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STUDIO: The Weinstein Company
RUNNING TIME: 99 minutes
SPECIAL FEATURES: None
It’s a full length, animated movie without any song and dance numbers! But don’t let break from formula stop you from enjoying Azure & Asmar!
Steve Kynman, Nigel Pilkington, Suzanna Nour, Nigel Lambert
The tale of Azure & Asmar begins like most fairy tales. Once upon a time there were two boys; Azure the son of a wealthy Frenchman and Asmar, the son of the nanny who’s job it was to take care of Azure. The two boys behave like most brothers. They fight, they argue, and they are constantly competing against one another, but they also know the meaning of the other in their lives. The nanny treats both boys as her sons, and fills their heads with fairy tales, the most popular one having to do with the Djinn fairy, a mystical princess who is imprisoned within a huge mountain and can only be set free by a beautiful prince.
Well time passes and the boys realize that, while they were raised as brothers, their paths will not be the same. Blue eyed, fair skinned Azure is sent off to the city by his father to be educated by the smartest men in France, while Asmar and his mother are sent packing back to India with little more than the clothes on their backs.
Flash forward about ten years and Azure is all grown up and ready to be the heir to his fathers riches, but he would rather search for the Djinn Fairy. His father allows him this folly, and before too long Azure is in India, and trying to deal with the harsh realities of being in a completely different culture. With some help from an English beggar, Azure soon finds the nanny who raised him. She is now a very successful merchant. So successful in fact that she is bankrolling her son Asmar’s search for the Djinn fairy. She agrees to also fund Azure’s quest, and before you know it, both men, are arguing and competing just like the boys they were, in a quest to see who will find the Djinn fairy first.
What an enjoyable experience! Azure & Asmar is a very refreshing entry into the animated genre. It’s got a great story, beautiful animation, and it tackles more themes in ninety minutes than four Pixar films put together.
Azure & Asmar is so richly told by writer and director Michel Ocelot that it is hard to believe that it’s not an adaptation from a fable handed down through generations. Maybe that’s because the main storyline of the competition among family is something that anyone with brothers or sisters can relate to. There is always a competitive spirit among siblings, and Ocelot portrays this faithfully by having Azure and Asmar get into some pretty down and dirty fights, but never to the point of hatred. They roll around in the mud with fists flying, or argue about which one is most loved by their “mother”, but at the end of the day, they are loyal to each other.
In addition to dealing with the theme of family, Ocelot also packs in thoughts on race and racism as well as gender equality. The film gets pretty deep into exploring the issues of tolerance of other cultures. Azure is not accepted into Indian society at first, because the native people see his blue eyes as a sign as evil. Azure’s response to this is to keep his eyes closed to appear blind to others as well as to never have to look upon what he at first sees as an ugly land. It is not until the woman who raised him (now the most wealthy woman in her city) tells people that he is like a son to her and no harm will come from his blue eyes that people begin to accept him, and in turn he opens his eyes to see that this new world he has entered into has a beauty he has never seen before. Many of the lessons learned in the film are of this nature and they are told simply enough that any youngster will understand the messages being conveyed.
The rest of the story that deals with finding the Djinn fairy moves along at a nice pace. What I loved about Wall-E was that it took some time in the beginning to not be moving at a mile a minute; instead opting to let the characters breath. Unfortunately for me, the second act turned the film into a whiz bang action adventure that seems a bit uneven compared to how wonderful the first half was. The Princes’ Quest never falls into that trap. There aren’t any big explosions or chase scenes to be had. The movie keeps a very even pace and never gets bogged down by big, overdone sequences. It’s a more subtle movie than what companies like Disney and Pixar are doing. That’s not to say its better than films like Bolt or Toy Story, it’s just a nice change of pace.
What may take a little more time to take in is the animation style used by Ocelot. The Princes’ Quest is computer animated, but it’s portrayed in a classic style, meaning that it is not photorealistic, and is more like traditional 2D. It doesn’t have the detail of the recent Computer animated blockbusters that your used to, but give it a few minutes and the style should win you over. I must admit that it was the animation that initially kept me from seeing this when it played theatrically in my hometown, and now I am kicking myself for not giving it a fair chance when I had the opportunity. I can only imagine how pretty this movie must have looked on the big screen.
The film looks good on DVD. There is some very slight pixilation in a few scenes, but not anything too major. No extras on the disc either which is a bummer. It would have been nice to see the process of creating a fairy tale from the ground up.