Zafara review: ‘Honourable but unremarkable’

This French animation looks like it’s trying to be a more culturally sensitive version of a Disney cartoon, says Michael Joyce.

Warning – no computers were used in the making of this animation. Well, obviously some were – for sending e-mails and such, but it certainly looks like it could be an example of the kind of meticulous hand-drawn animation that was common maybe 30 odd years ago. Which is fine and lovely but you wonder how this will play with youngsters spoilt on the wonders of Pixar and the like.

The story starts in Africa in the early 19th century, where a young boy, Maki, escapes from a slave trader and becomes attached to a baby giraffe that he calls Zarafa. Only it turns out that Zarafa has been lined up as a gift to King Charles X of France from the people of Alexandria, in the hope that France will help them to lift the Turkish siege of Alexandria. Maki tags along in an adventure that involves pirates, balloon rides and the French court in Paris.

This French animation is a decent and honourable endeavour but unremarkable and, in the English language version, often looks like it is trying to be a more culturally sensitive version of a Disney cartoon. The tone is never really nailed down. Generally it is all rather earnest and high-minded with lessons on racism, slavery and animal welfare, yet in other places it is quite flippant and silly. So a film that for the most part is trying to tell its based-on-a-true story realistically throws in a queasy moment where two cows fall from a hot air balloon only to land unharmed on the deck of a ship hundreds of metres below.

Rating: HHIII

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