Animation is something we’ve all grown up with. Be it Disney, Cartoon Network or Nickelodeon, everyone has, at some point or another, watched and enjoyed cartoons. Having grown up with these, I also grew up with the idea that stellar animation can only come from abroad. Because I never had a truly Pakistani animation to grow up with.
A watchable one I mean. We all remember the assault on our senses that was Commander Safeguard.
Being 24, I didn’t think I’d be willingly going to watch an animated film; I usually wait for the Blu-Ray. I also didn’t think my preconceived notion, ‘good animation must be international’, would shatter in an hour and a half.
Before I continue, I just want it known, I haven’t seen any of the 3 Bahadur movies. So don’t write in, attempting to rip into me for not mentioning them.
Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor (AYATLOM) as I said before, shattered all my perceptions of what good animation is. I’m not proud to say that I didn’t believe Pakistan would ever produce animated movies as beautiful and crisp as this. Given how most of the home-grown animation is so incredibly cringe-worthy. AYATLOM was not only beautiful to behold, but was also an incredibly heartwarming tale that leaves a lasting impact.
Barring some polish issues, a lacklustre climax and some loose threads. Allahyar is the film you’d want to take your kids to this, and every weekend. My score: 7/10.
Oh look, I’ve given my score! You know what that means? That’s right, dear, spoilers (possibly), yee been warned.
Let’s Start with The Animation Itself
As I mentioned before, this film is absolutely gorgeous. Inspired by Northern Pakistan’s stunning natural beauty, each frame is meticulously crafted to create the world of AYATLOM. The scenery is vibrant with great attention having been paid. Ensuring that each item on screen had the right texture too, and wasn’t just blocks of thick colour.
The characters are also beautifully animated, especially the animals, with fine textures to ensure that each character pops. If there was any fault, it was in the animation of movement, which at times felt somewhat unnatural. However, you only noticed it when the camera would focus on movement. And, it is still leaps and bounds ahead of what we’ve become accustomed too (coming from home that is).
The voice acting is absolutely on point. The stand out however, was Natasha Humera Ejaz’s beautiful voice helming the role of the young Markhor, Mehru. Whether it was Mehru’s bravery, wit or somewhat pompous attitude, Natasha’s voice fit the character perfectly. I also thoroughly enjoyed the other animals too. Hero the Chakour voiced by Siyaah director Afzar Jafri provided the perfect comic relief. While Chakku the Snow Leopard voiced by Abdul Nabi Jamal was both endearing and comical.
The Human Element
Allahyar himself, I felt no connection with.
Don’t get me wrong, the voice acting by Anum Zaidi is brilliant. But I guess being 24, I would find it hard to related to a ten-year-old child who would rather play outside than do homework.
However, kids will see Allahyar in themselves, as the story takes him from being bullied to coming into his own. The other human characters including Ali Noor’s Mani, the antagonist, are also well done. Though I felt as a villain, Mani lacked menace. There were certain scenes that utilized him for comic relief. While others that left me wondering if writer directed Uzair Zaheer Khan wanted us to root for the villain too.
I would also like to applaud the film for tackling several social issues and presenting them in a way that was suitable for young audiences. The most obvious, the film tackles poaching and the safeguarding of endangered species.
More subtly, the film also targets prejudice. Issues like these are usually very sensitive and do incur some incredible resistance as well. However, it’s highly important that social issues be raised in mediums that can be widely received. It’s equally important to raise them with our youth, so generations to come are set on that path as well.
What Didn’t Work
AYATLOM isn’t a perfect film however. There are some issues here that I feel take away from the experience.
Firstly, the story has some major plot holes. Allahyar is inexplicably granted the ability to converse with the fauna after a fall. The granting of that power has no real repercussions. And, aside from Mehru’s initial shock, no other animal seems bothered by it. There is also an opening sequence that teases a dynamic between a human and a Markhor. Possibly, aimed to set up and draw parallels between that and Allahyar and Mehru’s relationship. Yet, it feels pretty unnecessary by the end of the film.
The next issue I had with the film was the humor. At times, the jokes landed and that’s fine. Other times it was nothing more than crude potty humor. I felt it was just lazy writing, aimed to get a few laughs and move things along.
There’s a moment implying Mani’s genitals got caught in his zipper. It left me thinking the writer may have seen There’s Something About Mary one time too many.
Aside from these issues, AYATLOM was a treat to watch. There isn’t a single dull moment in the film; even if it is aided by a little potty humor. The most important part is that the message of the film comes across loud and clear.
Overall, it would be a cardinal sin to ignore this absolutely gorgeous gem of a film.