Animated Movies, Indie-mation, Reviews

Roto-Writers Roundtable Review ‘The Breadwinner’

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Jonathan North

The first thing I said after watching The Breadwinner was, “Just give this thing all the Oscars.” The Breadwinner was one of, if not the best animated movie I’ve seen all year.

The Breadwinner is not a Pixar movie, The Breadwinner is not a Disney movie. It bears no resemblance to anything put out by Sony, Illumination, or DreamWorks, beyond a very passing resemblance to The Prince of Egypt, but even that is minimal. No, The Breadwinner is one of those movies that pretty much stands on its own. It’s an animated movie that tells a very different kind of story than the ones that Americans are used to seeing.

I’m not going to knock American animated films, most of my favorite movies are American animated films, however, especially in recent years, even the most entertaining animated movies are pretty much just that, entertaining, and nothing more. There is nothing wrong with being just entertaining, I really enjoyed recent movies like The Lego Ninjago Movie, and The Secret Life of Pets, but I would definitely not call them anything more than just entertaining. There just are not that many deeper themes or messages in them, beyond the obvious clichéd ones that we’ve seen time and time again.

The Breadwinner is about as far from a clichéd family animated blockbuster as you can get. It tells the story of a little girl in Afghanistan, forced to hide her identity and pretend to be a boy, just to survive and provide for her family after her father is taken prisoner. The movie presents a sadly, all-too-real picture of life in many parts of the middle east, where women are treated as second class citizens, making her disguise a necessity that could mean the difference between life and death. Failure to adhere to the Taliban’s extreme rules when you’re a woman, could get you a public beating, by any man offended, and that’s a best case scenario.

Aside from the unpleasant glimpse into the realities of life for far too many people, we are also given a wonderfully crafted glimpse into the private life of one family. Even with all the terrible injustices happening around them, the way they come together to help each other out, even when they profoundly disagree on how to do that, is very moving.

In addition to the story, the animation is also superb. For anyone saying that 2D animation is dead, one needs only to look outside the main Hollywood studios to find that it has survived, and is thriving in foreign and indie studios. The two different 2D styles woven throughout The Breadwinner, are so well done, and give this move a feel unlike anything we normally get in America. All these things work together to make The Breadwinner a bleak, but beautiful movie, with a very important message. I highly recommend it.

Hannah Ortega

The Breadwinner is the kind of film that I want to thank the director and producers for creating. I greatly enjoyed this film, though not in the way I would enjoy a Disney or DreamWorks movie, as it deals with heavy subject matter and a scary world that many other studios shy away from– reality. This masterpiece is a testament to the power of film in sparking emotion and conversation and in spreading a message of relevance and significance.

The main character, Parvana, and her family endure a life of oppression and fear, and at times their plight is difficult to watch. Though it is not shown in graphic detail, the beating of Parvana’s mother shook me to my core and left my skin prickling with discomfort. This film does not shy away from such violence and other depictions of prejudice, including the multiple times that men yell at women to stay inside and threaten them. Though disturbing, I’m glad the filmmakers were bold enough to tackle these scenes, as they serve as eye-openers to the all too real circumstances Middle Eastern women find themselves in on a daily basis.

Through these depictions of abuse and prejudice, The Breadwinner is proof that animation is not just for children. I feel there is often a misconception that animation cannot be “deep” and represent modern issues and focus on “real” people, but this film clearly shows that animation, not just live-action, can accurately portray the harsh world and its everyday, unsung heroes.

The environment of Afghanistan, not just the characters, represent the struggles of oppression and fear. The desert land is barren, and one particular location that Parvana and her friend visit is littered with tanks. What’s worse is that the two are so familiar with this landscape; one of them nonchalantly mentions that the path through the field may be mined and guides the other back onto safe ground. Parvana’s treks to a prison in which her father is held further emphasizes the harsh environment, as well as her dedication to rescuing her father. Not just anyone would travel for so long over such hostile terrain.

The Breadwinner is a film of rare substance– it is raw, real, and powerful in its message. It will touch the hearts of all people, regardless of age or background, and unite the world on the grounds of humanity and compassion.

Rachel Wagner

The Breadwinner was actually one of my most anticipated films of 2017. Up to this point I have loved both films that have come out of Cartoon Saloon (Secret of the Kells and Song of the Sea). The previous films were directed by Tomm Moore and had a foundation of Celtic lore, so the idea of this studio branching off and telling an Afghani story actively excited me. Plus, studio co-founder Nora Twomey would be stepping up as a first time director, and I was very curious to see what she would bring to the table. Fortunately my expectations were not in vain, and the team behind The Breadwinner produced a beautiful film with layers that I am confident will grow in even more favor with each rewatch.

What I love most about The Breadwinner is the artistry and characters. They do such a good job developing the lead girl Pravana as a fully fleshed out human being. She felt like a young girl who was brave, weak, bold, nervous, petty and forgiving all at the same time. When she has to go out to provide for her family she isn’t the fierce warrior we so often see these days, nor was she the damsel in distress. She had the qualities of a real person with a mixture of responses to the difficulties surrounding her. The other characters in her family are also equally developed and interesting.

The Breadwinner is extremely beautiful to watch. The 2D animation takes you away and can be terrifying but also peaceful. The film has fantasy sequences where Pravana tells stories about a brave boy facing off against the Elephant King. These perhaps feel a little disjointed from the main narrative but they are also a breath of fresh air from the horrors we see in Pravana’s life. The animation particularly in the story sequences is stunning, and I loved the music.

There are a few minor problems in The Breadwinner such as the blending of fantasy and reality and a villainous guard that is a bit one note but none of these flaws keep you from having a great experience with the film. This will be a challenging for some kids but if they are mature enough it will be a chance for them to learn, grow and witness something special.

I encourage our readers to hunt this film down and support it in any way you can. This has been a rough year for animation and we as animation addicts need to let the studios know The Breadwinner is level of craftsmanship we expect and demand. Please see it!

Before the release of The Breadwinner on Nov. 17, we are going to be posting a series of articles about the film. This review is our first entry. Please let us know what you would like us to write about and what you think of the film.
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About Rachel Wagner

Rachel is a rottentomatoes approved film critic and podcaster. She loves all things animation and does a monthly podcast on classic Disney films and on obscure animation at Rachel's Reviews. She also is the founder and lead host of The Hallmarkies Podcast. She grew up with mainstream classics like The Little Mermaid and The Simpsons but also loves indie and anime fare like Song of the Sea and Your Name. Most important to her is discussing all kinds of film and TV shows with her friends and all of you. Follow Rachel on twitter at @rachel_reviews and on her blog