zambeziacoverGrade:  C
Entire family:  No
2011, 83 min., Color
Rated G
Aspect ratio:  1.78:1
Featured audio:  DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features:  C
Includes: Blu-ray, DVD

I loved animated films as a kid, and still do. But as with live-action films, there still has to be an interesting (and hopefully original) plot, characters we care about, and strong, believable dialogue. The fact that it’s animated only adds another requirement: the animation has to be good.

Adventures in Zambezia (aka Zambezia) satisfies only the last condition. The animation of this full-length feature from Triggerfish Animation Studios (South Africa) is competent, though weaker scenes like the flight sequences will remind you of video-game graphics and the art design of frames often seems cluttered.

But big-name voice talents like Leonard Nimoy, Jeremy Suarez, Abigail Breslin, Jeff Goldblum, Samuel L. Jackson, Jenifer Lewis, and Jim Cummings seem wasted because the story is so contrived and structured to be so constantly in motion that we never really get the chance to form any sort of attachment to the characters—which means we don’t care about them.  

It’s commendable that Triggerfish tried to showcase such South African animals as peregrine falcons, black-shouldered kites, lammargeiers, African fish eagles, Barbary falcons, saddle-billed storks, nightjars, weaver birds, and Marabou storks. But there are so many species the average North American viewer won’t recognize that it works against the film, because we don’t know these creatures’ natural tendencies in order to have some sense of habits or personalities. All we get is what the screenplay provides, and frankly that’s not enough.

zambeziascreenshotThe plot is a hokey, muddled mess about a young falcon who wants to go to a fabled city of Zambezia, where all birds live in harmony and under the protection of the Blue Falcons, who patrol in formation over the giant city (a big tree, actually, as in Avatar or Disney’s Animal Kingdom). The villain is a gigantic monitor lizard who wants to build a bridge to Zambezia so he can waddle on over and eat all the bird eggs he wants. Like any villain, he has minions to do his bidding, or else he’ll eat them.

Unfortunately, everything seems so rushed that we move quickly from motherless falcon Kai’s fears to him suddenly being an accomplished flier, leaving his overprotective father to go to Zambezia, and finding the fabled city with no problem at all. There are predictable conflicts with the locals before partnerships are forged, a possible mate is found, and in the span of 83 minutes all is made right with the world.

Our ‘tween and teen gave it thumbs down, and it was painful for the adults to watch. But as my wife pointed out, younger children (ages 3-7) don’t fully grasp the plots of most films, so Adventures in Zambezia—with its broad array of interesting creatures, bright colors, breakneck pacing, and decent animation—will probably appeal to that age bracket. Adventures in Zambezia is distributed by Sony and for now only available at Walmart, beginning April 1.