Zambezia Review – A Disappointing South African Animated Film

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Running Time: 83 mins

Verdict: 2 / 5

If you are a South African you should watch Zambezia, but only as an act of patriotism because the film was produced by a local animation company – Triggerfish Animation Studios – and its standard and success serve as a symbol of our talent and potential. That is the only reason. It pains me, thus, to have to slate the film; because, sadly, it has nothing else to offer.

zambezia film review

Zambezia follows the story of young falcon Kai who, after an argument with his overly cautious father, leaves the quiet “countryside” in which they reside to seek adventure in the bustling Victoria Falls bird “metropolis” of Zambezia.

The film boasts a plethora of American, British and Spanish accents. Fair enough, The Lion King can be accused of the same thing; but that was a Disney production and made almost 20 years ago. Surely we have come to a point where we should stop international distributors from raping us and allow us to tell our stories with our voices – at least Rafiki sounded vaguely African. No South African child is going to know this is a South African film. In fact, the average South African audience member will not know unless they watch the end credits. This is an unfair and generalising statement, but it is a reality. Furthermore, it also seems we are doomed to regress from foreigners thinking we live in a wild jungle (Zambezia’s wildlife setting not doing much to dispel this notion) to everyone thinking we talk like Americans.

zambezia movie review

When it comes to modern animated features I have an utter disdain for the way the actors providing the voices become more important than the voice itself and, effectively, the character. Over the past years animated movies have started emblazoning their stars’ names across posters and trailers. Animated features sold successfully for decades without this and it is an insult to voice artists who have been in the business for ages and have amazing talent – such as Jim Cummings (Winnie the Pooh, Tigger, Scar’s singing voice in The Lion King, the Looney Tunes’ Tasmanian devil) who also lends his voice to Zambezia. Samuel L. Jackson, as Kai’s father, is a disappointment. I love him and he does a good job in the film, but you can hear it’s him and I could not detach his ultra-cool, I-don’t-give-a-damn attitude that I associate with him in order to believe in him as a feathered father.

zambezia

The animation is certainly on par with international standards. There are some breathtaking establishing shots and for once I really enjoyed the 3-D and felt it actually added something to the experience. The characters, however, lack the emotional impact that pulls at the heartstrings. The uninspired story and flimsy characterisation contribute to a failure to engage you and I actually felt sorry for the villain. He is most certainly not likeable, but considering that he is alone and defenceless when attacked en masse in one scene made me pity him and annoyed at the “good” characters. How can you cheer for a protagonist that gangs up on a defenceless character? What the hell does that tell children?

There is no denying that the film is a major leap and a milestone of achievement in our industry and admittedly Disney, Pixar and DreamWorks set the bar incredibly high. But the truth is, despite the superb animation that these latter three produce, this is not why their films are a success – they are timeless triumphs because of their strong stories and endearing characters, aspects which are sadly lacking in Zambezia – and one of the reasons it falls flat on its face is because it is denied the opportunity to beat with an African heart.

5 Comments

  1. Mike Rotch

    Claudia, one would think that for someone who is so involved in the movie industry you would understand that in order to make a profit on a movie of this budget, it has to be distributed internationally, and whether we like it or not, movies with south african voices do not do well in other countries. So if you are willing to donate some money so that a movie of this magnitude can be made to be all-South African and make no profit, go ahead, but until then I guess SA producers of international films need to be responsible to their investors and do what it takes to make a profit.

    It’s also worth mentioning that this movie which “has nothing to offer” has been nominated for 2 annie awards – Hollywood’s most prestigious awards for animation – and the only African movie for this to ever happen – and it was nominated alongside blockbuster movies like Brave, Ice Age 4, Transilvania, Rise of the Guardians, etc – not too shabs for a low-budget SA movie. So someone out there (who’s opinion I dare say counts more than yours in the big picture) thinks that Adventures in Zambezia has a bit more to offer than “nothing”.

    Some of your points are valid, but please be more balanced in your reviews, your negativity is uncalled for and to write this movie off completely is unfair and not at all constructive.

    • Jarrod Saunders

      Hi Mike. Thanks for the comment. I am the editor of FoS and, having seen Zambezia myself, I stand behind Claudia’s thoughts on the film. Zambezia wasn’t in the same league as the other Hollywood productions you’ve mentioned above. However, I totally understand that you had a lower budget and that it’s a South African first. We are very supportive of South Africans making film, art and even the local animation events. We’ve mentioned numerous times before that South Africa has talent. The comment regarding the voice actors was in my opinion fare considering the amount of S.A. actors overlooked for the countries first big animation. Having a few (one or two) big names makes sense but fitting a few big name S.A. actors or comedians in would have been great too. I think S.A. audiences would have flocked to see someone like Trevor Noah voice acting for one of the birds. Also the “nothing to offer” comment was probably referring to the poor script writing in Zambezia. A number of my friends who are film critics found Zambezia poor film. Maybe we’re spoilt by Disney and Pixars big productions but Zambezia felt terribly lacking in the story department. The animation was good (not great) and the best part about the film. Zambezia is a great start for S.A. animation, but surely this isn’t the end and there is still lots to learn and improve on. At FoS we pride ourselves in being honest in our reviews. We will not be one of those sites who give positive reviews for a film simply because it’s South African, low budget and is a first attempt. As a film maker myself I’ve had to deal with a lot of hard criticism too… I suggest you get usta it!

    • Tim

      Hi Mike.
      As an animator and director i understand where you are coming from. All the hours and hard work spent on a film just to see it get ‘ripped apart’ by someone that probably knows nothing about the animation process and what it takes to make a successful animated feature(no offense Claudia). However, we have to remember that we are not making films for animators, directors,producers, artists, etc. We make films for the audience.
      The audience does not care about the ‘politics’ involved in making an animated feature, how much was spent on making it and they most certainly do not care about ‘Annie’ award nominations. The only thing the audience REALLY cares about is the entertainment value of the film and which size popcorn they are going to purchase.
      Everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Claudia’s review on ‘Adventures in Zambezia’ may sound harsh and negative but it is her honest opinion of the film. It would be unfair to ask her to write differently, to be more balanced in her reviews or to be more constructive.In fact, i found her review to be very constructive and informative by listing all the ‘negative’ things about the film.

      ‘Adventures in Zambezia’ is going to be seen across the world and open to lots of good and bad criticism. Either way, it will show that the South African animation and film industry has tremendous talent and most of all great potential.

  2. Claudia

    Hi Mike. Thank you for the comments and, fundamentally, we agree on a lot of things. I just think it is a pity that so little faith is placed in our film industry and local talent. South African filmmakers need to distance themselves from foreign investors and think more of their resposibilty to local audiences. In terms of awards, it is great that South Africa has been recongnised; but it must be pointed out that the nominations are in catergories that have nothing to do with story, which was one of my complaints of the film. As South African filmmakers we must learn to swallow our pride and accept criticism if we ever expect to grow.

  3. Spurwing Plover

    Hmmmm interesting becuase altough its made in Africa it hasa number of america celeberties NEMOY,GOLDBLUM and CUMMINGS

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