Spirits of the Forest: Alê Abreu returns to the big screen with “Perlimps”

***This article was originally published in the Sept./Oct. ’22 number Animation magazine (No. 323)***

24 years have passed since the first animated short film by Brazilian director Alê Abreu Spanish (the scarecrow) put the talented entertainer on the map. For most fans, he’s best known for his charming debut movie. The boy and the worldwhich earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature in 2016. This year, the writer-director is making a triumphant return with a new film titled Perlimpswhich premiered in Annecy and which will be presented in competition at the Ottawa International Animation Festival in September.

The colorful film centers on the adventure of Claé and Bruô, two secret agents from enemy kingdoms who must join forces despite their differences to save the Perlimps from the Green Slime that threatens to destroy the forest. (The title of the film Perlimps was suggested by the film’s producer Luiz Bolognesi, who was inspired by the word pirilampos“fireflies” in Portuguese, and refers to what the two main characters are looking for in the film.)

Perlimps

A multitude of muses

Asked about the film’s inspirations, Abreu says there was a wide variety of designs, stories and objects that led to what audiences will see on screen. “Developing a movie is never a very rational and clear process for me,” he said in a recent email interview. “I am inspired in many ways, mainly music and painting. I collect notes (free drawings, snippets of stories, characters, etc.) over a long period of time before finding connections between them and finding out if there’s a movie in there.

Ale Abreu
Ale Abreu

“A new universe is starting to come to life with this process, and the story itself isn’t entirely clear to me at this point,” adds the director. “When I started working on Perlimps, I scattered all these notes on the floor and stared at them for hours. I organized these elements and came out with the script and a selection of drawings that showed me the way for the film.

Perlimps executive producer Ernesto Soto adds, “From my perspective, the inspiration comes from Alê’s desire to inhabit the mind of a child. And to get in touch with the freedom we had when we were children. The enchanted forest, where the story takes place, is apparently a physical space, but it also represents a state of mind.

Abreu notes: “I was born in São Paulo, but I lived part of my childhood in a suburb of the city – at the time it was a very green place, with farms, streams and paths . The forest in Perlimps is also a symbolic place, linked to childhood – a place in time, one might say, left behind during the transition to adulthood and the loss of childhood that comes with it.

According to Soto, it took about nine years to complete the film. “We’ve had four years of development since Alê’s first sketches, and four and a half years of pre-production and production,” he says. “Alê has drafts and drawings dating back to 2014. In 2016, we had a bible to start our fundraising, which lasted almost three years. We officially started pre-production in 2018. In total, adding up the different stages, around 80 or 90 people worked on the film. The Brazilian currency has fluctuated a lot over the years we’ve worked on the project, but considering today’s exchange rate, our budget would be around $1.85 million.

Perlimps
Perlimps

The producer mentions that the animation industry in Brazil has been hit hard by the country’s socio-political climate in recent years. “Brazil has invested many years in developing an animation industry with lots of subsidies and public funding,” Soto points out. “All these incentives have grown the industry; a lot of new talent emerged and independent productions like ours were possible. Unfortunately, under the current government, culture is no longer a priority and many of these talents are now working for studios abroad. But I firmly believe that Brazil will continue to be an important voice in the independent animation scene.

Perlimps is produced by São Paulo-based Buriti Filmes and co-produced by Sony Pictures International and Globo Filmes. The film’s animation was hand-drawn by Abreu and a small crew who spent four years in a mountain village in Brazil.

Perlimps
Perlimps

As Viviane Guimarães, the film’s assistant director, explains, “We created a studio and hired our own team to work on the film, but the animation itself was mainly done by Alê Abreu (scenes Claé and Bruô ) and animator Sandro Cleuzo (John Ovenbird), with some additional animation by myself. Alê Abreu animated in Photoshop, Sandro Cleuzo in Toon Boom and I in TVPaint, so the software itself didn’t matter at this stage. For John Ovenbird scenes, cleanup was also done in Toon Boom. For the Claé and Bruô scenes, we made the final drawing in Photoshop.

Abreu says that as an artist, one of the film’s biggest challenges was keeping the initial feelings of inspiration and ambition alive over the years. “I had to keep the feelings that motivated me to succeed throughout the production process with all its obstacles to overcome,” he confesses. “I put a lot of effort into not losing sight of the emotions that made me immersed in the universe of the film, so that they could guide me during production and ultimately be reflected in the film.”

Perlimps
Perlimps

The director also mentions that he cannot identify any particular influence on the film’s visual style. He explains: “There comes a time when someone’s work is such a mix of things that it’s not so easy to identify the direct influences. But I could cite Roger Dean, Mœbius and René Laloux, not only for the reference to psychedelia that I tried to impress in the film, but also because of the good memories I have of these artists in my childhood and my youth.

“With this film, I was guided primarily by color, a very powerful tool that brings an important layer to the adventure and is essential to understanding the film,” said Abreu. Variety earlier this year. “Childhood is represented in the film as a physical space where anything is possible, generating incredible transformative power through hope.”

Perlimps
Perlimps

A pupil of Laloux

He does, however, mention several films that had a huge impact on his artistic development early in his life. “I watched two films by René Laloux in a small film club in São Paulo many years ago: fantasy planet and masters of time. In addition to inspiring me to work in animation, these films paved the way for me to the kind of film I wanted to make. I also recently saw Isao Takahata again The Tale of Princess Kaguyaand I believe it is one of the masterpieces of animated cinema.

However, Abreu says he’s been less happy with what he’s seen on screen in recent years. “When it comes to feature films, I think there is a movement that seeks to take animation out of the aesthetic similarity of CGI productions,” he notes. “But very little of what I’ve seen recently has been enjoyable or exciting.”

Perlimps
Perlimps

The filmmakers hope the new film will appeal to both younger and older audiences. “We hope that audiences will have an immersive experience in a dreamlike fantasy world and that children and adults can connect with their inner child,” says Bolognesi. “We think this is a film that can appeal to both family audiences and anime fans. In the end, I believe there is a message of hope and a cry for peace, added to the urgency of preserving our natural resources.

Perlimps makes its North American premiere this month at the Ottawa International Animation Festival.