At the end of the short film, “Birdboy” (2011), Dinki asks the title character to fly her away. In the follow-up film, Psychonauts, The Forgotten Children (Psiconautas, Los Niños Olvidados, 2015), Dinki is looking for ways off the island herself, no longer able to wait with her co-conspirators, but holding out hope that Birdboy will join them when they leave.
Directed and written by Pedro Rivero and Alberto Vázquez, and based on Vázquez’s graphic novel Psiconautas, Dinki lives on an island that’s been crippled by an explosion in its industrial zone. Many of the zone’s employees, including Dinki’s father, were killed in the blast, and the environmental damage was extensive. Animals appear to suffer from radiation poisoning, the fish population has been wiped out, and the trees no longer sprout leaves.
Flying around on tattered wings that pass for a suit jacket, Birdboy’s character design is masterful but his story is shrouded in mystery. One young mouse speaks of him like a legend. To the authorities, he is a drug dealer. The only drugs we see him carry are the ones on which he’s addicted. His slow, point of view approach towards a jar of Happy Pills is something out of a horror movie. It also feels capable of offending those who need them.
Dinki claims Birdboy is possessed by a demon but is this his addiction or an actual, red-eyed crow, who attaches to Birdboy like a shadow? When other characters are seeing red-eyed demons too, the notion is plausible and you can almost discern stages in their symptoms. Sandra hears red-eyed rabbits talking to her, but disobeys their orders. Birdboy doesn’t talk (a condition that could pre-exist the explosion) but hears a narrator whose overt jolliness is notably silent during his drug use. The most far gone is the mother of Zacarías, the pig. A red-eyed spider speaks entirely for her while Zacarías, dressed in the stripes of a prison uniform, stays on his boat to support her. Since the fish population’s gone, there’s nothing to catch but metal cans.
Animals come in all shapes and sizes in this film. You have the main characters, who are anthropomorphic; wild animals living in nature; and a few animal-shaped products that talk despite being inanimate. The connection between them is speech. Throughout the film you have characters asking the inanimate objects to be quiet. Dinki’s mouse alarm clock, Mr. Reloggio, begs not to be dropped when he tries to wake Dinki up for school. Zacarías’ piggy bank tries to convince him to use his money to move to the big city.
While the anthropomorphic animals have lost their will to live, the man-made ones want to survive. Their refusal to be quiet prevents their owners from being complacent any more than the wild animals, who are in poorer health.
Culminating in a storm-ridden, mythical boat trip, this isn’t like the one from Sing Street (2016). The results are as heavy as the rest of this animated film for adults. Multiple stories are introduced but left dangling, like why Dinki’s stepdad looks like a human dressed in a bear costume, and while the parts are original enough to support movies of their own, Psychonauts can be a lot to handle as a whole. A movie where levity must be savored in an impulsive slide down a banister, you want Dinki to find a way off her island but it’s not a place that supports her attempts. If she is Beauty, Birdboy is the Beast, and that story deserves a better track record than the one it has.