Bhutan’s first 2D animated cartoon begins screening today

Review: For those lamenting the dearth in local content, especially in the animated cartoon genre, a milestone occurs today. The first locally written and produced feature-length cartoon begins screening.

Drukten – The Dragon’s Treasure tells the story of four friends: a wise-cracking monkey always looking to grab a bite, a courageous elephant, an academically-gifted rabbit, and a gentle and compassionate bird.

The four of them attend a school located under a giant oak tree. It is all fun and games until one day, the leaves on the oak tree begin falling unexpectedly. The school’s gardener, the dragon Drukten, reveals to the horror of the four friends that it is dying. Drukten explains this is because the tree is nourished by the positive energy around it but that a demoness has been spreading hate and fear across the land, and as a result, causing it to weaken.

But they can save it by undertaking a mission to find four treasures hidden across the country.

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The four friends agree to set off on the treasure hunt to save the tree and the adventure begins.

The characters are based on the popular Bhutanese folktale of the “Four Harmonious Friends” (Thuenpa Puenzi), and the story line is deeper than simply a treasure hunt. The treasures once found are simple but essential ingredients that lead to happiness such as compassion and empathy.

For anyone concerned with the advertisements and violence-laden content on TV and the internet that children are exposed to today, Drukten is a welcome alternative.

The driving force behind the cartoon was to create an original, authentic and Bhutanese alternative to the many foreign cartoons available in the country, according to co-writer and co-producer Rabsel Dorji.

Given that this is the first production for local co-writers Rabsel Dorji and Nawang Euden, there are areas that can be improved upon. The dialogue during certain portions may have been a little too mature for young audiences.

The cartoon is also primarily in English, an idea, which some may disagree with. However, Rabsel Dorji said that a Dzongkha version will be out shortly. “With English being the language of instruction in our education system, we believe that everyone will be able to enjoy the movie and its themes of friendship and unity,” he said. “In a way, the story of Drukten is also the story of Bhutan, so we wanted to make sure that people outside Bhutan could understand it too.”

The animation in the cartoon sets a benchmark for local animators. A high level has been set and we can only expect it to improve and get more sophisticated.

Drukten took over 16 months to produce. “This is quite long because we decided to invest the entire process in-country rather than finding cheaper, faster alternatives in India,” Rabsel Dorji said. “The animation industry is still at a nascent stage, so, many challenges we faced were related to developing a 2D animation film for the first time in Bhutan,” he added. “It is a big risk financially also because we have invested almost twice the cost of what a standard Bhutanese film costs, and taken so much time to do it properly as well.”

The good news is that the co-producers plan to keep creating more local cartoons. “There are no shortage of wonderful Bhutanese folktales that can be adapted into animation, and we are already planning our next film,” Rabsel Dorji said.

Drukten screens at the Trowa theatre every weekend.

Gyalsten K Dorji

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