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DIRECTOR: Anthony Silverston
VOICE CAST: Laurence Fishburne, Loretta Devine, Anika Noni Rose, Liam Neeson, Steve Buscemi, Sindiwe Magona, Richard E Grant, Jake T Austin, AnnaSophia Robb
CLASSIFICATION: PG V
RUNNING TIME: 91 minutes
Cute and cuddly should not be the first thoughts when thinking of a zebra, but come on, that is exactly what this little half-striped zebra turns out to be.
Named Khumba (voiced by Jake T Austin) by his mother, the little guy is born into a protected enclave.
But, his different appearance – he doesn’t have the full complement of stripes normally associated with zebras – creates uncertainty among the inward-looking zebras, who have separated themselves from the rest of the creatures of the Karoo.
The zebras have ensconsced themselves in a thorny enclosure (before you think laager, the Afrikaners will put in an appearance later along with all sorts of other South African stereotypes) and, true to irrational behaviour, they blame the drought on his appearance. Go figure.
Khumba hears an old story about a magic fountain and, deciding this is how he will get his stripes, sets off into the great Karoo to do just that.
The cast who didn’t make it on to Meerkats Manor, Catherine Tate as a schizophrenic merino sheep and a riverine rabbit that decides he doesn’t want to act like an endangered species any more, are just some of the eccentric creatures inhabiting the Karoo that Khumba stumbles upon.
Aided by a flamboyant, flouncing, neurotic ostrich (voiced by Richard E Grant) and a motherly, over-protective wildebeest (Mama V is voiced by Loretta Devine), Khumba’s journey takes him through the Little Karoo of succulent plants and abandoned farmsteads in search of water.
Themes of isolationism versus sharing, the exploitation of eco-tourism and diversity are all touched on, but more subtly than Triggerfish Animation’s previous Zambezia.
The animation has also leapt forward, with more varied details in the ever-changing backgrounds of koppies and gorgeous sunsets.
The backgrounds are teasingly familiar and every now and then another creature bounds across Khumba’s path to elicit a giggle.
The messages Khumba and his zebra family learn about embracing diversity and finding strength in difference will go down well with children and adults alike, as will the rugby-obsessed springboks and fanatical dassies that look like they chomp stompies as readily as they do grass… when they are not acting more like loons than lemmings, that is.
Khumba’s animated adventure has a whole lot more logic and meat on it than the birds’ story from Zambezia, putting it streaks ahead of European products like The Missing Lynx.
Triggerfish Studios hook into global market
STEPPING onto the global stage of animation has been a steep learning curve for the Cape Town crew of Triggerfish Animation Studios.
It isn’t just finding the animation artists that complement the team, or bolstering the computing power, but also the global distribution patterns that need considering.
Like, what kind of fonts must be used for dvd covers in other territories. And someone had better remember that the letter “h” is not used in the same way when speaking Polish, so the name of their new feature film has to change to Kumba in certain territories.
These sort of considerations have fallen to Kirsten Barwise to manage and channel. She started off as an animated producer on Zambezia back in 2010, and because she came from a live action background she was always asking for explanations about the process and results. That helped her to explain the project to other people and now she finds herself working as Triggerfish Animation’s marketing director, liaising with distribution companies around the world about everything from activity sheets for newspapers to breaking down colour charts for posters.
“It’s so exciting to see our artwork coming alive,” said Barwise.
Losing licensing control over their artwork because they didn’t have a big enough team, or the time to handle all designs themselves on Zambezia, taught them to be more careful about their product which, after all, is their calling card.
“We’re quite pedantic about our brand going out, we need to represent the character well,” she said.
This time around the team is bigger and some of the designers have actually worked with the toy company to design the promotional toys and the all-important style book which dictates exactly how the designs can be used on anything from wallpaper to mugs.
Travelling to the Annecy International Animated Film Festival and Cannes earlier this year also opened her eyes to the hunger of territories around the world for quality non-US generated, family-friendly content.
“They’re interested in a different look,” said Barwise.
The success of Zambezia in territories such as Russia, where it has made $5.3 million (R51.7m), Poland ($3.2m) and South Korea ($3m) bears this out.
(Comparatively speaking, the Disney film Brave released at the same time made three times as much over the same period in the Russian territory, but with four times the budget.)
So far Zambezia has raked in almost $30m at the global box office, boding well for Khumba which is an even stronger product.
At the Annecy International Animated Film Festival Barwise also picked up some interesting titbits about the translations of the films, which are usually handled by distribution companies in the particular territories. In the various Scandinavian countries people would rather watch the film in English than in the language of their neighbour, while a territory like Germany can also sell the German soundtrack into a place like Austria and Switzerland.
Alternative online platforms are taking off faster in the US with its single unifying language than across Europe, while Russia is a big player in terms of distribution, also because of one unifying language.