Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor main poster. Image Credit: Supplied

LAHORE: When 11-year-old Haaris Khalid came out of the movie theatre after watching Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor, not only was he fascinated to learn about Pakistan’s rare species, such as Markhor (wild goat), snow leopard and chakor (bird), he also promised to protect animals from that day on.

“The animals are so cute and friendly and I want to save them and their homes from evil hunters,” said little Haaris.

His mother, Sabeera Khalid, said: “Not just my kids, even I thoroughly enjoyed the movie. The best part is that it makes you care about nature and animals.”

Playing across Pakistani cinemas this month, the Urdu-language animation movie with an environmental theme is not only a visual delight but also highlights a critical message — wildlife conservation.

The movie, produced by 3rd World Studios in collaboration with WWF Pakistan, refers in its title to ‘Markhor’, Pakistan’s national animal, mostly found in the northern areas.

The movie follows a young boy Allahyar in the northern areas, who discovers the enchanted world of animals and develops an emotional bond with them as he helps a baby Markhor reach home while escaping its hunter.

Along his adventurous journey, Allahyar befriends talking animals, including a Markhor named Mehru; a baby snow leopard called Chakku and a Chakur bird named Hero. The adorable animals, especially the Markhor with its lovely hair flick and baby corkscrew horns, provided the audience with many heart-warming moments. “The movie was a fine blend of sweetness and spectacle. Emotions, humour, action, enthusiasm, moral lessons, friendship, values, it had it all,” said Aleeza Rashid, a cinemagoer.

Beyond the clear, strong message of the urgency of wildlife conservation, what has deeply impressed the audiences is the stunning and majestic natural beauty of Pakistan the movie showcases. Vibrant forests, imposing mountains and the clear blue skies of Pakistan are leaving audiences in thrall.

“The film was a delightful experience. Never had I thought that one day I would watch a Pakistani animation movie as crisp as that of a Pixar [production],” blogged Mohammad Omar Iftikhar.

The filmmakers are overjoyed with the response to the film. “We are overwhelmed by the continuous pouring in of audience reviews, messages, emails, appreciating the movie,” said Khan.

The movie’s soundtrack has some promising numbers such as Hum Hain Rahi, sung by Ali Noor, and Muskarai Ja, a cover track of Zohaib Hasan’s famous 1982 number by Natasha Humera Ejaz. The voice artists include Ali Noor, Natasha Humera Ijaz, Anum Zaidi, Nadia Jamil and Hareem Farooq, among others.

With Allahyar and the Legend of Markho, director Uzair Zaheer Khan and producer Usman Iqbal have proven the potential of Pakistan as a country that can make animation movies with flair to charm audiences all over the world. Pakistan’s first full-length computer animated film 3 Bahadur (3 brave ones) was released in 2015.

Uzair Zaheer Khan, director and writer, has worked in the CG (computer graphics) industry for nearly two decades on a number of projects including the award-winning Pakistani animated TV series, Burka Avenger. Having specialised in character animation from Vancouver Film School, Khan set up 3rd World Studios in 2016 to put Pakistan’s animation industry on the world map.

“One of our aims, through this film, is to encourage more Pak-istanis to venture into the uncharted territory of animation and spur a trend towards animated content, as there’s enormous talent in Pakistan,” Khan told Gulf News.

On the inevitable comparisons to productions from Walt Disney studios in Hollywood, Khan said: “Disney films are the result of decades of experience and expertise; hundreds of millions of dollars are spent and tested in the market. I would never compare Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor with Disney. We have a long road ahead of us till we reach that milestone.”

What prompted the him to choose animation to tell the story?

“There are certain stories that can only be done in animation. We had the ambition and skill to raise the bar, we wanted to make Pakistan proud and educate and entertain our children,” Khan explained, adding, “Animation is an excellent tool for encouraging our values, language, culture and pride in our nation.”

But the challenges have stood him, and his team, in good stead and given them the confidence to take on future projects with the help of film partners, WWF, ARY and Gluco, Khan said.

The team believes that films, specifically animation movies, have the potential to effectively convey the message to younger generations. “It is a medium which has been underestimated and underutilised in Pakistan so far,” added associate producer Eyad Ibrahim.