The Breadwinner is the rare sort of animated movie whose story could feasibly translate to the realm of live action.
Unlike the fantastical escapades that most entries in this genre are centered around, it focuses on the tragically-true plight of a little girl who’s forced to pose as a boy in Taliban-controlled, and thus female-subjugated, Iraq. Though the subject is refreshingly serious for an animated tale, it may have been better served by increased reality in the form of real actors and real environments.
The hand drawn design – usually reserved for old-school fluffier fare – definitely highlights through juxtaposition the depressingly ill-suited match between this child and her surroundings. Since audiences know the typically silly yarns spun by big-screen animators, the ripped-from-the-headlines nature of The Breadwinner feels all the more raw, and thus affecting in contrast. Kids aren’t supposed to be able to handle the madness inflicted on this poor girl; instead, they should just be able to enjoy talking toys and green ogres with hearts of gold.
Paralleling Loving Vincent – another likely nominee for this year’s Academy Award for Best Animated Feature Film – the unconventional animation ultimately seems more like a cover to mask the conventionality of the narrative. If it was shot in live-action without the old school 2-D animation, The Breadwinner probably wouldn’t elicit anything more than a “been there, done that” shrug. Besides the look, very little else delves into territory not already overly-trodden by a plethora of foreign films in the 21st century.
Yes, the fact that it’s told in English – unlike a vast majority of these global cinema predecessors – inherently increases the mass-appeal among reading-phobic moviegoers. As does the animation, which deserves commendation alone if it means that many more kids will be exposed to such an important story that they otherwise may not be. But this heightened accessibility does not, at least for me, sufficiently offset what’s lost in the process.
Animation can bring the emotionally abstract to vivid life like few other mediums, but it also often lacks the same humanity communicated by and in the real world. Though The Breadwinner features random sequences comprised of inventively-animated flights of fancy, they really prove tangential to the narrative. Its bulk is firmly set in reality, and the story would pack a stronger punch without there being a difference between the audience’s corporeality and the movie’s animated surreality.
The Breadwinner runs up against the limits of a two-dimensional world in its attempts to tell a rich three-dimensional story.