“Zarafa” is a charming French flat animation, co-directed by animator Jean-Christophe Lie (supervising animator “The Triplettes”) and Rémi Bezançon (director of the whimsical” Ma vie en l’air” and “A Happy Event, “The First Day of the Rest of Your Life”).
It is distributed in the US by GKIDS (Guerrilla Kids International Distribution Syndicate) the New York City based distributers and organizers of the New York International Children’s Film Festival. “Zarafa” was nominated in the Outstanding Achievement, Directing in an Animated Feature Production category at the 40th annual Annie awards competing against another Gkids film ” The Rabbi’s Cat” which was also nominated as Best Animated Feature
G-Kids’ ‘”From Up on Poppy Hill” was nominated in the Outstanding Achievement, Writing in an Animated Feature Production’ category.
“Zarafa”, whose cheery animation is reminiscent of Herge’s ligne claire style, poses it’s characters against flat realistic environments in the Sahara, Greece and Paris. Like Tintin, Its child protagonist Maki, sworn to protect the baby giraffe Zarafa, is aided by a series of sympathetic adult characters.
The story begins under a Sudanese monkey-bread tree. A gaggle of children sit rapt as their elder (Vernon Dobtcheff) tells the story of brave Maki. Fleeing cruel slave traders, young Maki (Max Renaudin Pratt) befriends Zarafa and watches, horror struck the same traders kill his mother (shades of Bambi) and capture Zarafa as a gift for the French King. He promises the dying mother that he will bring Zarafa home. Attempting to rescue his friend Soula. (The mysterious travelling Bedouin Prince, the employer of the animal traders, Hassan (Simon Abkarian), rescues Maki from the slavers and sends him home. Slaver Moreno (Thierry Frémont) swears revenge.
But stubborn Maki trails after him, and eventually bonds with the proud Hassan. Indeed. It was Hassan who was ordered by the pasha of Egypt to find a gift worthy to send French King Charles X, in hopes the king will help liberate Alexandria from it’s Turkish Occupation.
The story is based on fact; in 1827 Zarafa, the first giraffe in Paris a gift from he Egyptian viceroy Mehemet Ali, did indeed received a rapturous reception.
Unafraid to criticize French and Arabic history, the film addresses slavery and bigotry. The loathsome King Charles calls Maki “a monkey escaped from his cage,” and his remarks about the beautiful Zarafa are no better. She gives him his comeuppance.
Although the story has many unlikely adventures, realistic underpinnings address the exotic animal trade, slave trade and colonialism gives the film a certain gravitas.
An adventurous hot-air balloonist Malaterre (Francois-Xavier Maison) flies Hassan, stowaway Maki and a Tibetan Cow and Bull, across the ocean to Paris. Maki tumbles overboard and is befriended by gorgeous female Pirate Bouboulina (Ronit Elkabetz), who eventually settles the wandering Hassan’s heart. The unlikely group struggle over the snow -laden Alps. In Paris, Zarafa’s reception is less than what was hoped for. King Charles dismisses the Pasha’s request, but le tout Paris soon coverts anything covered in Giraffe like prints.
Eventually Hassan and Maki return to Africa, where the now aged Maki and his true love Soula watch over a passel of grandchildren and think about their part adventures.
The beautiful widescreen ligne claire backdrops and the lively rougher rendered ensemble of memorable characters make for a fun family film and a treat for all lovers of flat rendered animation. Laurent Perez’s music, brightened with African percussion, also tips its hat to Maurice Jarre’s score for” Lawrence Of Arabia.”