VIFF 2012 Review: MCDULL, THE PORK OF MUSIC Is A Worthy Continuation Of The Franchise

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VIFF 2012 Review: MCDULL, THE PORK OF MUSIC Is A Worthy Continuation Of The Franchise
McDull, a little pig with a big heart, comes from a long line of adorable yet pointed social commentary created by writer Brian Tse and cartoonist Alice Mak over the past 20 years. A little too plump and not too smart by his own admission, McDull has found his place in the limelight with a handful of feature length films and a batch of colorful characters and salty observations. The world, and all its subdued pleasures and inevitable disappointments, is reflected through the misadventures of McDull and his Kindergarten classmates made up of various little animals and an occasional human. This latest installment, McDull: The Pork of Music, highlights Springfield Kindergarten's resilient Headmaster and his love for singing that he attempts to instill in his bedraggled students. The economic bust lurks behind the drama, both at the micro level, as the school attempts to keep the lights on and the doors open, and on the macro level, where the stock market crash waylays the Hong Kong psyche in finely drawn associations.
Working multiple jobs around the clock, the Headmaster of Springfield Kindergarten is committed to keeping his school open. When a less than impressive alumni fundraiser fails to come up with the money needed, it is discovered that although the various underachievers of Springfield may not be rich, they nonetheless have a honey-voiced virtuosity. The Headmaster, it seems, has an outstanding touch for choral training, and a plan is hatched to turn McDull and his classmates into an award winning, crowd pleasing, agent worthy choir. The agent they end up hiring, named Big M, is good at getting the adorable, hard-working Springfield Choir gigs but is terrible at managing their money. Their crowning achievement, revealed in the opening scenes, is touring with "Perfect Andy," otherwise know as heavenly king Andy Lau.

All problems solved? Not quite. The Pork of Music, as well the other McDull films, is not interested in a tidy conflict-resolution tale, but rather a more complex and upbeat tenacity in the face of dissolution. And this is where the film and its franchise play a unique role with equal measures of pragmatism and playfulness. As serious as it is in recognizing and paying tribute to the dedication of music teachers, it also has a running joke that the best singing will induce an uncontrollable urge to defecate. This is the source of numerous conversations and one-liners with kids and adults (even Perfect Andy) going on and on about "bin bin." Although the cheeky language is reserved to those fluent in Cantonese, the silliness is often transparent to the careful listener and observer, some of which is created in the catchy tunes. Not the least of which is a cute car jingle that has the little tykes quickly singing and pumping their arms to the unmistakable tune of Khachaturian's "Sabre Dance"--a performance sure to prompt the giggles every time.

The voice acting stays the same with Sandra Ng paying McDull's brash mother and Anthony Wong the Headmaster, and casting Ronald Cheng as the slightly sleazy Big M. The McDull artistic team has added illustrator Yeung Hok-tak to the line-up, who is responsible for some of the quirky character designs that show up in this film. Stylistically however, the animation has not changed drastically, and features a mixture of flat, line-drawn scenes with more rich and textured drawings and periodic adventures into the surreal. The Pork of Music may not be the best McDull has to offer, but thematically and stylistically, Tse and Mak give exactly what is expected to fans and an oddity lite to the uninitiated. McDull remains an eccentric prince in a genre that generally runs saccharine and uninventive. In the end, Springfield Kindergarten falls to the inevitable, but the Headmaster is left with a resounding appreciation for the students he has inspired, to both sensational and ordinary ends. The thoughtful yet pragmatic coda at the conclusion of The Pork of Music does not fit into the normal confines of feature length animation, but that is what makes McDull and his collective of earthbound dreamers so special.

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