sizable hit last Christmas, this Hong Kong animated
feature is obviously targeted at children. Aside from
the cute character designs, My Life as McDull comes
complete with merchandising and an extensive ancillary
franchise. The animation is aided by obvious computer
generated backgrounds, but it retains a charming hand-drawn
look that's pleasing to the tykes. McDull is an animated
pig. And he's cute.
With all that, it's a
wonder that My Life as McDull turns out to have
a rather existential theme and a narrative style that
would do Hideaki Anno (of Neon Genesis Evangelion)
proud. Massive voice-over from an adult McDull (voiced
by Jan Lam) narrates this episodic tale of young McDull's
experiences with hope and disappointment as he and his
mother (voiced by Sandra Ng) struggle through their
McDull was born dimwitted
despite his mother's prayers for a handsome, smart son.
There's no Dad around, so Mom has to make do alone.
Mom continually prays for McDull's luck and life to
change. However, his desires are simple. He wants to
go to the Maldives. He wants a turkey dinner for Christmas.
He wants things that are beyond their means.
They really can't afford these
things, but his mother tries to please him anyway. She
gets him the turkey, but the leftovers drive him crazy.
Instead of the Maldives, she takes McDull to The Peak
and pretends it's the Maldives. In exchange, McDull
can only give into his mother's wishes and attempt to
make something of himself. He decides to train to become
an Olympic level athlete like Hong Kong Olympian Li
San-San. However, the trade he learns is Cheng Chau
Bun Catching, which involves training heavily to snatch
meat buns from large towers. Huh?
It's actually esoteric
details like these that make the movie special. My
Life as McDull is steeped in a realistic, actual
representation of Hong Kong, from the Peak Tram to the
Wellcome grocery stores. McDull and his mother may be
animated pigs, but their lives are those of working
class Hong Kong residents. They visit the market and
the temple regularly. Getting to Central requires a
trip on the bus, and getting to Cheng Chau means taking
the ferry. Landmarks (like Times Square in Causeway
Bay) and streets are made to be actual. The Bun Catching
thing is based on an actual festival activity that once
took place in Hong Kong. It's a charming, involving
effect, especially for those who either live or have
visited the region.
life has large metaphorical implications that are quite
obvious when you stop to take a look. Despite being
dim-witted and below average, McDull struggles gamely
to make something of himself. He wants to be true to
his mother's love and remains positive in his goals.
And even if he never seems to make it, there's something
inspiring in his effort. That he's an animated pig practicing
bun-snatching kung-fu makes everything seem silly, but
the sentiments behind it are not.
The stumbling block here
is the self-referential storytelling that could leave
most kids in the dust. Do any children out there really
enjoy watching barely animated still frames with existential
voiceover laid on top? The film's sentiments can prove
quite charming and affecting, but when it comes out
in existential voiceover, you would think that the kids
would never catch it. The sounds and images speak to
them, but the film's voice ultimately might not.
However, adults may find
all of that affecting, which is great because they're
the ones who have to take kids to the movies. With the
pleasing look, generous humor, and amiable tone, most
adults might not even notice that they're getting storytelling
that isn't much different from the pubicly-reviled Wong
Kar-Wai. As it is, My Life as McDull provides
it's share of hackneyed messages, but the form in which
they're delivered is exceptionally pleasant. For kids'
stuff, McDull is more than all right. (Kozo 2002)