Fikri Jermadi saw this amongst the cheap DVDs on sale at Video Ezy, and wondered why.
‘Ribbit’ is an animated feature film offering from KRU Studios. In my opinion, the company remains at the forefront in breaking new ground for a lot of Malaysian films and filmmakers. They have positioned themselves in such a manner that it appears to be more ‘international’ than most.
‘Ribbit’ carries on from this, featuring a largely international cast of voice actors. For the most part, I suspect interested might be drummed up more by the presence of Sean Astin as the lead character. His is a name most would remember more from the original trilogy of The Lord of the Rings. Brief appearances are made by other performers such as Russell Peters and Tim Curry, though it is interesting to note that Lydia Lubon, a Malaysian filmmaker in her own right, also has a role here. I am aware of her more as a documentarian than as a voice actor, so it is a pleasant surprise to see/hear her here (unless there is actually another Lydia Lubon).
The story itself is fairly simple and easy to take on board. Ribbit (Sean Astin) is a frog who has felt rather different from a lot of the other frogs in his habitat. He feels as if he is destined for something bigger, though his friends, such as Sandy (Cherami Leigh) is not entirely convinced. After all, how do we know how truly special we all are? She felt that Ribbit need not venture out into the bigger parts of the Amazonian rainforest, but, failing to stop him, she comes along anyways, in the hope of helping and protecting him.
Along the way, they encounter a number of different characters such as Deepak (Russell Peters) and Terrence (Tim Curry), a toucan whose sexuality in any other context may well have been questioned. Rather than break down barriers, though, many of these characters merely affirm to the accepted norm. Deepak, for example, denoted strong signs of Eastern spirituality (his Indian does not help with distancing comparisons to Deepak Chopra). The same goes for Terrence, who comments on how cute a couple Sandy and Ribbit makes; it’s almost as if he is the embodiment of the majority of the male makeup artists I have met.
Is all this wrong? Absolutely not, though. If anything, it does make it easier for consumption and digestion by its target audience: younglings. Lest we forget, though I do hope for a wider and more critical understanding and representation of certain types (if we really do need such types to begin with), many children aren’t yet imbued with the kind of skills and abilities to look beyond superficial jokes. This might be something that comes back to bite KRU Studios in the ass, but the fact remains that the litmus test, at least in my experience, is passed.
Why? My little sister claimed that she enjoyed it immensely. My little brother was probably more pre-occupied with playing FIFA 15 on my dad’s Samsung, but their attention was attained long enough to have a decent understanding of the story. More to the point, that connection made suggests that in that regard at least, perhaps this can be the launchpad for something bigger and better than this.
From a character standpoint, though, I feel that perhaps more could have been done for Ribbit. Though his friends treated him slightly differently, the way it all came out suggested they were merely teasing him, rather than actually leaving him on the sidelines. If anything, a lot of the dissatisfaction emanated from Ribbit himself, and while I understand that his skin colour is not entirely the same as the rest, the fact remains that self-marginalisation is no marginalisation at all. I would prefer to have seen scenes of more concrete discrimination, or perhaps a slightly different slant taken in directing the voices to induce a greater sense of alienation for Ribbit.
Then again, is this really the film to do that with? KRU do wish to break new ground, but by and large that desire has shown itself more on the production side of things and less on the story development on the silver screen. This is, of course, a good step taken in the right direction (to my eye, there is a decent enough consistency for the animation that marks it out from the rest of the local fare, though the theme song may not be entirely appropriate in some scenes), but it does pale in some comparison to the next DVD I picked up while I was at Video Ezy: ‘Seefood’. I’ve wanted to see that film for a while, and suddenly I have the chance to watch two decent Malaysian animated films in a row.
I’m quite pleased by that.
Fikri thinks the time is ripe to discuss Malaysian animation film for the podcast. Merry Christmas, everyone!
Featured image credit: Lauren Manning