Action / Adventure / Animation / Comedy / Family

Rotten Tomatoes Critics - Rotten 17%
Rotten Tomatoes Audience - Spilled 42%
IMDb Rating 5.8 10 5821


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September 27, 2012 at 11:30 AM

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Movie Reviews

Reviewed by TheLittleSongbird 6 / 10

Surprisingly, a bird city worth flying to

Despite being one of the biggest lifelong animation fans out there, being practically raised on Disney films and shows, expectations (even with an all-star vocal cast that does bring some intrigue) were low, with the story not being the most appetising seemingly, that it was low-budget (considering the dubious history of low-budget animation) and that the trailer wasn't the most attention-grabbing in the world.

'Zambezia' actually turned out to be a pleasant surprise. It's not a great film and could have been executed better, but it could have been a million times than it turned out to be. Although inexperience does show, understandably and inevitably, and it is rough around the edges, 'Zambezia' was clearly made with good intentions and has a heart of gold underneath its lack of refinement. It does actually try, almost too hard even at times, it doesn't feel like a lazy rip-off of anything and tries to attract a wider audience than its primary target audience (while still appealing to them) by having numerous famous faces, some of which unfamiliar to voice acting, to draw in those not so big on animation but likes any of the actors.

For a debut feature from Triggerfish, 'Zambezia' really isn't half bad and puts low-budget studios that have been around much longer to shame. Primarily Video Brinquedo, Spark Plug Entertainment and Dingo Pictures, companies that produce, or churn out shall we say, low-budget animation, where the only slightly watchable animation between the three of them was Spark Plug Entertainment 'A Cars Life 3' and even that wasn't particularly good.

Back to 'Zambezia', as said it is rough around the edges and inexperience shows a bit in parts. Was impressed by the animation actually most, but there is a lack of finesse in the odd transition and some stiff character designs. At times the story is a bit too busy, things would have been better if there was a little less going on and a few less characters and being dialogue-heavy may have helped a little as well.

Not every character works. Zoe is spirited and likable if also bland and underdeveloped, would have liked more exploration to her character and chemistry with the titular character. Ezee is the standard "annoying" character who gets at times too annoying and his more negative characteristics (like his laziness) goes overboard somewhat and grates.

However, 'Zambezia' does have a lot to like. Its efforts to appeal to its target audience, to all ages, to all the family and to a wider audience is most admirable. As are its good intentions, with some poignantly delivered values and messaging that makes its point but doesn't patronise. It clearly knows what it wants to be and who to aim at, and is not too juvenile or sugary sweet for adults and also not too dark or overly sophisticated for children.

While not all the characters are perfectly executed, most are done remarkably well and have well rounded and defined personalities that stop them from being too standard. There is a likable protagonist who has faults while not being selfish but at the same time he is not made too perfect. The sidekicks are humorous and charming mostly, Sekhuru being the most successful. The more family oriented parts have sincerity and poignancy. And the villains actually pose a threat without being too scary, nothing to give the youngsters nightmares, though Budzo is appropriately pretty sinister, instantly preferable to the bumbling or one-dimensional villains.

The voice work is excellent, with the ones that one expects to be completely wrong for their roles actually being big surprises. The prime example to this is Samuel L. Jackson, who didn't seem the sort of guy to pull off a father figure role that required subtlety (a far cry from Jackson's usually exuberant, over-the-top roles), Jackson is actually surprisingly understated and sincere without sounding bored. Wasn't expecting Richard E. Grant to entirely work either, this is atypical stuff too, but he's entertaining, likewise with Jeff Goldblum. Abigail Breslin and Jeremy Suarez are charming.

Standing out are Leonard Nimoy and especially Jim Cummings. Nimoy clearly has fun with his role but doesn't overdo it, pretty subtle but never less than entertaining (he was no stranger to voice acting by the way, despite being most well known as the iconic 'Star Trek' character Spock). Cummings is one of the best and most sought-after voice actors today, being adept in hero, comedic and villain roles and very few voice actors have that level of versatility, he is truly terrific here being sinister but not being too dark and never bumbling.

Apart from some lack of refinement, the animation is surprisingly good. The landscape and scenery are breath-taking, the colours are vibrant and there was a lot of effort given to little details such as plumes, feathers, slightly bigger ones like the facial expressions and bigger effects in the more action-oriented parts. Maybe it could have been a little more daring, but budget probably disallowed it. The soundtrack is one of the film's best assets, it is nothing short of brilliant and provides about two thirds perhaps of the film's energy (and the film has a lot).

Even though occasionally dialogue-heavy, the script is witty and quirky with some humorous gags while not resorting to cartoonish slapstick and immature misplaced potty humour. A lot of animation today can learn from this. The story is simple, while not being simplistic, and never gets too complicated, in fact this is very easy to follow even with the busy nature and the need at times to do less. It is not the most surprising of stories, but it doesn't get too predictable and the charming characters, vibrant pacing, diverting action, very good vocal cast and humour keep the energy levels high and disallowing boredom to creep in.

Overall, worth flying to without being a masterpiece and being rough around the edges. 6/10 Bethany Cox

Reviewed by Michel Didier 8 / 10

Isn't this movie about the Rainbow Nation?

Having seen the movie on TV and having read all the comments, I was surprised to learn that nobody noted a social-political context. To me it seemed obvious the main plot of Zambezia carries the notion of the 'Rainbow Nation', stressing that by only working together and including every bird, and that goes especially for the evil marabous (with their English accents), a nation can survive and flourish. In other words, South Africa. I thought that was the point the movie wanted to make, apart from the usual coming-of-age and searching-your-roots motives so dear to American movies. But maybe I am digging too deep.

Reviewed by Moritz Meyer 7 / 10

A family-friendly surprise from South-Africa with the ambition to follow in "The Lion King's" footsteps

You can tell if a kids movie just hit the mark, if the young viewers shout "We want to watch this again", immediately after the end credits start to roll. "Zambezia" is a very sweet, well crafted and engagingly told south-African animation, that works very well with its target audience, tells an ambitious story; and ends up being hold back by its budget restrictions.

Director Wayne Thornley aims high with his home grown south-African story of the young hawk Kay, who lives alone with his father at the top of a gorge of the Zambezi in an otherwise deserted landscape. When Kay abandons his home to live in the bird's big city of "Zambezia", where he learns the truth about his origins and has to find his own strength, parallels to "The Lion King", "Finding Nemo" and other genre classics become obvious.

To my surprise, Zambezia fits surprisingly well into the shoes of its predecessors. The animal characters are developed very nicely and with attention to detail. Clearly the creators of this movie know their subjects very well. I always like, when animal characters like these are still rooted in their natural behavior, something "The Jungle Book" or the mentioned "Lion King" do all so well (while annoying movies like the "Madagascar"-franchise don't seem to get this right).

The south-African landscapes are stunning. It is a joy to follow Kay and all the other birds of prey as they race over rivers and waterfalls, through gorges of stone and wood at breakneck pace. These visual treats are accompanied by a simple story with an important message ("Stronger together"), both transported in a very engaging way for the young viewers. The movie is funny and exciting and the main villain is very creepy, so there is a lot to enjoy for the kids.

So, that Zambezia ultimately cannot quite reach the heights of its paragons, has nothing to do with bad story telling or movie making. The creators clearly had a vision of what they wanted to accomplish and it only seems, they have been held back by limited resources. They are some plot points, that would have deserved greater development, such as the relationship between Kay and the female kite "Zoe". Though the story paces along at falcon speed, I would have loved to see some story arcs told with more patience. But these are adult complaints, that surely don't diminish the fun of younger viewers.

Zambezia is a certainly underrated, definitely ambitious and well crafted piece of animation, that deserves to be given greater attention. If you need to kill an afternoon at home with your kids, this one is well worth the time.

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