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
Action / Adventure / Animation / Comedy / Family
Action / Adventure / Animation / Comedy / Family
Set in a bustling bird city on the edge of the majestic Victoria Falls, "Zambezia" is the story of Kai - a naïve, but high-spirited young falcon who travels to the bird city of "Zambezia" where he discovers the truth about his origins and, in defending the city, learns how to be part of a community.
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September 27, 2012 at 11:30 AM