Cinema Once Upon A Time, directed by Binu Sasidharan, is being touted as Malayalam’s first full-length animated feature film. Sooraj Rajmohan

In this day and age when reading among children is on a decline and quality animated programmes in Malayalam are hard to come by, Mollywood sees the release of what is perhaps its first full-length animated feature film. Once Upon A Time , directed by Binu Sasidharan, features fully motion captured versions of veteran actors Salim Kumar and Mala Aravindan. The 100-minute film hits screens today.

According to Binu, the reason for choosing the medium of animation is the lack of quality content available to children. “From the outset we wanted to make something new and relatable for children. And that is why we’ve chosen to adopt animation and tell tales that are related to our heritage,” he says.

Once Upon A Time is the story of Rahul, a bright child who becomes enamoured with spells and sorcery. After obtaining a book containing spells, Rahul is drawn into a kingdom in another world and begins to influence events there with the help of a trusty sidekick in the form of a miniature doll. The animation has been handled by employing techniques used in the gaming industry, with software such as Daz 3D and iClone bringing these characters to life on the screen. The character models resemble those seen in video games in the late 90s and early 2000s. While this may not be up to the standard of animation seen in Hollywood movies, for a regional production, one can call it a win.

Binu, who has previously worked on an animated version of CID Moosa in 2008, and, more recently, a 3D adaptation of Kuttichathan for home video, has high hopes for his first theatrical release. “We are a small team who believe in working for children, and that effort has really shown in this production. We were also very lucky to have stalwarts such as Salim Kumar and Mala Aravindan agree to do this project. There are plans to bring out more such films in the future depending on the kind of response Once Upon A Time gets,” he says.

A former animator himself, Binu is of the opinion that while there is plenty of young talent in the animation industry, the infrastructure available in the State is not up to par and making a project such as this a daunting task for any team. This seemingly insurmountable challenge is exactly the reason these young individuals spent so much time and effort in making the film, believes Anil Perumpalam, who has done the story, screenplay and dialogue for the film. “We want this movie to be a shot in the arm for animators hailing from Kerala. The entire team that worked on this project over the course of a few years is from the State and they learnt the requisite software and accepted every challenge that was thrown at them. Hopefully, people will take notice of their work and we will see more such productions in future,” he says.

Once Upon A Time is a true clash of some of the most easily recognisable fantasy tales of the modern era, fusing elements of John Carter with a little Shrek and a sprinkling of cheesy humour (for example, the diabolical wizard residing in the forest is called ‘Kukkoosan’!). The film is being released under the banner of FX3 Productions and Vips International. Bijibal has scored the music for the five songs in the movie and Sujatha has lent her voice for one of them.

For better or worse, Once Upon A Time is a refreshing change from the usual fare and hopefully heralds a new era for animated films in Malayalam.

From the outset we wanted to make something new and relatable for children