Psychonauts, the Forgotten Children (2016) [Fantasia International Film Festival 2016]

PsychonautsI think audiences will enjoy the incessantly dreary and bleak tone of “Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children,” but for me it felt a step too heavy and morose and undercut a lot of the attempts at whimsy and absurd humor. “Psychonauts” is adapted from Alberto Vázquez’s independent Spanish language graphic novel “Psiconautas,” which featured the character Bird Boy, who starred in his own award winning short film from Vazquez. Bird Boy returns in the film as a side character who is relentlessly pursued by local officers, both of whom want him dead and will do whatever it takes to kill him, despite his seemingly innocent habit with “Happy pills” he’s dependent on to keep demons at bay.

Meanwhile mouse Dinky is desperate to run away from her adoptive family that pressures her to become an engineer, oblivious to the landfills outside of their town that involve rats. These rats look for copper to survive, and the tensions rise as the space for survival grows smaller. I had a love hate relationship with “Psychonauts.” Originally I was so excited to see it since the animation is absolutely beautiful, but it’s such a heavy handed and dire metaphor for poverty and conformity I was actually not entertained all that much. Granted, when I savored the brilliant animation style, I loved what Alberto Vazquez and Pedro Rivero had to offer audiences alike.

But once I dug in to the story, it was a pretty miserable experience with tales about scavenging rats, drug addicted bird boys, and young teenage mice with dark voices tempting them to murder their friends and family. Alberto Vázquez and Pedro Rivero’s “Psychonauts” is a haunting, very heavy animated film with stark political and social overtones. Those themes hobble it in some instances, sadly, muddying up the excellent animation, and richer more complex tale about madness, and looking for a purpose in a land where opportunity involves murder and or conformity.