The second feature release from the Cape Town-based Triggerfish Animation Studios, “Khumba” is a genial winner for children and adults alike, and a visual treat besides.
Jake T. Austin (“Wizards of Waverly Place”) voices Khumba, a young zebra born with only half of his stripes. Blamed for a drought and rejected by his herd, he leaves them to go on a journey across the Great Karoo desert to a magical watering hole, where legend says he can get the rest of his stripes. Joining him on his adventure are a sassy wildebeest (Loretta Devine) and a preening ostrich (Richard E. Grant), and together they meet a host of the desert’s zany denizens, and face the danger of the powerful leopard Phango (Liam Neeson), hunting Khumba for reasons of his own.
In its off-center visual design and surprising, goofy sense of humor, “Khumba” finds a fresh approach to its otherwise typical storyline of self-acceptance, teamwork and overcoming obstacles. The stunning variety, color palette and textures of the real Great Karoo desert landscape in South Africa are rendered with loving, realistic detail. And what it lacks in Pixar-style wit and focused storytelling expertise, it makes up for with some zesty, exaggerated character looks and a host of energetic voice performances.
Lima Neeson is especially silken and menacing as the blind leopard, who hunts with a kind of olfactory sight that the film renders in a ghostly, minimalist style that is quietly effective. Catherine Tate makes a wonderful impression with her slightly batty old ram, Nora, who can’t seem to keep her horns on or other animals off her ‘farm.’ The rugby team of chesty Springboks has a good group dynamic, with their dim but well-meaning Aussie-type swagger. Less successful is Richard E. Grant’s annoyingly strident ostrich, Bradley.
The film climaxes with a breathless chase sequence in a mountain cave, and later on the mountainside, that is cleverly paced and inventively staged by the animators and director Anthony Silverston. I was also quite taken with the meerkat family, living in a desert animal sanctuary and happy to be a responsible part of the tourist system. One could also read an environmental comment on human impermanence in the scattered abandoned buildings seen occasionally in the backgrounds. Or maybe that’s seeing a bit much into things.
Perhaps the highlight of the film is a deranged and deadpan episode with a cult of wide-eyed “Dassies”–rock rabbits, who look like stubby gophers here, cultishly clacking stones together and chanting about the “wings of doooom.” I was reminded of the three-eyed Martians in “Toy Story” but that doesn’t lessen the dry, off-beat humor.
The film is packed full of incident and character in its 85-minute run time, never lingering for long in any one setting as the trio make their way across the desert. This is both a strength and a weakness, and if “Khumba” never quite reaches the emotional highpoints we have come to expect in this second Golden Age of animation, there is plenty of compensation in its other charms.
The Blu-ray of “Khumba” is presented in 16×9 widescreen. In the Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, there are 3D and 2D versions on the same Blu-ray disc, along with a separate DVD. Picture quality is excellent, with the fine details of facial expression and emotion, the details of fur and fang, and the marvelous colors of the desert on full display. There are options for English SDH and Spanish subtitles.
The audio track is Dolby 5.1 TrueHD, with an option for Stereo 2.0. The soundtrack is crisp, and the sound effects and varied musical score fills the surround speakers easily and comfortably.
- “Acting Out—Character Evolution”: the studio work making “Khumba” come to life, with brief animatics of character motion and source footage
- “Khumba: Behind the Scenes”: a typical making-of featurette
- “The Karoo—A World of Difference”: about the real setting of “Khumba”, the vast Great Karoo desert in South Africa
- “Nora—A Great Partnersheep”: about the design ideas and character concept behind the remarkable sheep Nora, with footage of voice actor Catherine Tate in action
Vivid animation, and off-beat character design and voicing make “Khumba” a charming tale about a zebra’s desert journey.