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:


Jerry Beck

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