On Wheels (Sobre Rodas), a Brazilian film playing at this year’s TIFF Kids International Film Festival, is a rare example of an intelligently executed kids’ film that neither insults its audience nor overstays its welcome.
Written and directed by Mauro D’Addio, who’s making his feature-film debut, On Wheels follows the story of Lais, a 12-year-old girl who, when she isn’t in school, helps her mother and grandmother sell coffee and meals at a roadside café. Sadly, Lais has never met her father, nor does she know his identity (it seems he’s a thief). When Lais gets a clue about him, she confides in her classmate Lucas, a wheelchair-bound paraplegic who missed a year of school after being hit by a car. Lucas is depressed, as the normal challenges of fitting in that plague a 13-year-old are amplified for Lucas. After Lucas’s father buys a motorized wheel that allows Lucas to ride his wheelchair like a bike, Lias asks Lucas to join her on a bike journey to find her father.
On Wheels is essentially a hero’s journey that hits all the marks, including encountering funny and crazy people and scary animals. They sleep outdoors. They encounter obstacles before finding success. They question the purpose of their journey. And they form a deep friendship. And because the film clocks in at a brisk 72 minutes, it’s a tightly focused story that isn’t padded by many of the useless and pointless diversions that hamper many Hollywood kids movies. Because the film lacks that padding that insults kids’ intelligence, the film will appeal to both kids and adults alike.
But perhaps the biggest star of On Wheels is the cinematography. Filled with gorgeous scenes of the Brazilian countryside and tinted with amazing orange hues, On Wheels makes you want to catch the next plane flight to Brazil. And that’s probably a good thing for a road movie. It makes the journey so much more enjoyable.