Dinky and Birdboy in Birdboy: The Forgotten Children (GKIDS)

Feeling misguided after watching a movie is a dubious sign. Sometimes so-called disturbing material means brilliant, daring, and thought-provoking art, flaws and all. Sometimes it’s just self-indulgent and pretentious. Some movies gravitate toward both considerations, and the achievement is often like nothing else out there. But is uniqueness enough to recommend a morally conflicted film with a messy story line? The animated Spanish feature Birdboy: The Forgotten Children is a strong case to answer that.

Adapted from co-director Alberto Vázquez’s graphic novel, Birdboy (the original Spanish title, Psiconautas, is a term to describe people who consume drugs wanting to experience altered states) is a horror fantasy about children (or anthropomorphic characters who are children), but it was not conceived for children as the audience. With explicit language and ghoulish images, it’s a fable for adults. You can find little lightness struggling between the absurd (in the nonsensical way of Lewis Carroll) and the symbolic in its portrayal of life on a dystopian island after an ecological disaster. As a result, the once-upon-a-time heavenly island has morphed into a rubbish dump populated by orphaned rats who claim to be the Forgotten Children.

It’s unclear why some parts of the island are clean and some animals live more comfortably than others (class distinctions, I guess). In the clean area lives Dinky, a teenage female mousse tired with her life and constantly scolded by her parents who condemn her behavior (she broke an alarm clock that has feelings and made a squeezable baby Jesus doll cry bloody tears—yes, literally). Her parents also compare Dinky with her adoptive brother, lauded by them for being better because he wants to be an engineer. This brother is a dog that can barely babble some words and that rubs his body against his adoptive father’s legs to masturbate.

It’s easy to understand why Dinky wants to drop out of school, run away from home, and live an adventure. So she prepares a plan and joins a pair of friends (female rabbit Sandra and male fox Zorrito) to embark on the adventure of growing up. Therefore Dinky and her friends will have to steal money, explore the rubbish dump with a useless map, and survive captivity when the Forgotten Children threaten to execute the trio, because “The blood is our law.”

At this point, who is Birdboy? The “hero” of the story is a child-bird zombie, Dinky’s ex-boyfriend (sort of), a drug addict, and a drug dealer’s orphaned son, whose soul is devoured by winged demons. Dinky expects to be reunited with Birdboy and help him to heal, but no matter how much pain he feels, Birdboy is the only one who supposedly can save the day, all without saying a word. If Birdboy is the tragic hero, why is the focus on Dinky? Well, actually the movie doesn’t focus on Dinky or Birdboy as much as it does on too many characters and too many plots, with contrived connections between them. (Rats collect copper inside the rubbish dump; a male sailor pig takes care of a drug addicted mother possessed by a demonic spider; and two cops, a father and son hound dog, hunt Birdboy).

We see matricides, drug addictions, mutilations, and murders that emphasize how challenging and mature the movie is. Coming-of-age metaphors or plain exploitation? The characters are all selfish, violent, and stubborn, maybe in the way all the children are at some point. But if the movie is not for children, is it for parents? And what’s the lesson? There is nothing to impart because Birdboy feels too pleased in its sense of absurdity to serve as a legitimate fable. Even if the images are unsettling and striking, the core of the story seems deeply questionable. Cruelty is not the central theme, but everything here is purposefully cruel.

Written and Directed byPedro Rivero and Alberto Vázquez
Spanish with English subtitles
Spain. 76 min. Not rated
With the voices of Andrea Alzuri, Eva Ojanguren, Josu Cubero, Félix Arcarazo, and Jorge Carrero