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Adventures in Zambezia: Blu-ray + DVD Review

Adventures in Zambezia (2012) Blu-ray + DVD combo pack cover art -- click to buy from Amazon.com Adventures in Zambezia

Video Premiere: March 26, 2013 / Running Time: 82 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Wayne Thornley / Writers: Raffaella Delle Donne, Anthony Silverston, Wayne Thornley, Andrew Cook

Voice Cast: Jeremy Suarez (Kai), Abigail Breslin (Zoe), Jeff Goldblum (Ajax), Leonard Nimoy (Sekhuru), Samuel L. Jackson (Tendai), Jenifer Lewis (Gogo), Jim Cummings (Budzo, Maribou), Jamal Mixon (Ezee), Richard E. Grant (Cecil), David Shaughnessy (Morton), Noureen DeWulf (Pavi), Tania Gunadi (Tini), Deep Roy (Mushana), Phil LaMarr (Announcer Bird), Kelly Stables (Gossip Bird 1), Kristen Rutherford (Gossip Bird 2), Corey Burton (Neville), Tress MacNeille (Neville's Wife)

BD: 1.78:1 Widescreen; 5.1 DTS-HD MA (English, French), Dolby Digital 5.1 (Spanish, English DVS)
DVD: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen; Dolby Digital 5.1 (English, French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English for Hearing Impaired, English, French, Spanish; Most Extras Not Subtitled; Not Closed Captioned
Two single-sided discs (BD-25 & DVD-9) / Blue Keepcase with Side Snap in Embossed Cardboard Slipcover
Suggested Retail Price: $14.99 (Reduced from $30.99); Also available as standalone DVD ($26.99 $9.99 SRP)

Buy Adventures in Zambezia from Amazon: Blu-ray + DVD DVD / Buy from Walmart: Blu-ray + DVD DVD

Even if you're not a fan of the medium, it's tough not to notice new animated movies. They claim the most theaters, they spend the most on advertising, they get the greatest retail presence,
and they also generate some of the biggest box office returns every year. But I'm betting you haven't heard of this one. Adventures of Zambezia looks like a cross between Rio and the Madagascar movies. In fact, this is a new original film not released to American theaters but premiering on DVD and Blu-ray combo pack on Tuesday as a Walmart exclusive (don't tell Amazon that).

You're correct if you guessed from the title that Zambezia is set in Africa. It was also made there, specifically in South Africa. Judging from this lonesome Wikipedia category, Zambezia is the first animated film to come out of South Africa (don't tell the 1916 romantic drama An Artist's Dream that). It hails from Triggerfish Animation Studios of Cape Town, with the support of no fewer than three South African government agencies. You can kind of tell that even without seeing the extensive opening credits, because Zambezia feels like a product of a cultural department.

"Parents just don't understand," thinks Kai the blue falcon. Zambezia, the famed city of birds, consists of a large tree on the edge of a giant waterfall.

The film centers on Kai (voiced by Jeremy Suarez of Brother Bear and "The Bernie Mac Show"), an adolescent blue falcon who's sick of living in the boring desert Katungu with his widowed brown father Tendai (Samuel L. Jackson). After hearing about a bird city from some pleasant migrants, Kai decides to fly away for a change of scenery.

Zambezia is not what he expected: it is one giant tree on the edge of a towering waterfall. But there are lots of birds there, some of whom welcome him with open wings, like the friendly Ezee (Jamal Mixon) who declares show-off Kai his "fella" (in usage that feels faintly euphemistic). Kai quickly acclimates to his new surroundings, where he is effortlessly made a citizen, tries out for the Hurricanes ("the most elite flying force in the world"), and discovers a connection to this place in his hidden past involving the mother who died when he was just an infant.

Meanwhile, back in Katungu, the lizard Budzo (Jim Cummings) persuades homely Marabous to rise up against those who have ostracized them. They target Tendai and then paradisiacal Zambezia during the festivities of its Spring Celebration.

Wise old one-winged eagle Sekhuru (voiced by Leonard Nimoy) reveals a connection to Zambezia in Kai's forgotten past. At the provocations of the lizard Budzu, the ugly and long-marginalized Marabous stage an uprising.

It's always impressive when a new animation studio is able to put together something halfway decent, and all the more so when they are as far from industry hubs as South Africa. "Halfway decent" seems like a fair way to describe this film. Though the character animation is lacking, the colorful environments are adequately picturesque. While the comedy is pretty flimsy and the characterization forgettable, the message of understanding and tolerance is always appropriate and you may even be able to see an apartheid allegory in this fairly standard tale of animal civilizations.
Songs from South Africa's chart-topping pop group Gang of Instrumentals give the illusion of quality on certain sweeping sequences.

Zambezia's biggest fault may be that there is nothing in it that really stands out. Great animated films transcend the sum of their parts, but even mildly good ones have some parts you can easily celebrate. I'm at a loss to single out any aspect of the film greater than the passable qualities I already mentioned. Still, the film is of sufficient quality, especially coming from a first-time studio in a country where animation has strictly been imported.

Kudos to this production for managing to attract some Hollywood talent to tout on the top of the cover; Abigail Breslin, Jeff Goldblum, Jenifer Lewis and Leonard Nimoy also voice leading characters. That cast, assembled more for clout than vocal abilities, doesn't boast the star wattage of a DreamWorks movie or the qualifications of a Pixar lineup. But they all get their easy job done, leaving animators and technical artists to make the film not a Delgo or Doogal-type embarrassment on their permanent records.

What Zambezia most has in common with those films is that it is destined for obscurity. Walmart exclusivity is a strategy as is the proximity to Easter, but they're not ones that will likely attract much notice or expand the primary audience of impulse buyers and those who distractedly choose it as a G-rated babysitter. There is no shortage of animated movies out there. This month alone has put Wreck-It Ralph, Rise of the Guardians, and a slew of Disney catalog titles on store shelves. What parent will choose this unknown quantity over a film they recognize or have at least heard of?

Of course, as major a market as it may be, North America may be something of an afterthought for this film, which has managed to gross $18.4 million in international theatrical releases from last summer through this winter. Surprisingly, less than $1 million of that came from the native South Africa, with Russia, Poland, South Korea, the Netherlands, and Italy contributing more to the bottom line. $18.4 M is a paltry sum compared to what American cartoons earn in their often boundless engagements. For instance, Rise of the Guardians, a flop that required substantial write-downs and layoffs, has grossed over $300 M worldwide. Ice Age: Continental Drift, which put up series low numbers here, still amassed nearly $900 M globally.

Although made for 3D and exhibited as such around the world, Zambezia hits the US exclusively in two dimensions for now.

VIDEO and AUDIO

Though animation enthusiasts might find fault with the visuals, the Blu-ray's 1.78:1 presentation does boast exquisite picture quality. The 5.1 DTS-HD master audio soundtrack is similarly lively and commendable.

Director/screenwriter Wayne Thorley discusses Zambezia among concept art in a treehouse where the film apparently was made. The DVD version of the "Come and Fly with Me" music video uses yellow subtitles to enable children to sing along with the great Jewels Jaselle and Benj Heard.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS, PACKAGING and DESIGN

On each disc, the film is joined by four featurettes, which the Blu-ray presents in HD.

In "Birds of a Feather" (5:21), director/writer Wayne Thornley and his crew cite influences, reveal their intentions, detail production,

and offer praise to the voice cast. "An African Story" (6:23) addresses the story and the themes it incorporates, as well as discarded ideas and coming up with a catchphrase. "The Tree City" (3:41) focuses on the design of Zambezia's tree and the thought that went into it. "Technical Challenges" (3:54) considers production's hurdles, from creating realistic feathers to working with US facilities.

Unworthy of the prominent front cover mention, a "sing-along" music video for "Come and Fly with Me" (4:38) sets the tune by unseen, unknown artists Jewels Jaselle and Benj Heard over animation from the film. The "sing-along" option refers to toggleable plain white lyric subtitles.

Finally, "Previews" repeats the eclectic 12-minute collection of mostly dated trailers with which the discs open. They promote The Mighty Macs, Hotel Transylvania, The Snow Princess: Christmas, Open Season 3, The Pirates! Band of Misfits, and The Smurfs II.

The Blu-ray's menu offers an unremarkable montage of lively animation set to music. The DVD uses static screens instead. As usual, Sony equips the Blu-ray with bookmark and resume capabilities.

Topped by an extensively embossed cardboard slipcover, the side-snapped Blu-ray case features reverse side artwork, two uniquely and colorfully labeled discs, and no inserts. (Sorry, Sony Rewards and UltraViolet fans.)

Wingman Ezee (center) introduces Kai to "the island of milk and honeys."

CLOSING THOUGHTS

One wonders how many animation junkies in the US will give Adventures in Zambezia the time of day. They really don't have any great reason to other than the facts that this is animated and brings CG animation into a new part of the world. The low expectations such an unknown seemingly direct-to-video production inspires may yield some pleasant surprises. But, this is merely an okay first effort, worth seeing once perhaps as an extremely accessible international curiosity.

Sony's Blu-ray combo pack provides dynamite picture and sound plus an unremarkable handful of bonus features.

Buy from Amazon.com: Blu-ray + DVD DVD / Buy from Walmart.com: Blu-ray + DVD DVD

Buy from Amazon.com

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Reviewed March 21, 2013.



Text copyright 2013 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 2012 Cinema Management Group, Triggerfish Animation Studios, The Industrial Development Corporation of South Africa,
Wonderful Works, 120 dB Films, The National Film and Video Foundation of South Africa, and 2013 Sony Pictures Home Entertainment.
Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.