I loved animated films as a kid, and still do. But as with live-action films, there still has to be an interesting (and hopefully original) plot, characters we care about, and strong, believable dialogue. The fact that it’s animated only adds another requirement: the animation has to be good.
“Adventures in Zambezia” (aka “Zambezia”) satisfies only the last condition . . . barely. The animation of this full-length feature from Triggerfish Animation Studios (South Africa) is competent, even if flight scenes too closely resemble video-game graphics, and there are inconsistencies in the sculpted appearance of characters. Some look more 3-dimensional than others. What’s more, many of the frames seem more cluttered than detailed. Kids won’t care, of course, but adults will notice. Or maybe they won’t, because there are enough other problems to distract them.
Big-name voice talents like Leonard Nimoy, Jeremy Suarez, Abigail Breslin, Jeff Goldblum, Samuel L. Jackson, Jenifer Lewis, and Jim Cummings seem wasted because the story is so contrived and structured to be so constantly in motion that we never really get the chance to form any sort of attachment to the characters—which means we don’t care about them.
It’s commendable that Triggerfish tried to showcase such South African animals as peregrine falcons, black-shouldered kites, lammargeiers, African fish eagles, Barbary falcons, saddle-billed storks, nightjars, weaver birds, and Marabou storks. But there are so many species the average North American viewer won’t recognize that it works against the film, because we don’t know these creatures’ natural tendencies in order to have some sense of habits or personalities. All we get is what the screenplay provides, and frankly that’s not enough.
The plot is a hokey, muddled mess about a young falcon who wants to go to a fabled city of Zambezia, where all birds live in harmony and under the protection of the Blue Falcons, who patrol in formation over the giant city (a big tree, actually, as in Avatar or Disney’s Animal Kingdom). The villain is a gigantic monitor lizard who wants to build a bridge to Zambezia so he can waddle on over and eat all the bird eggs he wants. Like any villain, he has minions to do his bidding, or else he’ll eat them. Cummings gives voice to the villainous lizard, who seems randomly inserted because at the time of his introduction he feels like the only non-bird in the film.
Pacing is another problem. Everything seems so rushed. We move quickly from motherless falcon Kai’s fears to him suddenly being an accomplished flier, then leaving his overprotective father to go to Zambezia, and finding the fabled city with no problem at all. There are predictable conflicts with the locals before partnerships are forged, a possible mate is found, and in the span of 83 minutes all is made right with the world.
As I said, it all feels too contrived and hastily put together for it to have much lasting meaning or impact. “Adventures in Zambezia” is rated G.
I saw no problems with the AVC/MPEG-4 transfer. Except for dark scenes, the colors are bright and cheery, and the animation itself was fluid. “Zambezia” is presented in 1.78:1 aspect ratio.
The featured audio is an English DTS-HD MA 5.1 that involves the rear effects speakers nicely and provides a clear-toned soundtrack. Music (which also seems contrived) doesn’t have the bass presence you’d expect, but otherwise the audio is fine. Additional options are a dubbed French DTS-HD MA 5.1 and a Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1, with an English audio descriptive track. Subtitles are in English, English SDH, French and Spanish.
The only bonus features are a “Come Fly with Me” music video and four making-of featurettes that could have been rolled into one feature: Birds of a Feather, An African Story, The Tree City, and Technical Challenges. But the real challenge that should have been addressed was a stronger screenplay.
This Walmart exclusive tries to fly high, but struggles to get off the ground. Our ‘tween and teen gave it thumbs down, and it was painful for the adults to watch. But as my wife pointed out, younger children (ages 3-7) don’t fully grasp the plots of most films, and so "Adventures in Zambezia"—with its broad array of interesting creatures, bright colors, breakneck pacing, and decent animation—will probably appeal to that age bracket.