive slices through the din of rhetoric.
4 out of 5
Images: Shout! Factory