2018 has been a fairly prolific year for the animated scene in Pakistan.

After Allahyar and the Legend of Markhor, Tick Tock and Donkey King, the third and last installment of the first local animated trilogy 3 Bahadur opened to cinemas on December 14. Co-produced by ARY Films and Waadi Animations, 3 Bahadur - Rise of the Warriors sees Sharmeen Obaid-Chinoy return as director, whilst Kamran Khan serves as its writer.

The film opens to the three protagonists, Saadi (voiced by Zuhab Khan), Amna (Arisha Razi) and Kamil (Bashar Amir Shafi) struggling to control their powers when they're not needed. As Roshan Basti enjoys an era of peace, the superheroes are living their lives as ordinary school-going children... until they encounter the enigmatic circus performer, Erma (more on her later) and are forced to think about the drought that their village is facing.

While the premise is intriguing enough on paper, there’s little room for experimentation and growth as the story evolves. One has seen the Bahadurs embark on missions that are too familiar for their own good in its previous features, which is why Rise of the Warriors has nothing very innovative to offer that furthers the progression of its narrative.

The titular characters, nonetheless, are relatable in spite of their superpowers. The 10-year-old sitting next to me in the theatre could easily identify with Kamil running late for school or not always being the best behaved. Beyond that, the inflation of vegetable and fruit prices, the language that the parents use, the chopsticks game that the children play and the algebraic equation written on the board at their school are all taken from one’s daily routines.

The story, though purely fiction, also provides enough food for thought. [Spoiler alert] The fact that the 3 Bahadur are willing to sacrifice their abilities for the greater good tells children to be mindful of their community's needs. Except for a scene or two, the social commentary doesn’t get preachy either; it is subtle, yet evocative, which is what the previous installments seemed to have lacked.

Khan's script also features characters like Pateeli or the dog Gabru who provide comic relief that is age-appropriate (looking at you, Donkey King). Though the first half lingers on for a little too long, without adding to the plot itself and only establishing the grounds that have already been set, the second half provides high-voltage action that is well conceptualised and the climax sequence between the Bahadurs, their families and the extraterrestrial forces keeps you glued to your seat.

Chinoy, going by her body of work, tries to emphasise female strength in the movie by introducing Babushka (Nimra Bucha) and Erma (Mehwish Hayat), two formidable women from a parallel world into the main narrative. From its very beginning, 3 Bahadur promoted the message of gender equality with the feisty Amna standing shoulder to shoulder with the other Bahadurs. The addition of colourful, intricately designed characters, especially those that engage in some complicated combat sequences, certainly affects how children view the strength of women around them – bravo!

New characters in 3 Bahadur
New characters in 3 Bahadur

The animation, if not deteriorated, has mostly definitely not improved since the last installment. In times where expectations are rising, 3 Bahadur: Rise of the Warriors falls short in being technically sound. Although all voiceover artists do complete justice to their characters, bringing about the right expressiveness and variation in emotion, the three-dimensional rendering, the interaction between characters and the hinges in the character sculptures are all straight out of a video game from the '90s.

In some of the first scenes, there’s a McDonalds outlet as Amna rushes to get a hold of Erma, and I think to myself that the brand placement is decent. Little did I know, there would soon follow a two-minute advert (or longer) of Dettol Warriors, reinforcing how ‘cleanliness’ is the way forward, followed by the 3 Bahadur themselves washing their hands with… yup, you guessed it right, Dettol.

Time and again, corporate involvement in films has overpowered the creative product, doing nothing more than frustrating the viewers out of their minds. [Spoiler alert] The film, as always, concludes with a hint of what’s next in store for the 3 Bahadur: they appear to be getting ready to team up with Dettol Warriors to battle a disease-causing monster.

Now I don’t know about you, but over the past three installments, 3 Bahadur has independently given Pakistan not only its first animated series but also superhero franchise. Even though Chinoy has announced her next animated superhero trilogy Sitara, letting go of the 3 Bahadur franchise to product placement is not what I was expecting.