Zarafa

***1/2

Reviewed by: Amber Wilkinson

Zarafa
"The animated characters have a detailed, Disney-friendly feel, but there is little of the sentimentality that tends to fur the teeth of US animation."

The true story of France's first giraffe takes imaginative flight in this colourful hand-drawn French animation from Rémi Bezançon and Jean-Christophe Lie. The directors use the idea of a baby giraffe being taken from Egypt to Paris as an opportunity for adventure while retaining some serious historical undertones concerning slavery and the importance of freedom.

Framed by an elder telling the children of his African village a story, we are quickly swept up by the tale of Maki (Max Renaudin) and his friend Soula (Clara Quilichini), two young children who have been captured by the, noticeably white, Moreno, a French slave trader with a slavering dog. Although this is not chiefly the story of Soula, her tale of enslavement runs alongside the film's more adventurous aspects, adding a thoughtful angle, cleverly introducing children to more serious, darker ideas behind the more traditional action.

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When Maki escapes, he befriends a giraffe, the Zarafa of the title, whose mum, in the best - or, perhaps, most cliched - animated traditions, doesn't make it past one scene. But their friendship is quickly tested when a bedouin Hassan (Simon Abkarian) captures the animal to take on a mission for the Egyptian pasha. Maki promises to bring Zarafa home, little realising he is about to embark on a journey that will see him cross a desert by camel, the Mediterranean by balloon and mountains on foot before it reaches its end.

Bezançon and Lie don't need 3D to give their film a sense of Lawrence Of Arabia depth. Instead, they use perspective, frequently dropping the point of view to child-height so that the expanses of the desert - and later the Alps - seem all the more vast. Upon arrival in Paris, the unwelcoming streets take on bluer, colder tones as sunlight is drained from the equation.

The animated characters have a detailed, Disney-friendly feel, but there is little of the sentimentality that tends to fur the teeth of US animation - although the directors can't resist a sprinkling of sugar in the final act. Mostly, however, this is a no-nonsense fable, letting us see how Maki's pure-of-heart approach wins over everyone from Hassan to the local pirate queen. Adults may find the sudden switch to a storyboard-style map of the journey at the midway point a bit perfunctory - as though the filmmakers suddenly realised they were going to clock in a two-hour runtime if they kept up the level of detail - but children will no doubt be grateful for the brisk storytelling, which offers a surprising amount of depth considering how much ground is covered.

Reviewed on: 06 Oct 2015
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A young boy, a prince and a balloonist escort a young giraffe halfway across the world, having adventures on the way.
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