was an unusual instrument of statecraft and a case of outside-the-box thinking
from Egyptian Pasha Muhammad Ali, a relative modernist in his time. To curry favor with French King Charles X, he
sent the rare gift of a young giraffe.
Getting a giraffe across the Mediterranean was a bit of trick it the
early Nineteenth Century. That journey
inspired Rémi Bezançon & Jean-Christophe Lie’s defiantly 2D Zarafa (trailer here), one of
twenty-one animated features submitted for Oscar consideration, which screens this
Sunday as part of the 2012 St. Louis International Film Festival.
Vieux Sage has gathered the village children to tell them the story of their
ancestor, Maki. It is a tale that does
not start auspiciously. Abducted by
French slave traders as a young boy, Maki escapes with the help of a herd of
giraffes. Nearly recaptured by the head
slaver Moreno, the boy is saved by the mysterious Bedouin Hassan’s timely
intervention, but unfortunately not before the cruel Frenchman murders the
mother of a two year old giraffe.
Pledging to look after Zarafa, as she will be dubbed, just as the
giraffes looked after him, Maki will dog Hassan all the way to France, who in
turn will attempt to fulfill his duties to the Pasha.
have to love the 2D. Bezançon and Lie
have a lush visual sense, clearly inspired by their Arabian and Mediterranean
locales, not unlike some of Michel Ocelot’s films, but with a more muted color
palate. Their vistas and cityscapes are
particularly lovely, but their animals are not as expressive as viewers might
expect. There is a bit of
anthropomorphism, but it is rather restrained.
For Francophone audiences, the voiceover cast is also quite impressive,
including Simon Abkarian (fantastic in The Wedding Song) as Hassan and Ronit Elkabetz (genuinely smoldering in the
Israeli film The Band’s Visit) as the
sultry Greek pirate Bouboulina.
on an intriguing historical footnote, Zarafa
largely avoids the sins of sentimentality and manipulation that often mark
animation produced expressly for children.
Still, there is an unmistakable political correctness, particularly in
the film’s determination to ignore the demographic realities of the African
slave trade, both then and now.
Nonetheless, most parents will welcome the underlying principles of the
film, such as the value of freedom and the importance of keeping one’s word.
Slightly sad in a traditional Disney way, Zarafa is old fashioned animation in
several appealing ways. One of the more
artistically rendered animated features to throw its hat in the Oscar ring, Zarafa would be a worthier nominee than
many of the better known contenders. Reasonably
engaging for parents as well as children, it should be a crowd pleaser when it
screens this Sunday (11/11), for free, courtesy of this year’s SLIFF.
Labels: Animated films, French Cinema, SLIFF '12