Hayop Ka! The Nimfa Dimaano Story is an adult animated movie directed by Avid Liongoren and made by Rocketsheep Studios, a Philippine-based production company responsible for the cult hit, Saving Sally. With its release on Netflix last week, Hayop Ka! holds the distinction as the first Filipino animated movie ever distributed by Netflix and the only adult animated movie made in the Philippines. The movie is a remarkable achievement and a clear sign that Philippine animation is ready for more. However, its uninspired narrative drags it down several notches and prevents it from being the breakout hit for Philippine animation that it had all the potential to be.
If you’ll humor an animal analogy, Hayop Ka!’s visuals is a champion racehorse ready and raring to go, but its plot is a faulty, overused starting gate that’s keeping it back from dominating the competition.
Hayop Ka! tells the story of Nimfa Dimaano (Angelica Panganiban), a Filipina anthropomorphic cat who works at the department store as a perfume salesperson. Nimfa dreams of a better life than she has with her partner, a dog named Roger (Robin Padilla), even though the two have a healthy and loving relationship. Nimfa eventually meets Iñigo (Sam Milby), a rich, suave entrepreneur husky who charms his way into Nimfa’s life. Nimfa becomes torn between her long-standing relationship with Roger and her exciting fling and the promise of a better life with Inigo.
As we’ve pointed out earlier, Hayop Ka! succeeds in being a gorgeous visual feast for the eyes. The characters are well-drawn and animated, from their expressive faces to subtle body movements as well as the odd action scene or two. The backgrounds are beautifully rendered and lovingly contain tons of nods to real locales in the Philippines as well as tiny clever bits of detail. Best of all, the movie’s use of light and color in its modern, painterly art style is just brilliant. Warm pastel tones drape the background with daylight, cool hues accentuate the lonely melancholy of the Manila night, and the various colors on each of the characters and their clothes —all blend and work together beautifully for a wonderful visual treat.
An additional bonus comes when Hayop Ka! veers away from its natural art style and animation into other styles, showcasing the full range that its animators are capable of. There are quite a few of these moments littered throughout the movie, from intense anime-style fights to a passionate hyper-realistic love-making scene. These not only accentuate the heat of the moment but also flexes the full breadth of its studio’s animation abilities.
Unfortunately, despite the high caliber that its animation aspires to, its narrative set its bar disappointingly low. Its central love-triangle plot is common and hackneyed to oblivion, most especially in Philippine cinema. Where Hayop Ka!’s animation is fresh and new, its plot is old and cliche undeserving its pioneering visuals.
While the story does show the consequences of Nimfa’s horrible choices—which is a welcome variation to the formula—it does little else to show that she has learned or grown from the ordeal. The film does include a handful of images that form its epilogue during the film’s ending credits but that’s basically all you get. What’s worse is that during the film proper, Hayop Ka! is content to just shame and scare the audience into learning its moral—as evidenced by a prolonged encounter with a very unrestrained love advice DJ that berates and demeans Nimfa—rather than attempt any sort of meaningful catharsis with its main character.
Hayop Ka! represents the forefront of our country’s animated prowess. Its art design is vibrant and colorful and its animation is an absolute joy to look at. There are even several scenes in the movie that traverse even its own genre that show that we are ready to make a giant splash in the industry. However, it’s unfortunate that its gorgeous, pioneering visuals are disappointingly weighed down by a rote, unoriginal narrative that’s been overused throughout the entirety of our country’s media.
Let’s be clear: I don’t fault Hayop Ka! for choosing it’s cheating/love triangle narrative. It’s a trope that is so prevalent in our media because it works. It’s an easy-to-grasp concept and also a very common occurrence in our lives that many people gravitate towards it. I just hope that those same people also start asking more from it. More ways to look at the situation. More nuance and complexity to the formula. More insight and thoughtfulness. That way we can explore new territory with it and other storylines. Ask for more because we are clearly ready to tell and consume more.
It is blindingly obvious that Philippine animation has the capacity and ability to excel in the field. That the hard-working Filipino animators with a penchant for action, color, and fun can handle telling beautiful, insightful, and more nuanced narratives. Philippine animation isn’t just ready to tell better stories—frankly, it deserves to. Let’s give them the chance to do so.
What did you think of the movie? Let us know in the comments below. For more geek culture and animation stuff check out DC Animated Has Made a Better Cinematic Universe Than The Movies Ever Did and Soothe Your Soul With Ghibli Films On Netflix This April!
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