One of the key reasons why I got interested in watching this film was to see how far Thai animated films have come, and The Buddha offered a good platform since it's about a subject matter I'm vaguely familiar with from films such as Bernardo Bertolucci's The Little Buddha (not that it's definitive), and for some reason this being a free screening at Sinema Old School, which probably accounted for its full house today filled with audiences very young (who were making their fair share of noise with parents indulging and not ticking them off to behave) and old, no doubt many amongst the audience were religious followers since they just about knew the significance of each scene.
The narrative is quite simple, encompassing the entire journey of Prince Siddhartha's birth, to his privileged yet deliberately protected teenage years, his wanting to find out about the truth and to alleviate people's suffering, hence his renouncing of his material wealth, relations and throne to seek out that path to Enlightenment, the attainment of Nirvana and the battle with Evil, the spread of Dharma and of course ended at his physical passing. For those unfamiliar with the story of Buddha, this perhaps allows for a very quick, summarized version of his life on Earth, hitting all the major milestones that one would have read about, such as how rosy a picture his father the King had painted the kingdom to be so that Siddhartha would not be catalyzed, as prophesied, into leaving his kingdom behind for his higher calling.
As a film, there were a multitude of characters to get ourselves acquainted with, some being quite fleeting who without character titles I would have been quite lost. As far as animation standards go, do not expect Pixar, though the film offered a rather unique look and feel but at times thought that the movement of characters and objects became a little bit stiff. Obviously a dubbed version since the mouths of the characters move out of sync from time to time from the English language track, I was initially worried at first that this film would be in the Thai language with Chinese subtitles only, but a quick check with Sinema revealed the version obtained was the English speaking one. Care was also taken to cast Indian voices in all the roles, since India was after all the birthplace of Buddha, and the story here adopted from the Tipitaka and Pali Canon.
Personally I had preferred the first half of the film chronicling Siddhartha's life as a Prince, and that of his struggles in exploring and dedicated attempts in finding enlightenment, only to realize the middle way is the way since extremism in either side of the spectrum spelt disaster. And in some ways this is most true when you think about how and what moderation means. There's even massive action sequences with battles against demons wanting him to fail in his spiritual quest, as well as slight unintentional comedy coming from how the characters were drawn to behave in a seduction scene. For its rating there was a surprising dismemberment scene that had a parent react with a little shock and quickly taking to allay her child's bewilderment.
The second half got a little bit too deep for a non-follower since we get to the point past Enlightenment, and a slew of devotees come seeking the Buddha's advice, followed by a number of very fleeting sections of his travels around the country. Here the pearls of wisdom get dispensed, and I suppose devotees will get a lot from this film than the casual viewer like myself. Still it got everything wrapped up in a nutshell as a quick jumpstart introduction into the life of Buddha and his teachings, packaged in animation done by Thailand with inputs and vetting by the necessary subject matter experts so you can be assured of some quality control in terms of storytelling.
Those interested, there is one more screening at Sinema Old School on 22 July 8pm, and the film has also been made available on home video in Singapore by Kong Meng San Phor Kark See Monastery as part of her Vesak Celebration this year.