“Tito and the Birds” is a small marvel. Only 73 minutes long, it marries an adventurous visual imagination with a darkly provocative political parable. Its heroes may be children, but its themes are definitely adult.
Yet further proof that we live in a global golden age of animation, “Tito’s’” Brazilian directors (Gustavo Steinberg, Gabriel Bitar and Andre Catoto) have made something as involving and challenging as a live-action drama.
More than that, and even though the filmmakers started working on “Tito” in 2011, its dystopian theme of an epidemic of fear taking over the world plays as unnervingly contemporary and all too plausible in the here and now.
Steinberg, who wrote the script with Eduardo Benaim, reveals in a director’s statement that he was inspired by his own metropolis of São Paulo, which he says is known as the “city of walls” because many of its citizens are “hiding behind fences, barbed and electric wires.”
Screening in subtitled and dubbed versions, “Tito” begins, however, with a focus on its birds, pigeons and doves, winged creatures seen flying through history, always in the picture but rarely acknowledged.
Doing the film’s voice-over is young Tito (Pedro Henrique) first met when he is 6 years old helping his father, Rufus (Matheus Nachtergaele), an inventor working on a huge, mysterious machine in his home laboratory.
Also an ornithologist and convinced that humanity made a mistake when “we stopped paying attention to what birds say,” Rufus views his machine as an attempt to understand avian language.
But, as is the case with many movie inventors, Rufus’ machine blows up and the resulting conflict with Rosa (Denise Fraga), his wife and Tito’s mother, means that he is forced to leave the family.
The film picks up four years later, when 10-year-old Tito, still feeling he let his father down, has become an inventor himself.
Working with his pals Sarah (Marina Serretiello) and Buiú (Vinicius Garcia), Tito is trying to succeed where his father failed. He gets the attention of rich kid Teo (Enrico Cardoso), who wants to put his resources behind the machine.
The money in Teo’s family comes from his father, Alaor Souza (Mateus Solano) who has made huge sums both as an alarmist TV newscaster and by building gated communities where, as his advertising insists, “you never have to be fearful again.”
All this is the backdrop for “Tito’s” main action, which is the outbreak of a mysterious disease. Bulging eyes are the first sign, but then people gradually and inevitably turn into stone.
Not only is this illness a parable for fear, it actually terrifies everyone on screen, and “Tito and the Birds,” powered by an excellent score from Ruben Feffer and Gustavo Kurlat, is especially good at conveying the spread of mass hysteria.
Displaying an adventurous, exciting visual imagination, “Tito” uses unsettling angles and intense, unexpected colors to create fantastical apocalyptic vistas that sweep audiences into its story.
Venturing into these nightmarish cityscapes, patrolled by the chilling Anti-Panic Brigade, Tito and his friends, who come to include the antic Trickster brothers, attempt to do whatever it takes to reverse the epidemic.
Though it lasts only 73 minutes, “Tito” is jammed with enough action, adventure and hairsbreadth escapes to energize a much longer feature.
And though its notion of children uniting to save the world from fear is not an unexpected one, “Tito” manages to make its ideas feel new just as the events of today’s world make them feel increasingly relevant.
‘Tito and the Birds’
Running time: 1 hour, 13 minutes