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Khumba: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD Review

Khumba (2013) Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Khumba

Theatrical Release: December 6, 2013 / Running Time: 85 Minutes / Rating: Not Rated

Director: Anthony Silverston / Writers: Anthony Silverston, Rafaella Delle Donne (screenplay); Jonathan Roberts (additional screenplay)

Voice Cast: Jake T. Austin (Khumba), Steve Buscemi (Skalk), Loretta Devine (Mama V), Laurence Fishburne (Seko), Richard E. Grant (Bradley), AnnaSophia Robb (Tombi), Liam Neeson (Phango), Anika Noni Rose (Lungisa), Catherine Tate (Nora), Ben Vereen (Mkhulu), Roger Jackson (Black Eagle)

BD: 2.40:1 Widescreen; Dolby TrueHD 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
DVD: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English), Dolby Stereo 2.0 (English)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, English, French, Spanish; Most Extras Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Two single-sided discs (BD-50 & DVD-5) / Blue Keepcase in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Blu-ray Release Dates: January 14, 2014 (Walmart exclusive), February 11, 2014 (general retail)
Suggested Retail Price: $29.99; Also available as standalone DVD ($26.99)

Buy Khumba from Amazon: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD DVD

If everyone in the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Science voted in a purely random fashion, then Khumba would have had a better than 25% chance of being nominated for an Oscar.
After all, it was one of nineteen eligible films competing for five Best Animated Feature nominations. In reality, though, this South African production was one of the least likely movies to crack the field ultimately comprised of The Croods, Despicable Me 2, Ernest & Celestine, Frozen, and The Wind Rises.

Though Animated Feature has been more open-minded to foreign productions than all but a single obvious Oscar category, Khumba barely qualifies as one, with its predominantly American voice cast. It also was on nobody's radars, its qualifying theatrical run a formality achieved by grossing just over $1,000 from a single weekend in two theaters early last month. The few reviews issued were mixed and the film doesn't seem to have had greater impact in any other part of the world, where it began showing up in theaters last fall.

The South African animated film "Khumba" tells the story of a zebra named Khumba who is born without stripes on the back half of his body.

The titular protagonist of Khumba is a zebra whose rear half is missing stripes. That immediately draws ridicule from the others, who proclaim him "half a Zebra." Jokes are one thing, but Khumba has to endure much worse when his superstitious community -- especially his father -- blames him for the drought that follows his birth.

Inspired by a praying mantis, Khumba sets out to make things right on a mission to find the magic watering hole that legend has it gave zebras their stripes. The brave young one figures he can earn his stripes and restore rain to a region that desperately needs it. Along the way, he runs into an assortment of animals, including a mangy wild dog, a fearless endangered rabbit, a maternal wildebeest, a flamboyant ostrich, a mighty "black" eagle, and a solitary sheep.

Khumba and company's mission, which soon produces reports of his demise to the concern of his father and fellow zebras, will bring him face to face with Phango, a fierce leopard who's determined to prove an ancient prophecy true.

The mighty black eagle (who's not really black) drops some knowledge on young Khumba. Ferocious leopard Phango (voiced by Liam Neeson) is determined to prove an ancient prophecy true, so that it renders him the most powerful leopard around.

The second feature from Cape Town's Triggerfish Animation Studios, following the similarly Oscar-eligible and largely overlooked Adventures in Zambezia, Khumba is disappointingly content to aim for generic CG-animated family comedy all-audience appeal. Doing so ensures that it could never be any better than one of DreamWorks' lesser millennial efforts or Blue Sky's inane Ice Age flicks.
And of course, it doesn't have the voice cast or writers' pool to produce something that could entertain the masses as those commercially successful films have.

Like Zambezia, Khumba assembles a voice cast with actors recognizable to the typical adult TV/movie enthusiast. The cover's prominent naming of Laurence Fishburne, Steve Buscemi, and Liam Neeson isn't going to excite children, though they might be interested in Jake T. Austin ("Wizards of Waverly Place") and AnnaSophia Robb (Soul Surfer, Bridge to Terabithia). Triggerfish doesn't yet seem to have caught on that quality has become increasingly essential to animated films' success. Sure, there are some glaring exceptions, like last year's top-grossing animated film Despicable Me 2. But even Pixar's last several films have kind of performed proportional to the caliber of their storytelling.

Khumba fills 2006's prevalent mold for computer animation with a minimum of originality. Even if you can accept this as yet another talking animal cartoon and try to avoid comparisons to the likes of Madagascar and The Lion King, you're still bound to find the beats derivative and uninspired. There's some Minion-type comedy in the form of the black eagle's followers. Some Swahili chant is dropped in to add weight to scenes. There's an insipid musical number and an immediately forgettable pop/dance end credits song. And, of course, it's in 3D. There's even some pee and fart jokes, the "mild rude humor" that may have earned this a PG rating if submitted to the MPAA (it was not).

There's a tiny bit of a moral regarding the shunning of what's different and the zebras' reluctance to fraternize with their fellow animals. Given the country of origin, it seems almost obligatory to find some apartheid allegory in the story, as you could in Zambezia. But by and large, though the animals may be native to Africa, the film feels like a lesser American production, something akin to our latest offering, the critically-scorched but relatively well-attended The Nut Job.

One thing Khumba has going for it is that it looks nice. That's something you can take for granted in many but not all major American animated features these days, and is typically a crapshoot on smaller or foreign works. The 3D effects, you could take or leave. The character animation and design too is largely unremarkable. But the depiction of environments in this African wild ranges from pretty to breathtaking. It's enough to call your attention away from the bland tale of self-discovery and towards the background visuals.

Khumba is now available to own exclusively at Walmart in a DVD and the two-disc Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray + DVD combo pack reviewed here. Millennium Entertainment will release the same two editions to general retail on February 11.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Despite Millennium's recent track record of questionable 1.78:1 presentations and despite the back cover's "16 x 9 Widescreen" listing, Khumba appears in its original 2.40:1 aspect ratio... but only on Blu-ray. The Blu-ray's picture and sound leave nothing to be desired. As mentioned above, the animated environments rank among the film's greatest assets and this transfer makes it easy to marvel at them. The default Dolby TrueHD 5.1 soundtrack is fittingly active and expansive.

The DVD's 1.78:1 anamorphic presentation makes it perfectly clear that the studio unfortunately has been cropping films to 16:9, though it's tough to comprehend why.

Crew members act out a scene for animators in "Acting Out - Character Evolution." On location in the Karoo, writer/director Anthony Silverston discusses various aspects of the film in the behind the scenes featurette.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

Khumba is joined by four short featurettes,
all of which the hybrid Blu-ray presents in HD.

"Acting Out - Character Evolution" (2:52) shows us how crew members and others acted out character movement as a guide for animators.

"Behind the Scenes Featurette" (9:52) is a general making-of featurette which repeats a number of the bits from the other extras but goes into greater detail in describing the story and admiring the work of the animators, voice cast, and the musicians who created the score.

"The Karoo - A World of Difference" (2:30) discusses the film's setting and its depictions of this real African region.

Catherine Tate enthusiastically records lines for the sheep Nora in "A Great Partnersheep." Khumba's trailer drops the name of Triggerfish's first feature film, a mention that may be lost on most viewers.

"Nora - a Great Partnersheep" (2:09) celebrates the film's independent sheep
with remarks from writer/director Anthony Silverston and further looks at Catherine Tate's recording sessions.

In a Previews section, Khumba's trailer (2:04, also HD) joins the two that play at disc insertion for Home Run and When Calls the Heart.

The Blu-ray's menu plays a routine montage of clips in the sky. The DVD shows different clips in between animated colorful stripes. The Blu-ray regrettably neither supports bookmarks nor resumes playback.

No inserts join the similarly-labeled discs inside the plain blue keepcase, which is topped by an embossed slipcover. No digital copy is included in this set.

A partially-striped zebra, a flamboyant ostrich, and a maternal wildebeest take a hero's journey in the 2013 animated film "Khumba."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

It's disappointing that the only feature animation coming from South Africa is stuff you could easily mistake for second-rate American cartoons. Triggerfish would be wise to make something more distinctive and original instead of settling for something resembling a generic mid-2000s DreamWorks or Blue Sky film.

Millennium's combo pack delivers a sturdy Blu-ray 3D/2D feature presentation and a decent collection of extras at a reasonable price, but the DVD's cropped 1.78:1 transfer is an unfortunate head-scratcher. Even if you enjoy the film more than expected, it doesn't seem like something you'd need to see again, so this may warrant only a curiosity viewing from the most devoted of animation fans.

Buy Khumba from Amazon: Blu-ray 3D + Blu-ray + DVD / DVD

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Related Reviews:
From Triggerfish Animation Studios: Adventures in Zambezia
2013 Animated Films: The Croods Monsters University Epic Frozen Planes Escape from Planet Earth
Partly Written by Jonathan Roberts: The Lion King The Hunchback of Notre Dame Dinosaur Monsters, Inc. James and the Giant Peach
Rango Madagascar 3: Europe's Most Wanted A Bug's Life Rise of the Guardians Brother Bear
New: Muppet Treasure Island & The Great Muppet Caper When Calls the Heart Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs 2
Jake T. Austin: Wizards of Waverly Place: The Movie | AnnaSophia Robb: Race to Witch Mountain Bridge to Terabithia Soul Surfer

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Reviewed January 21, 2014.



Text copyright 2014 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2013-14 Millennium Entertainment, Cinema Management Group, Triggerfish Animation Studios, The Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa,
The National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa and Spier Films. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.