Brad and Angelina are right in front of my face.
At least the panda versions of them, and along with the rest of their version of the Brady bunch, no less. It’s a concept that’s equal parts endearing and hilarious at the same time, drawn distinctly enough to look like the Hollywood power family they are, but without the crassness of a parody.
The Brangelina brood was created by LA-based Filipino multimedia artist Randy D. Rosario, along with a plethora of figures taken from pop culture: there’s a beheaded Marie Antoinette panda, a VMAs Miley Cyrus panda—hell, even a Sailor Moon panda, but none of which is the main star.
Instead, they are only part of a series of colorful characters in a panda world Randy has so animatedly conjured. The hero of the story is The Panda Rabbit, a furry hybrid animal shunned by all the other pandas for being so different and one-of-a-kind.
The Panda Rabbit is Randy’s main thesis, a unique creation that has spurned a whole host of other projects. What started as a poem turned into a year-long production of an animated short film that he wrote, directed, and edited all by himself. There are elements of live action, puppetry, stop motion, and 3D animation that Randy worked on singlehandedly, down to the Panda Rabbit costume. The result? A 6-minute cartoon that has the quirks and aesthetic appeal of a Tim Burton film, crossed over with the hilarity and charm of a Teletubbies episode. Let that image sink in for a bit.
“I think there’s a little bit of the panda rabbit in all of us,” Randy shares, a bit of insight as to why the character has resonated with a number of people in the shows he’s done in LA and Europe. It’s his first time doing a show in Manila, let alone visit the country, and viewers here at home have taken a liking to his fuzzy hero. In the movie, he straps on the furry costume and hauls himself in front a green screen, bringing life to the lonely panda rabbit whose television set is his only solace.
There is something familiar and oddly appealing about the peculiar appearance of the Panda Rabbit— a freak show in his fictitious world, but we celebrate him for all his weirdness and difference anyway, which is exactly the point. “I just wanted to create something different,” Randy says of the panda-rabbit hybrid that has created a demand for merchandise abroad such as stickers, post cards, and T-shirts. The appeal is not unlike popular cartoon Adventure Time, gaining a following among the artsy, the geek, and nerdy-hipster crowds, but Randy doesn’t know how far being “different” will get him just yet. Back in LA, Randy’s schedule is filled with meetings with film executives and agencies all looking to “expand” The Panda Rabbit’s appeal. This would mean creating a lot more merchandise and apparel than Randy really cares to make, but he’s ambivalent about the whole thing. “To be honest, I’m not sure if it’s really the direction that I want to go in, but on the other hand, if it’s going to help me create more things then it’s probably a good idea as well.”
It’s really baffling and amusing at the same time to think how this wunderkind does it all. A predominant art background has led him to a day job drawing up illustrations for his clients at an ad agency, while juggling other film and design projects on the side. He’s never gone to film or fashion school, but it’s his love for creation that fuels him to teach himself other trades. “Besides, there’s nothing you can’t learn that isn’t on Youtube these days,” he laughs.
In his show here in Manila, he’s also taken on the new trade of philanthropy. The Panda Rabbit is in collaboration with The Dream Project, a local volunteer initiative committed to shaping the dreams of the Filipino youth. Proceeds from The Panda Rabbit merchandise will go to the organization, which has spearheaded creative and out-of-the-box projects for the kids. Fitting, as the Panda Rabbit can teach a thing or two about believing in oneself despite the odds.
Maybe, it can teach something to not-so-little-kids as well. There is something enticing about the eccentric and misunderstood. Whatever the case, the rabbit-eared panda looks hella good on a shirt.
*Photos by Nichelle Cueto