Ryan Findley
MFF Preview

Azur & Asmar

By - Sep 26th, 2009 06:54 am
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Azur & Asmar

Azur & Asmar
France/Belgium/Spain/Italy, 2006/2008, 99 min, English
Saturday, Sept. 26, 11 am, North Shore Cinema
Sunday, Sept. 27, 11:30 am, Oriental Theatre
Thursday, Oct. 1, 4:45 pm, North Shore Cinema

With the advent of fancy 3D animation, 2D has gone the way of the dinosaur. This is a sad thing for me because I am of the generation that was reared on two-dimensional, moral-themed classics like Sleeping Beauty, The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast. While I can appreciate the technical wonder of such productions as UP and Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, I will never feel the same way about them as I do about the movies of my childhood.

That is why Azur & Asmar is, for me, such an unexpected gift. This beautifully animated tale of two boys — blond-haired, blue-eyed Azur and dark-haired, dark-eyed Asmar. Both are determined to rescue the imprisoned djinn-fairy of Asmar’s mother’s bedtime tales. The story is an orginal fairytale of the director, French filmmaker Michel Ocelot. It is an amalgam of mostly Middle Eastern fables.

Azur’s (white, aristocratic) father hires Asmar’s (Arab) mother, Jenane, to nurse and care for Azur after Azur’s natural mother dies. Jenane has a son of her own, also an infant, named Asmar. The two boys are raised as brothers, and both think of Jenane as their mother, until Azur’s father abruptly sends Azur to a personal tutor in the city and fires Jenane.

Years later, when Azur is grown, he leaves his native country to travel to the land of Jenane’s stories because he still believes in the djinn-fairy and wants to rescue her. He is shipwrecked en route and arrives as a pauper. He suffers various adventures and mishaps during his quest to rescue the djinn-fairy. Asmar has also been driven to undertake this quest, and the two begin their journey together. But now, there is distrust and an ongoing rivalry involved.

Over the course of their quest, the two boys (now young men) bond and make peace with each other. The tale speaks of multiculturalism, putting aside fears about others and embracing difference. This is the moral of the story, the dictum that we are gently exhorted to take to heart and live by. It’s a light touch, not an overbearing one.

The animation is stunning throughout. At the end of its commercial life in the United States, 2D animation became a technical prospect rather than an artistic one. The people hired to work on major animated productions were technicians, not artists, and this showed. The animation was flawless but lacked life. Azur & Asmar doesn’t have that problem. Particularly in the background;  it is overwhelmingly evident that the animators who worked on this film were artists, concerned not only with creating the animation but with making it beautiful. Some of the scenes are breathtaking in their complexity, texture and use of color.

The film was originally written in French and Arabic. For this release, the French has been translated into English and re-recorded, so the bulk of the story is understandable to an English-speaking audience. The Arabic dialogue, however, was left in without subtitles. The audience is left to get a sense of the dialogue from the situation and tonal expressions. In fact, about one-fourth of the movie is in Arabic; this can get a little frustrating, particularly in some of the sequences where huge chunks of the Arabic dialogue are unbroken.

Azur & Asmar was not previously released commercially in the U.S. The opening scenes show Jenane breastfeeding the boys as infants, which would get the film a PG-13 rating. Yet, this is most certainly a children’s film. It is beautifully animated, and the story is reasonably complex. But there are no slyly hidden adult jokes in the dialogue, and there are no sight gags in the animation. Azur & Asmar is a straightforward family friendly tale.

What did you think about the quality of animation in this film?

Categories: Arts & Culture, Movies

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