A well-crafted Filipino animation

PNS — WE’VE seen “Urduja” and it certainly deserves the unanimous A rating it got from the Cinema Evaluation Board. We’ve had other local animated films before, but this is the first full-length one that’s released in commercial theaters like a regular film. The previous ones are also quite crude compared to this. There are still some jagged edges and stilted movements in a number of scenes (also lacking in shadow detail) but, over all, the animation work (which is said to have taken about a decade to complete) is fairly well-crafted, especially when compared to previous local cartoon flicks. It’s not as state of the art as the ornate movies of Pixar or Dreamworks, but may still be considered top of the line. Kudos to all the Filipino animators who worked on it.

A dream project of APT Entertainment’s Tony Tuviera, the story (which is not based on the historical Urduja of Pangasinan) is set 700 years ago in the land of the Tawilisi in Central Luzon, led by the ailing Lakanpati (voice by Eddie Garcia). Urduja (Regine Velasquez) is her only child who’s been trained as warrior to fight their rival tribe, the Batyaw. Her dad wants her to marry Simakwel (Jay Manalo), leader of their guards, but Urduja is against it.

A Chinese pirate, Limhang (Cesar Montano), is shipwrecked in Tawilisi after being pursued by his nemesis, Wang (Johnny Delgado). Urduja nurses the injured Limhang back to health while her lady in waiting, Mayumi (Ruby Rodriguez), gets enamoured with Limhang’s Japanese friend, Daisuke (Jeffrey Quizon.)

Urduja and Limhang expectedly fall for each other, much to the chagrin of Simakwel who challenges Limhang to fight him in a carabao race. Simakwel and his co-horts try to cheat and harm Limhang but to no avail as Limhang still comes up triumphant. Wang eventually catches up with Limhang and wants to subjugate all the Tawilisi. But an incident, where Limhang emerges as the hero, helps reconcile the warring Tawilisi and Butyaw tribes and they become allies against the marauding Wang.

“Urduja” might be called the Pinoy version of Mulan or Pocahontas with a brave and strong-willed heroine who is ahead of her time in practising woman empowerment. To make her story attractive to modern audiences, the script used a lot of hip Taglish and kwela words, like the acronym HHWW (holding hands while walking) that sadly didn’t register well with the viewers at the Makati mall theatre where we watched the movie. There’s also an effort to impart positive messages about filial relationships, friendship, bravery, and unity.

Some of the elements used are borrowed from past Disney movies, like the use of some songs in forwarding the story. Sadly, most of the songs here are lackluster and unappealing, with some of the lyrics being mediocre and pedestrian. The best song is easily the evocative “Paalam” duet of Urduja and Limhang. The presence of animal sidekicks Kukut (Michael V) and Tarsir (Allan K) for comic relief is reminiscent of Timon and Pumba in “Lion King.” They even have their own song like “Hakuna Matata” from “Lion King.”

The production design is great, filled with vibrant colors and with the backgrounds suggesting good spatial quality. The voice acting is generally fine, with Michael V the most effective of them all in giving a truly rollicking performance as the cute and lovable mouse, Kukut. A good animation film also needs a strong villain and Johnny Delgado provides that with his Wang. The musical score by Mon Faustino is superb and the direction by Reggie Entienza of the well-developed script is very competent. All in all, it’s an entertaining fast paced movie that the whole family will enjoy.