Masterpieces like “Persepolis,” “The Tower” and “Waltz with Bashir” have proven that animation is no longer just for kids. In the right hands, it can produce powerful commentaries on subjects as deadly serious as war, oppression and random violence. It’s with that in mind that “The Breadwinner” enters the fray with its expose on misogyny in war-torn Afghanistan. The heroine is a precocious 11-year-old Kabul girl whose plight proves quite affecting, as she and her family become targets of the ruthless Taliban around the days when Osama bin Laden roamed the nearby Hindu Kush Mountains.

Her name is Parvana, and as voiced by a very good Saara Chaudry, she’s an old soul, beaten down by a despotic system that pretty much renders her, her mother (Laara Sadiq) and older sister (Shaista Latif), prisoners in their own home. Under Taliban law they cannot attend school or go outside without a male escort and must be veiled head to toe. So what’s a family to do when Parvana’s father, an educator who sacrificed his right leg battling Soviet invaders, is dragged off to prison for misspeaking during an interrogation? Starve? Lucky for them, Parvana is resourceful, cutting off most of her long hair and donning the clothes that belonged to her late brother to pass herself off as a boy. And when she crosses paths with old pal, Shauzia (Soma Chhaya), wearing the same disguise, the scheming begins. Working odd jobs, they earn enough cash to support their families. But even more thrilling is their ability to experience the world untethered. Yet, melancholy continues to undermine Parvana’s newfound freedom. She can’t be happy as long as her father remains imprisoned. And with yet another foreign invasion looming, time is of the essence.

Based on a 2000 novel by Deborah Ellis and adapted by Anita Doren, “The Breadwinner” proves both eye-opening and insightful, vividly depicting how miserable life can be in a country where a woman has little or no worth. It’s quite a departure for director Nora Twomey, whose last film was the magical fantasy “Secret of the Kells,” which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Animated Feature. There’s a touch of the fantastical here, particularly in the segments when Parvana calms her baby brother by telling him tales of adventure involving a young warrior named Sulayman. But for the most part, this is a darker, much grittier affair involving women being beaten, trodden and endlessly harassed.

It’s a mood matched by the spectacular pen-and-ink animation that dominates much of the picture. But the real dazzlers in this Angelina Jolie-produced tale are the fantasy segments consisting of multicolored overlaid cutouts that clearly distinguish what Parvana wishes for from the harsh realities of her drab, gray life of oppression. It’s as involving as it is anger-inducing, but Doren’s script often feels scattershot and underdeveloped. You want more than the movie is able to deliver. But it’s hard to fault a story that’s this compassionate, this revealing. We all knew life in Afghanistan is hell, but “The Breadwinner” shockingly proves we haven’t a clue.

“The Breadwinner”

Featuring the voices of Saara Chaudry, Soma Chhaya, Laara Sadiq, Shaista Latif, Ali Badshah and Noorin Gulamgaus.

(PG-13 for thematic material, including some violent images.)

Grade B