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A colourful safari that doesn't quite earn its stripes
Was very pleasantly surprised by Triggerfish Animation Studio's debut feature 'Zambezia'. It wasn't a great film, inexperience did show and it was rough around the edges. With that being said, it was colourful and entertaining, and also liked that it was made with effort and good intentions and that it had a heart of gold and tried to attract a wider audience.
Actually do feel similarly about Triggerfish's second film 'Khumba', except while 'Zambezia' was decent to pretty good, some elements like the music and voice cast very good, 'Khumba' ranged from average to decent while also having good elements. 'Zambezia' was also the better film to me because of having more consistent pacing and better characters and story. Very little in 'Khumba' is awful, it does have some very good elements even, it's just unexceptional. It is better than 'Zambezia' in the sense that it doesn't try too hard and does less rather than being too busy.
This, with that being said, also presented a problem. As well as being a more derivative plot, being strongly indebted to 'Madagascar' and especially 'The Lion King' as said before and not doing enough to give its own identity, the pacing isn't as smooth here with a middle act that drags rather. And while it was a good thing in a way to leave things uncomplicated 'Khumba' actually makes the mistake of making things too simple. The script is weaker, the humour has its fun amusing moments but lacks the wit and quirkiness of that of 'Zambezia' and too much of the dialogue is trite.
Lack of refinement and low budget still shows in some of the animation, if not quite as much inexperience, a lot of the character designs looking rather stiff still as well as blocky. Not all the characters, generally far more stereotypical, are successfully done (likewise with some of the voice acting), the worst of the stereotypes are overdone and very hammy. The biggest offenders being the hammiest, overly-camp ostrich in animation in Richard E. Grant's Bradley and wannabe-sassy but actually annoyingly abrasive in Loretta Devine's Mama V.
However, the character designs apart, the animation in 'Khumba' is not bad at all. Again, it's surprisingly good. The scenery is beautifully realised and the colours capture the excitement and colour of the safari world to dazzling effect. Most of the voice acting is fine. Liam Neeson's subtly menacing Phango, the always entertaining Steve Buscemi's Skalk (the film's funniest character), stoic Laurence Fishburne's Seko and affecting (but underused) Anika Noni Rose's Lungisa are the standouts. Phango and Skalk are 'Khumba's' strongest characters in a film where there are perhaps too many (this wasn't as much an issue in 'Zambezia'), though the protagonist is likable enough and isn't made too perfect.
'Khumba', like 'Zambezia' was clearly made with good intentions, with some poignantly delivered values and messaging that makes its point but doesn't patronise. It clearly knows what it wants to be and who to aim at, and is not too juvenile or sugary sweet for adults and also not too dark or overly sophisticated for children. Again, 'Khumba's' to appeal to its target audience, to all ages, to all the family and to a wider audience is most admirable, though 'Zambezia' did it better due to a stronger story.
Best of all is the music score. Beautiful, evocative in its Isicathamiya-influence, atmospheric and energetic, it's simply wonderful and the only uniformly and consistently exceptional asset of 'Khumba'.
Overall, colourful and watchable enough, but also a little bland and doesn't quite make it. 5/10 Bethany Cox
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