city_trouble city_trouble

Flea & Fly in “City Troubles” by Fernando Miller

Longtime readers of this blog know I have a “thing” for retro-style cartoons – i.e. new animated shorts that faithfully mimic a past era of animation. Today I’m proud to present the Internet premiere of one of the best I’ve ever seen: Fernando Miller’s Flea and Fly in City Troubles.

The film follows the antics of two homeless urchins in Rio, recreating the look and feel of late 1920s cartoons by mashing the styles of Otto Messmer with Hugh Harman and Rudolph Ising, with a pinch of Tex Avery and a nod to Tezuka (Broken Down Film, in particular). However Miller’s film is not simply a clever homage to old cartoons. It addresses real life problems of poverty and street children in modern day Brazil. Flea and Fly’s antics echo innocent behavior of 80 years ago, updated to reflect today’s realities: They sniff glue instead of drink booze; they also smoke, steal, bathe in public and urinate in the street.

I asked Miller, who works as a freelance animator in Rio, to explain the origin of his film:

“I had the idea for the film about 12 years ago. I was on a bus in Rio, my hometown, and there was this bunch of street kids on it, laughing out loud, slaping each other, screaming out of the window calling people names, and all this sort of things kids like to do to have fun. But the other people on the bus seemed terrified, as if those 10, 11 years old boys were about to shoot them or something. Everybody was so scared with the violence in the city, and the problem of abandoned kids living in the streets of Rio, that no one noticed, above all at that moment, that those were just kids acting as normal kids. On the other hand, those same people would smile at those exact same things while watching old fashioned cartoons – like Katzenjammer Kids – thinking about how inocent kids were at that time! So I wanted to show that things were not that different from the past, and try to create the same sympathy for nowadays kids, despite of the terrible situation they live in.

“That big church in the beginning and the end of the film is Candelaria Church, were in 1993 six street children got killed by police officers. It was a famous and terrible massacre every Brazilian knows well.

“All the places in the film do exist. Here’s a curious fact for animators: those two building behind the man selling food are where Animamundi Festival takes place. It’s across the street to Candelaria Church.”

With the current critical and artistic success of the live action “silent” film The Artist, perhaps Miller’s cartoon is coming out at just the right time. It would certainly make an appropriate short to accompany that feature. It sheds light on an important social issue with unusual finesse. Here, fresh from the festival circuit, is Flea and Fly in City Troubles:

  • Chris Webb

    This is obvious, but still worth stating – something I find very interesting about this website is Amid’s main interest now seems to be in the new places animation is going, while Jerry revels in classic styles and animation history.

    That friction makes this blog very interesting, usually more interesting than the blogs run by a single author.

    Good work guys!

  • Matt

    That was fantastic! I’m a big fan of retro-styled toons as well, but I’ve never seen the style of any particular era recreated as well as it is here. And to echo the sentiments of the commenter above me, this focus on both classic and new animation is why I love this blog.

  • Bob

    Fascinating. Usually these pastiches ring false, but this does not. Interesting and with an important message — wonderful!

  • Norm

    One of the best retro animated shorts yet done by anyone.

  • armando

    oh my god… this was beautiful.. I was really about to shed a tear

    I am/was a very big Pixar fan but I just can’t stand anymore my mind saying “hey, nice stories but they are for rich kids, you lose a toy, It’s a first world problem”.

    Here you see real stuff happening in the world.. kids living on the streets, doing drugs, being discriminated, being killed, and the artist never used “touching music”, tears and other cheap tricks.

    I can’t believe this short has very few comments while some other shorts with zero storytelling get a lot because they “look cool”. Like those shorts.. I mean.. DEMO REELS, “Meet Meline” and “The Third and the Seventh”.. what a bunch of crap, everybody came in their pants because of photorealism. Where’s the story? Where’s the soul? That’s why I hate Hollywood movies. If you are interested in more stuff like this, check out “Cidade de Deus” and “Los Olvidados”. If you just can’t or want to relate to that, then go and watch some generic viral CG shortfilm.

  • mike fontanelli


  • So close to real, I could smell the projection bulb.

    Great attention to detail. I found myself frustrated with the splices and missing segments even though they were deliberate. Gate weave, realistic dirt, focus drift, it was all there – the only thing missing was dupe negative bloom.

    Wonderful cartoon.

    • Chris Sobieniak

      I was going to say the music ending abruptly a second or so after the screen goes white at the end of the film myself, but it’s pretty spot on!

  • The Gee

    While watching it I questioned whether the scratches/deterioration effects were too much or even needed. But, then the short plays of the format, with transitions and that scene near the end…soooo…okay.

    It’s a great piece of work. I don’t wanna consider it “retro” though even though that is the best way to describe it to anyone. It is a good animated cartoon short with a lot going on. It is funny, too.

  • Gorgeous, I loved it. The timing seemed a bit flabby, but that added to its resemblance to cartoons from the “rubber hose” era. The glue-sniffing scene was superb.

  • That was consistently inventive and almost perfectly captured the cartoons of the era!
    In addition, the animation was extremely well done.

    Terrific, thanks so much to all involved. Let’s hope the film’s important message was broadcast and understood throughout Brazil and worldwide.

  • This was the best “retro” style cartoon I ever saw (since Tetsuka, of course). Not only that all movements were restricted to what was done in 1925, the gags made good use of those restrictions as well. Well-balanced and very good animation.

    I think the smudges were a bit too much – couldn’t read whole scenes sometimes. But the whole film worked, and the choice of topic and story was extraordinary.

  • Another film from Fernando Miller:

    It uses the Tom and Jerry’s films as a genre and makes a adaptation to a story of hunger and death on the northest of Brazil, genius.

  • Sil

    Awesome animation! It´s a real storytelling, I´m brazilian and I see kids like this every day in the big cities.Great work Fernando Miller! I just think deterioration effects were too much like The Gee says!

  • since when do buildings dance and have a face in old cartoons? worst stock trope.

    Tom Stathes, please help!

  • Gerard de Souza

    This is so fantastic. Something this good, you save for April 1st, Jerry, :)
    because you could’ve fooled me; could’ve told me it was rare Brazilain animation from the 1920s!