The start of great Pinoy animation?

Maria Jorica B. Pamintuan - The Philippine Star

Film review: RPG Metanoia

It’s been said many times, many ways: RPG Metanoia is the entry to watch in the Metro Manila Film Festival (MMFF).

Unlike the other films, the full-length animated feature offered something new to the table — and not just because it is the first 3D Filipino-made animation to be shown in theaters. Truth be told, the 3D effects of the movie (meaning the eye-popping, I-can’t-believe-it’s-not-really-there effects added by wearing 3D glasses) were average at best and totally unnoticeable at worst.

What really made RPG Metanoia different was its originality. This isn’t your usual MMFF entry. For one, it’s not a sequel. For two, it’s not a predictable comedy/fantasy/romance/action/family/horror flick that changes its name and stars (sometimes not even) and not much else. Real thought was given to making it a less than conventional story with endearing characters.

It seems that for a change, a mainstream Filipino film isn’t relying on a big star to draw in ticket sales. Instead, director Luis Suarez and his team spent money and years of work to create something of high quality that actually deserves to be a box-office hit.

Admittedly, big showbiz names like Aga Muhlach and Zaijian Jaranilla voice the characters — but will people watch the movie because of them? More importantly, will they like the movie because the voice actors are famous? No, not really.

In fact, the dubbing is the weakest part of the film. The voicing was reminiscent of Japanese animé shown on local TV. Imagine watching Toy Story dubbed in highly- theatrical Tagalog. That’s what it felt like. The lines as they were written sounded natural, but the way they were said was much too exaggerated. No subtlety or voice dynamics at all.

Animation-wise, RPG Metanoia is already at par with foreign animated features. The CGI (computer-generated imagery) was flawless. The art was so good that local companies better start taking better care of their animators before Pixar and Dreamworks entice them over to greener pastures.

The scoring was also well-chosen and well-timed. Gerard Salonga and FILharmoniKA created a wonderful sound backdrop to the scenes, and the use of original Filipino music was just right, neither overwhelming nor underwhelming the story.

Above all, RPG Metanoia can really be praised for embodying the Filipino culture and showcasing Pinoy pride. A lot of elements of everyday life were inserted into the film, such as the food, electric fans, tricycles and the sari-sari store. Seeing a CGI daing na bangus is actually more exciting and amusing than it seems.

Little details clearly showed the importance of OFWs and of family, the cultural passion for basketball, and even the popularity of Internet cafés and MMORPGs (massively multiplayer online role-playing games). A short segment set in virtual Korea was a reference to the love for Koreanovelas in the country.

Even Philippine history was touched upon. The main character, Nico (Jaranilla) uses a yo-yo as a weapon, as Filipino tribesmen did when they invented what is now a popular toy. The scenery in Metanoia, the fictional game the story revolves around, included a street, a church, and a kalesa that wouldn’t be out of place in Intramuros.

But perhaps the most endearing and memorable scene in the entire movie was the montage of Philippine games, including jolen, patintero and sipa. It served as a reminder of the pastimes of old, to educate a generation less familiar to the street games that served as the sole source of entertainment for most children years ago.

RPG Metanoia was full of lessons. The importance of allotting time for family was heavily emphasized, as was the importance of sharing glory, teamwork and trust. Another crucial message delivered by the film was striking the balance between real games and computer games — a problem faced by many kids not just in the country, but around the world.

Balance is probably what makes it a very good film. The new format successfully told a story emphasizing old and existing values and traditions. The serious lessons were tempered by witty lines and funny, but realistic, situations.

RPG Metanoia should play role model to the Philippine movie industry. It has raised the bar high for future projects (hopefully, not just the animated ones!). Let’s hope the success of this animated feature isn’t just beginner’s luck.

If this quality is maintained and improved, the Philippines will be well on its way to producing animation that would give John Lasseter a run for his money.

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