Monday couldn’t have started better. Just as people were opening their eyes to another full day of WFH and overeating, Netflix dropped some pretty exciting news: Avid Liongoren’s animation film is coming to the streaming giant and will premiere this October 29. It is the first animated Netflix film from the Philippines.
The banner image is intriguingly cute, too—a purrty little cat in some kind of sexy uniform, sandwiched between a “borta” mongrel and a dapper-looking dog carrying a bouquet. The title is charming: “Hayop Ka! The Nimfa Dimaano Story” (although memories of Carlo J Caparas movies came rushing back). And the promise of a Filipino cartoon for adults showing on Netflix is indeed quite thrilling.
The film is being described as an adult comedy that offers a “refreshing look at societal expectations, personal aspirations and the classic love triangle.” But the gist sounds more interesting. Perfume sales kitty Nimfa (voiced by Angelica Panganiban) is in a relationship with the mongrel janitor Roger (Robin Padilla). All is well in the world until a burgis business dog by the name of Iñigo Villanueva (Sam Milby) strikes up some pretty alarming chemistry with our dispatsadora. “Will Nimfa and Roger’s love for DVDs and cheap street food keep them together”—the press release asks—“or will Iñigo’s high society charms tear them apart?”
Like many great ideas, this one was born while creative people were stuck in traffic. Director Liongoren tells ANCX he was with art director Jether Amar when they decided to tune into a noontime radio drama a few years back. The voice talents were so into the exercise that their seriousness alone already had Liongoren and Amar in stitches. “And when the ubiquitous angry line, ‘Hayop ka!’ was said, I thought, that would be great if it were literal,” the director recalls, “to have animals say that to one another!”
So Liongoren and company tested it on animation, ripped the audio from the radio soap and were pleased with the result. That’s when they decided they will push to make it into a film. Liongoren, who directed the 2016 MMFF charmer “Saving Sally”, asked Manny Angeles to write the first draft and co-produce the movie. They pitched it to a grant-giving local festival but they had no ready answer to the question, “What is your statement and advocacy?”
The thing is, says Liongoren, “We just wanted to make people laugh!”
So they didn’t give up on the material, and instead decided to improve on it. They asked Paulle Olivenza to polish the script, and when they received the money from the sales of “Saving Sally,” their debut film, Rocketsheep, their studio, “got to work.”
Making an animated film is a very expensive proposition, and it could also take years, but shortly after deciding to fund the project themselves, Joyce Bernal, Piolo Pascual et al. came into the picture. “Spring FIlms came in so we did not have to sell our internal organs!” recalls Liongoren.
The project took three years to complete all in all. It was Spring Films (“Kimmy Dora,” “Kita Kita,” “Meet Me in St Gallen”) who brought the project to Netflix. There were other plans, of course, back when the world had no idea what March 2020 will bring. “We were all set to have a festival premiere last March in Montreal's Fantasia—one of the best genre festivals in the world,” recalls the director. “They invited our film after having seen a work in progress back in January. So the plan was do a bunch of festivals first then do theatrical run in the PH.”
But all’s well that ends well. “My team and I took over 3-years of serious hard work to create this light and comical film,” says Liongoren in the Netflix press info. If the grant-giving festival people could see him now, he is even ready for an answer to the question about his movie’s advocacy. “While our main goal is to elicit a few laughs,” he says, “our advocacy is to encourage local animation production.”
Liongoren laments the fact that while the Philippines is top of mind when it comes to
outsourcing animation services in the global arena, and is home to thousands of brilliant animators, the Filipino animator is not known for “ideating and producing” his own work. ”There have been less than 10 animated feature films in the entire 100-year history of Philippine cinema, and we want to continue adding to that,” Liongoren says, “while also hoping that little by little, someday Filipino animators can be known as not just service providers, but creators as well.”
The situation that the “Hayop Ka!” director is describing may not be in the very near future but that would surely be one great day to wake up to.