Whenever I think of animation, especially at the cinema, my mind always rushes straight to Pixar and Disney without much hesitation. We’re so embedded in our western culture that we tend to forget there’s a whole other world out there. Asia is renowned for producing animation, although the most popular contribution mostly comes from Japanese anime. That’s why I approached Katuri, A Story of a Mother Bird with utmost curiosity. Screened as part of the 2012 London Korean Film Festival, the film is a less than half-hour long CG-animated short, based on a beloved Korean children novel by Kwon Jung Saeng.
Katuri is a mother pheasant that spends her days providing for her nine vivacious little children. It’s not an easy job to keep them in line, entertain them and at the same time protect them. Especially her youngest one, Mattuni, is quite the curious type who tends to sneak out of the group and wander off to explore on his own. This little happy family enjoys spring in the countryside but soon enough, a dangerous threat in the form of a (quickly spreading) wildfire looms over their peaceful, carefree time, posing the ultimate challenge for the loving mother bird.
Needless to say that the quality of this film’s CG animation is far away from Pixar levels but as a viewer and a writer preoccupied with the substance of storytelling, I can’t help but commend Katuri for not shying away from inevitably dark territories. In spite of playing out as a pre-school child’s cartoon filled with merry singing through its first and second act, the film turns into a coming of age tale worthy of Bambi’s and The Lion King’s famously dramatic moments. The scope is quite reduced since this isn’t a feature length film but the impact on children’s psyche isn’t any less emotionally stirring. It was actually quite endearing to notice a Korean’s family in the theatre explaining to their little child why what happened on screen had to happen.
Rather surprising was how they actually chose to screen the film in English. You would expect to watch the original version at the Korean Festival but presumably it was an educated commercial decision. I can’t deny it took me out of the experience a bit, since the English-speaking voice cast seemed to try hard mimicking the Disney style, thus clashing with the Eastern sensibility of the story. There’s definitely potential in animation director Gil Hoon Jung’s work. He has fifteen years long experience in the field and has already collaborated with the Western industry as a Visual Supervisor of animated television productions for Disney Junior and Nelvana. It’s hard to see US animation ever being challenged at the box office but it’s interesting to think that more Asian artists might find fortune in Hollywood and bring their sensibility to introduce fresh voices in the realm of animated storytelling.