Sunday, June 22, 2008

Urduja (2008)



Urduja (Reggie Entienza, 2008)

A cursory glance at the filmography of Reggie Entienza, writer and credited director of Urduja, which is purported by the film's marketers as the first Filipino full-length fully animated film (despite the fact that in 1997, Ibong Adarna (Adarna: The Mythical Bird, Gerry A. Garcia) was released in cinemas; In 1995, Isko: Adventures in Animasia (Gerry A. Garcia) was also released but that movie had portions that are live action), reveals an animator, exactly like the thousands of talented animators from the Philippines, who has been working under foreign producers and bringing to life stories that are connected to him only on a distinctly professional level. Entienza has mostly worked on direct-to-video cartoons which utilize the Disney-perfected formula of adapting public domain stories for the youth market. There is simply no doubt that Urduja, which is an adaptation of a Filipino story about a local princess during pre-colonial times, is a product of utter sincerity, at least for Entienza who has long suffered bringing to life foreign tales simply because no local producer is brave or moneyed enough to fund a local animated project. There is no question as to the movie's good intentions, but the biggest query remains to be "does it work?"

Unfortunately, my answer is a categorical no. Urduja reveals all the faults Entienza must have learned studying animation in a purely commercial perspective. In its effort to replicate the seamless flow of better-funded animated films from other countries, the movie more so showcases its crudeness, which in this case, turns out to be more of an annoyance than charm. Independent filmmaker Roxlee has long specialized in animation, creating gorgeous short films that are memorable precisely because of the fact that they are crude yet reminiscent works of art. His commissioned short for the Cinemanila Film Festival, which details a wooden idol transforming into a filmmaker, is an astoundingly simple yet beautiful work. Raya Martin's Maicling Pelicula Nañg Ysañg Indio Nacional (A Short Film About the Indio Nacional, 2005) and Now Showing (2008) have animated portions that despite their crudeness add character to the films. While the aspirations of Roxlee's shorts and Martin's films are hardly comparable to Urduja's, all i am saying is that Urduja has none of those films' simplistic and addictive charm and instead wallows in borrowed tedium.

Although, I would have opted to view Urduja for what it is (a long-delayed initial foray into animation as a legitimate film industry), I can't help but compare since Entienza has himself intentionally copycatted scenes from popular Disney movies, like a song number between a talking rat and a talking tarsier (voiced by local comedians Michael V. and Allan K., respectively) that is reminiscent of Hakuna Matata from Disney's The Lion King (Roger Allers & Rob Minkoff, 1994), or vine-clinging stunts by local tribesmen that do not have the same grace as Tarzan foot-skating from tree to tree in Disney's version (Chris Buck & Kevin Lima, 1999).

What is most glaring and unforgivable is that Entienza also borrowed Disney's very liberal adaptation techniques: the bastardization of world literature for middlebrow American audiences. Urduja, from the hazy accounts of historian, is the female ruler of a pre-colonial (reputedly mythical) kingdom of Tawalisi. Her history is rich and draped with much mystery. The story of Entienza's Urduja is quite frankly a disservice to the fabled princess. The movie naively forwards a type of feminism that is still male-centric, as it encourages damsel-in-distress fantasies with its equation of the legendary Filipino heroine as one with Disney's roster of helpless princesses. On top of its botched sense of feminism, it insensitively portrays Filipinos in a bad light, turning Simakwel (voiced by Jay Manalo), into a treacherous villain, as it romances Urduja's infatuation with a Chinese pirate Limhang (voiced by Cesar Montano), a pirate who is chased by the Chinese for his thieving ways. The producers and director of Urduja might explain that the liberties taken were for purely commercial purposes (as history is rarely a box-office magnet) and that the target audience of the cartoon are children and not sensitive historians. I disagree. This unabashed and probably innocent Disney-fication is more harmful than helpful to the industry as it purports Western thinking in the minds of its gullible audiences.

Critics are often blinded by so-called cultural advancements, hence the unanimous A rating by the local Film Ratings Board. Urduja is technically apt, well voice-acted, and sometimes interesting. However, beyond it being the first (or second, or third, if you count the two tepid movies by Garcia) full length Filipino animated film, it is really nothing more than an example as to the direction Philippine commercial animation is going. As it turns out, despite Urduja being locally financed and produced, it still partakes of a way of thinking and doing business (although less pronounced) that I have detested ever since the animators at the Mickey Mouse studio had turned Kimba the White Lion (Eiichi Yamamoto, 1965-1967) into The Lion King, without crediting the former. As such, Urduja is a mishmash of many unsavory things: borrowed aesthetics, misplaced adaptations, and misaligned virtues. Thus, I'm still waiting for that true first Filipino full-length animated film since this one is as Filipino as Disney's Mulan (Tony Bancroft & Barry Cook, 1998) is Chinese.

11 comments:

Anonymous said...

i havent seen the movie but the urduja character looks like a pocahontas clone.

Noel Vera said...

Wait no longer, or I suppose you'll have to work a little to find it. The first feature length animated Filipino film is Nonoy Marcelo's Tadhana, broadcast on Channel 4 in 1978. An ostensible Marcos project, it has the freewheeling spirit of the best satirists, and there are several moments when Marcelo gleefully nips at the hand that sponsors him.

Oggs Cruz said...

Thank you Noel,

I read your review in your book on Tadhana, and I'd love to see it. I wonder where it is now, and why it is not being given the attention it deserves? Calling all festival programmers reading this blog...

Garuda2008 said...

Great review! And thanks for mentioning Tadhana. I used to recall a vague work by Nonoy Marcelo during the 70s. Correct me if I'm wrong, I think it was shown on RPN 9 back then?

I also remember a scene in that feature where they used Freddie Aguilar's song: "Anak". I was really young back then so I can't recall most of it. I do remember that the characters are wearing native tribal garb. Anyway, it was wrong that no one seems to remember Nonoy's works, most especially the stuff he and others did in "Annie Batungbakal".

And about Urduja? I think it's is a film that I will remember in the next five years, but like Adventures in Animasia, its not a film I'm going to like watching again, or talk about in good way...or being part of my animation video collection.

Oggs Cruz said...

Hi Garuda,

Thanks for the comment. I feel left out. I haven't seen Tadhana, but I definitely would love to. You're being too nice to Urduja. I've actually forgotten about this film, hehe.

Anonymous said...

wow! you hated urduja so much...

any personal grudge with the director?

Oggs Cruz said...

Hate is too laden a word to describe my feelings for the movie. The proper term is disliked, or perhaps ambivalent. Urduja, as I see it, is a forgettable movie. Mere months have passed since its showing, and it has totally disappeared from the public radar.

I don't know the director personally. If ever I do, I'll never use how I know the director as basis as to how I'll rate his work. That's unethical.

Anonymous said...

Hi, great review on urduja. havent seen it but after watching and exchanging comments about its trailer in youtube, im dead certain you are on point. i wish i can accomodate your wish of seeing the first sensational pinoy full length animated feature but right now i can't. i've been a big part of Isko Adventures in Animasia and Ibong Adarna and would like to vindicate myself from the mistakes i made...

Anonymous said...

...whew! minsan baka pueding magtulungan tayo.Its degrading din na makakita ng isang matalas na kritiko.Ang mga nkalap kong istorya mula ng mag animate ako ng feature sa Europa ay parang ayaw ko na tuloy isulat o, marahil doon ko na lang ipapadala,pero makabayan din ako ng konti.Itaas natin ang industriyang ito.Mga 15 lang ang animator na Pilipino na world class,hindi marami.Sila ang nakakagawa ng Disney style feature.Ang problema siguro dito sa atin ay walang nag po-produce.Mas mura ang live at maraming experiment na magagawa.

pinoyanimationfan said...

Hi, was wondering if you have seen "Libingan" an independent animated short by Tuldok Animation?
I'm very interested on your thoughts on that one.

Oggs Cruz said...

I haven't seen "Libingan," pinoyanimationfan. Would you know where I can watch the short?