By Jason Paul Laxamana
Central Luzon Daily
One of the offerings of the Christmas season, along with New Year, is the annual screening of entries to the Metro Manila Film Festival, a long-running showcase of what Filipinos can offer in the field of mainstream cinema.
With the trailers I have viewed through the Internet and the synopses I have read here and there, I have finally been enticed to watch two—only two—entries to the film fest, which I both watched last December 25th. They’re the historical war love story ‘Baler’ starring Jericho Rosales and Anne Curtis, and the animated fantasy film ‘Dayo: Sa Mundo Ng Elementalia,’ featuring the voice of Nash Aguas. The cinema featuring ‘Iskul Bukol’ had the most people lined up to watch though.
For this article, I would like to make a review of the Mark Quilao-directed ‘Dayo,’ which has received raves from various sources. In fact, the Cinema Evaluation Board, which was established “ to formulate and establish a set of standards and criteria and procedures for the Cinema Evaluation System, subject to the approval of the Council, primarily based on but not limited to the following: Direction, Screenplay, Cinematography, Editing, Production Design, Music Scoring, Sound, and Acting Performances...” has given it a Grade A rating, so I got really intrigued with this project that has made a battalion of nationalists prouder to be Pinoy.
Growth of Animation in RP
As people who have been used to watching imported cartoons both from the United States and Japan (with its plethora of animé), the thought of having animation with Pinoy content is truly revolutionary and another step toward what I would call “de-neo-colonization.”
The first time that I was truly impressed with animation was with the band Mojofly’s all-CGI 3D music video for its song ‘Tumatakbo,’ which told the cute story of friendship (that can turn into romance) between a circus-going hunchback (who was all along a winged man hiding his wings on his back like Alwina of ‘Mulawin’) and “The Amazing Luisa na Tumutulay sa Miswa.” The music video is actually the first of its kind in the local music video scene, and its quality, although basic compared to those of Pixar and Dreamworks, is what I would say “Puedi ne.”
Then of course we have the now defunct Culture Crash Comics, which although just a comic book, reminds readers of animé, but with all-Pinoy original content—‘One Day, Isang Diwa,’ ‘Pasig,’ ‘Cat’s Trail,’ ‘Solstice Butterfly,’ and ‘Kubori Kikiam.’ The comic book was gaining a fan base, and I was actually dreaming of the stories being turned into real 2D animation, but alas, after more than 10 issues, the creators decided to stop.
Other small-time animations came and passed, including those of Tuldok Animation, until earlier this year, we had an animated movie about Pangasinan’s legendary princess. ‘Urduja’ was produced by APT Entertainment, Seventoon, and Imaginary Friends, featuring the voice of Regine Velasquez as the warrior princess.
And now, the latest, ‘Dayo,’ which featured impressive animation from Cutting Edge Productions and creative and entertaining renditions of Pinoy folklore characters such as the manananggal, tikbalang, kapre, nuno, sirena, and syokoy. We used to only see foreign culture in our TV and movie screens, but now, we get to see sorbeteros, sari-sari stores, capiz windows, bamboo foliages, billboards of local products, the Last Supper hung somewhere in the dining room, Catholic figures, mean trannies, and elementary school uniforms, Pinoy style.
However, I found something untrue—that the film will be enjoyed both by the young and the old. It turned out, when I watched the film, it was, for me, just bound to entertain the kids. For a story-conscious and film-critiquing person like me, I have found two areas of the film which I found, well, “not to be proud of”—story and direction.
The usual flaw
Before I proceed with my critique, I would like to make a disclaimer for fanatic nationalists who can’t distinguish critiquing from criticizing.
Don’t get me wrong: I am delighted with the gradual emergence of original Pinoy animation, but as a moviegoer, I have the right to comment about what I have seen. Before anyone brands me a perpetuator of crab mentality, know that I am allergic to crab and other seafood, causing my lips to swell upon gorging. By all means, I recommend Pinoys to watch ‘Dayo’ and be one with the rest of the country in rejoicing with the fact that we now have a growing animation industry, but then again, there’s still room for improvement, and allow me to be the first (?) media practitioner to be honest (with good intentions though).
‘Dayo’ suffers from one of the usual flaws of most mainstream Pinoy movies—poor story. Or could the story have been nice, but not the plot? Or could the plot have been pleasant, but not the script? Or is it in the direction?
I’ve read from one blog the comment of one person saying that ‘Dayo’ is at par with the Walt Disney cartoons that our generation grew up with. You know, ‘Pocahontas,’ ‘The Lion King,’ ‘Mulan,’ and ‘Aladdin,’ to name a few. The animation can keep up, yes, but story-wise, I would beg to disagree.
First of all, the main protagonist, Bubuy, is confused with his goal in the story (I’m using creative writing lingo here). Is it to fly? Is it to save his grandparents? In fact, the minds behind the film are not very decided on what message they would like to focus on—is it being brave for the people you love? Is it taking care of the environment? Is it being friendly even to those who are not like us, or as the title suggests, to ‘dayos’?
What I was also looking for as an adult moviegoer is the bigger picture of the story. Small picture is not evil, but the lack of a bigger picture and the missing problematic sketch of the society makes ‘Dayo’ fit for television, like High School Musical, but not for cinema.
Some might counter-argue that it’s for the kids; why should it be ‘deep’? Well, it needs not be deep. But it shouldn’t be shallow either, i.e., if non-kids are also being catered. Kids loved Walt Disney cartoons in spite of them having big topics like racism, war, political turmoil, and sexism, while not forgetting those that would make Christian Living teachers happy—friendship, the prevalence of good over evil, respect, bravery, and other virtues, which flicks like ‘Enteng Kabisote’ and ‘Exodus: Tales of the Enchanted Kingdom’ would also possess.
‘Pocahontas’ is set during the time when Englishmen set their foot in America. While the main focus of the story was the romance between a native American girl and a white-skinned soldier, it also tackled history, the perspective of native Americans versus those of whites (“you think you own whatever land you land on / the earth is just a dead thing you can claim / but I know every rock and tree and creature / has a life, has a spirit, has a name”), and the war between the two nations.
‘The Lion King’ on the other hand is about a lion prince named Simba deceived to abandon the pride after his uncle Scar, with the help of the hyenas, conspired against King Mufasa. After learning about the truth, Simba sought to dethrone his uncle and lead Pride Rock properly again like his father. The movie also offers classic African philosophies as embedded in the songs ‘Circle of Life’ and ‘Hakuna Matata,’ an actual Swahili song originating from Kenya.
No, I’m not a perpetuator of colonial mentality, but I know a good story when I see one. Not even nationalism can impair my judgment of a good story. ‘Dayo’ on the other hand suffered from a shallow story which chose to focus on a small picture when in fact, the big picture is already there, just unexplored—the humans’ destruction of Kalikasan. We only learned about this after past half of the movie, and the sole sequence that established this motivation of the giant antagonist, was when Bubuy performed a harmless ‘kaingin’ in the forest by bully force.
A lot of scenes don’t have momentum, too, like that ‘Lipad’ Lea Salonga song which just emerged out of the blue, when Bubuy was worrying about his missing grandparents.
As an advocate of additional regional presence in things perceived to be “national” or “Pinoy,” I am happy that the makers of ‘Dayo’ had a wee bit of regional consciousness, as manifested through that Tinguian song Salidummay (which turned Sexbomb Dancers-esque after Ana sneezes), provincial Tagalog accents, and the Binisaya-speaking kapre.
I was reminded of last year’s racial fiasco in the ‘Sakal, Sakali, Saklolo’ movie where Rafa was criticized for learning Binisaya from his yaya, which time and again, was made to be Bisaya. At least, in ‘Dayo,’ I saw no ethnic slur; just an abuse of unfunny Taglish lines by the manananggirl, in my opinion.
‘Dayo’ though could have used less invented folklore characters and adapted into screen folklore characters from other ethnolinguistic communities.
When it comes to story matters, it is not an excuse that we are a developing country, because coming up with a good story (and directing it properly) does not require huge loads of money, unlike technology.
With that said, I congratulate Cutting Edge Productions for contributing to the growing set of Pinoy animated content. My article may or may not reach them, but for those who will be able to read this, I’m not a big-time expert, but I beg you to avail of any teensy weensy wisdom that my writing may offer. Kudos to the animation, but not yet on the story. I believe it takes both to come up with a classic movie.
And, yes, the Filipino, indeed, can!
Please write me at firstname.lastname@example.org