I have a demonstrable soft spot for urchins and other pathetic children. If for some reason you encounter my forboding presence, a quick lapse into Dickensian orphan-speak and I will be immediately disarmed, especially if you sing a song about chimbley sweeping (but — not you, Colin Meloy!).
The urchins who are the main characters of First-time feature director Michael Arias's Tekkon Kinkreet are surely adorable but their backstory is just as tragic as anything from an 800 page 19th century novel, though instead of working their little fingers off in a darkling factory in sooty London town they're leaping off walls and flagpoles and parapets in the crazy-quilt multicultural setting of a grafitti'd slum called Treasure Town. They're "Black" and "White," a pair of symbolically monikered "cats" — stray cats, orphans — who live by their quick wits, nimble fingers and super-hero-esque Karate skillz. Black is the older, quiet, more cynical and violent one, his face scarred from untold past battles, while White, still a snot-nosed tween who is afraid of the dark, is more or less his ward rather than his sidekick. Their relationship is very touching, particularly in the way they interact with the older residents of Treasure Town. Cops and (most) crooks alike seem to have a soft spot for these street children.
While Black and White wear cartoony costumes (goggles, animal head-hoods, toilet-paper dispensing utility belt) and White is prone to saying crushingly adorable nonsense like "I've got all the screws to his heart," not everything about their lives is cute. The only home they've ever known has come under successive threats from a rival kid-gang, the Yakuza, and a weird, fruity guy who might be German or Martian, or Martian German — it's not clear — but who definitely has crazy eyebrows. While force and corruption cannot change the nature of Treasure Town, one thing can — gentrification, in the form of Kiddie Castle, a theme park. That and 8 foot tall flying dudes with rocket launchers and bows and arrows.
Although Black keeps on insisting that he "owns" Treasure Town and engages in increasingly unhinged violence to prove that point, it is clear that the "cats' attachment to this deadly urban playground will mean their early death if they don't get out soon. When Black lets a skewered White be taken into protective custody by the police, he grows further and further detached from reality, culminating in a theme park showdown with his dark alter-ego, who drags him into a crayon-scribbled netherworld which is among the most moving and innovative animation I've ever seen. The confrontation between the dark powers upon which it is possible for Black to draw and his love and attachment to the world, particularly to his friend White, is riveting, and when the end comes it is uplifting and satisfying without being cloying or cutesy.