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Movie review: 'Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor' (2018)

Edited as of 20:44
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Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor (trailer) is a 2018 computer-animated children's film. Produced in Pakistan, it's the country's third animated film, made by 3rd World Studios and directed by Uzair Zaheer Khan. Furry fans can skip this one. It's so-so, probably only of interest to young kids, who'll either need to understand Urdu or be able to read subtitles.

The story involves a young boy named Allahyar, creative but shy, raised by a single dad who works as a forest ranger in northern Pakistan. After his father gets knocked unconscious by a hunter, Allahyar rescues Mehru, a young markhor (a species of goat, the country's national animal) and sets out to return her to her family who live on a distant mountain.

Turns out that by showing bravery for a markhor and by having a pure heart, Allahyar fulfills the prophecy of being "The Protector", and gets the ability to speak to animals. They're joined on their journey by Hero, a chukar partridge, and Chakku, a young snow leopard. The hunter, Mani, is on their trail the whole time.

Where to start with this one - the pacing goes back and forth between slow travel and occasional action; the journey itself doesn't begin until a third of the way into the film's 90-minute running time. Strangely, outside of the action parts, Allahyar and his three companions don't really do much on their journey, rarely using their skills to help each other out - it's more of an inter-personal dynamic going on.

Allahyar has a small character arc, building self-confidence, except his moments of bravery are repeatedly undermined when he back-slides into being sad and moody, so it doesn't feel like there's progress. Mind you, it does make him feel more realistic, because from his point of view, he's lost his family and is still dealing with it. Mehru the markhor is the only female in the main cast, and is the most mature character. Unfortunately she has to put up with unwelcome come-ons from Hero the partridge when they first meet, a form of harassment made worse by treating it as funny.

Hero is the fast-talking comedian of the group, and mildly annoying. Unable to fly due to an injured wing, he claims martial arts prowress but never uses any. He's got feather fingers and teeth. Chakku the snow leopard is a late-comer to the group, and also a bit annoying, although his attitude is understandable, stemming from losing his parents to poachers. He has solid black spots instead of rosettes.

Mani the hunter and antagonist is the most competent person in the movie, whose cool physical skills are better than everyone else's put together. He's also a crude, sadistic bully, and thoroughly unlikeable. And there's a side-character here and there, most notably three hungry wolves, one older and smart one, one fat and dopey one, and one that's... purple, for some reason.

In terms of animation, the movie was made using the Unreal Engine. The movement of water looks great! As for character designs... the textures are ok, except hair and fur don't move much. It varies between characters and scenes. Sometimes things ruffle a bit in the wind. Other times, hair and fur looks hairy and furry, but acts solid. This is most noticeable on the snow leopard, a fluffy species who ends up looking short-haired and a little plastic. I was a little put off by Allahyar's giant head, some questionable rabbit designs, and... some kind of mustelid that was after chickens? I have no idea what species it was supposed to be.

Writing-wise, the story is nothing special. The occasional toilet humor could have been left out. There are only two or three songs, none of which last long, so that's fine. There are a couple of obvious, repeated topics for kids: Stay positive, only hunt for food, and never judge anyone by their race or religion. The movie's grander purpose was to encourage the protection of nature and animals, and yet this is never really discussed, unlike the other moral messages.

I definitely wasn't this film's target audience, but still, there were things I liked about it. First off, the landscapes were good. My guess is, that's supposed get the audience to appreciate the beauty of nature. Allahyar's dad was a very positive father figure. I liked most of the designs of Mehru, Hero, and the head wolf. One of the songs was animated nicely, using a flock of colorful birds. When Allahyar realizes he can understand Mehru, there's a fun reversal when Mehru has a similiar realization ("Wait, you can understand me?") and starts speaking to him slowly, "My - name - is - Mehru." And also I liked the ending.

Otherwise, I think the script could have used some improvement. Mehru openly asks why Hero can't fly to warn her family about the hunter, which is when Hero explains his injured wing. Of course, nothing is stopping them from asking another bird for help, but they don't. I do wish the film had included more animal interactions along their journey. The fauna was surprisingly sparse, probably due to animation budget constraints. Riding with the herd of oxen was fun though.

Would I recommend this film? Not particularly, it's neither amazing nor terrible, you won't be missing anything noteworthy. It's an ok film for young kids, and the animation studio definitely has some potential. You may be able to watch it on Netflix.

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