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Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children – Movie Review: London Film Festival 2016

10 October, 2016 — by Douglas Clarke-Williams0

Both urgently contemporary and suffused with a poetic timelessness, graphic novel adaptation ‘Psychonauts, the Forgotten Children’ is a mature and nuanced examination of a world riven apart by its own greed and the place of the young and innocent within it.

psychonauts birdboy spread wings

First of all, Psychonauts is billed as a film ‘aimed at young and adult audiences.’ You probably actually don’t want to take your kids to see this, unless you’re the kind of parent who thought that ‘Watership Down’ spent too much time pussyfooting around and not enough on the violent slaughter.

In this charmingly animated Spanish production there are mutant trees erupting from chests, giant spiders possessing the minds of bedridden mothers, and open drug consumption.

But you, the adult, should definitely go and see it.

Psychonauts takes place on a once idyllic island which has been reduced to a barren, garbage-covered wasteland following an industrial accident at the plant, which once employed much of the population.

Our protagonists are varied group of anthropomorphic animals, but the story really centres on Birdboy, gauntly soaring over the island while he’s hunted by the police for the imagined crimes of his father. He’s an outcast of his own making; his only real companion is his sometime girlfriend Dinky who has her own travails as she and two friends – Zorrit the timid fox and Sandra, a rabbit battling her own demons – attempt to flee the island for a better life on the mainland.

psychonauts the forgotten children

It’s clear that the film is deeply informed by the world’s current state of economic affairs, particularly in Spain. Poverty, hunger and desperation and running themes, and the sometimes brutally horrific acts performed by characters are always framed by this somewhat forgiving sense of hopelessness and a lack of options.

It’s to Rivero and Vazquez’s great credit that they manage to so effectively articulate these frustrations while never losing sight of the humanity of their characters or the smaller worlds in which they live their lives – friends, school, family.

The animation is likewise perfectly suited to an imaginative scope which reaches the horizon. Able to impart a sense of enormity when necessary – the opening sequence of the plant’s explosion, a sly riff on the nuclear explosion scene in ‘Terminator 2,’ feels genuinely devastating – the relatively loose style of drawing also lends itself well to the smaller moments. A slight inclination of the head, a barely perceptible shift in stance, speak volumes.

With Pixar’s sometimes vaudevillian tendencies so often seen as the standard for modern Western animation, it’s a refreshing joy to see something so confident in its own distinct vision.

psychonauts birdboy monster

The film tumbles over itself with creativity and ideas, shifting emotional gears with remarkable control and fluidity. The changes in tone between humour and despair and everything in between are done bravely, with the film drawing laughs with its all-too-human family crises as well as its deft handling of the absurd.

It’s certainly no Pixar or Disney, and those who come to it seeking neat resolutions or comforting lessons will come away disappointed. But while it may not be a children’s film it is, perhaps, a film for children; presenting all the pain, joy and complexity of the world with courage and intelligence. 4/5

Keep up with the latest from LFF2016 in our London Film Festival reviews section, including the beautiful yet unrelentingly grim The Eyes of My Mother.

Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children

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