Tito and the Birds (Tito e os Pássaros)

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A moody and only slightly spooky animated effort out of Brazil from directors Gabriel Bitar, André Catoto, and Gustavo Steinberg (who also co-wrote) that makes good use of its combination of oil-paint backgrounds and precise-pencil characters but rather spectacularly fails to stick the landing. The enemy here is fear, whether irrational (televised fearmongers are forever yammering about danger and asking, “Where are the authorities?”) or thoroughly, alarmingly rational (there’s a psychological plague at work that is causing actual physical mutation and paralysis). Equally curious: right from the outset, you’re asked to accept the notion that a boy whose father abandons him in the wake of a lab accident can successfully decide never to be afraid again, which seems a taller order than accepting Dad’s folkloric claim that throughout history, birds have warned humanity about impending danger. (The accident happens while Dad is trying to figure out how to chat with pigeons, who have been hanging around and pecking at our scraps since our days in the caves.) Without giving away too many details, it’s fair to say that the democratic language of the grand climax is belied by its heroic action. Also that the film’s eagerness to criticize institutions (government, media, industry, and maybe Big Pharma while we’re at it) leads it to neglect its more human and narrative elements. (2018) — Matthew Lickona

Rated NR | 1 hour, 13 minutes
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