Zarafa (2014)

October 8th, 2015
Author: Meredith Taylor

Directors: Remi Besançon, Jean-Christophe Lie

Script: Remi Besancon, Alexander Abela

Cast: Max Renaudin, Simon Abkarian, Francois-Xavier Demaison, Vernon Dobtcheff, Roger Dumas, Ronit Elkabetz, Deborah Francois, Thierry Fremont

Fr/Bel | 73mins | 2012 Animation

A finely wrought French animation based on the extraordinary true story of a Giraffe gifted to French royalty… although a certain dramatic licence has been taken with the ‘how it all went down’.

Told as a story within a story by grandfather sitting under the baobab tree relating it to his grandchildren, animation is absolutely the best way to put this wonderful yarn across; combining as it does the fantastical with comedy and the much darker human history of slave trade. Lawrence of Arabia meets Jules Verne meets Free Willy. Indeed, some of the more far-fetched elements of the story are infact true, as can be read in the interview with Remi. Besançon was originally sold the idea for Zarafa by his co-writer Abela, although, it being animation, it was another four years in the making once they found the finance. Indeed, Remi went off and made another live action film in the middle, while they waited for all the compositing to be completed.

Working on three levels, it’s a very well constructed and considered storyline that keeps the audience both rapt and entertained throughout its shrewd running time of 74 minutes. There’s an attention to detail and a gentle tempo, which enfolds the younger audience easily, rather in the fashion of the animations it was inspired by, coming out of that peerless Japanese powerhouse, Studio Ghibli, although it doesn’t quite hit the same level of accomplishment as the Spirited Away’s or the Princess Mononoke’s… but then, what does.

Zarafa tells the story of Maki, a young, orphaned Sudanese boy destined to be sold through the slave trade, who manages to escape his shackles. Whilst making his bid for freedom, Maki becomes the unlikely friend of a small herd of giraffe, also being hunted by Hassan, Prince of the Desert, a man intent on ensnaring a young giraffe to take to the Pasha. So the life of Maki and the young eponymous ‘Zarafa’ become irrevocably intertwined, as Maki endeavours to protect his charge and fulfil the promise he made to Zarafa’s mother.

Zarafa is really well-crafted, carefully thought-out and intelligent piece that has already demonstrated ardent support through festivals worldwide; speaking the universal language of animation and combining the exotic with just the right mix of tragedy, comedy, loopiness and larger-than-life characters to make it a winner. Tellingly, it also has enough to it that even the adults dragged along as unwilling chaperones might just find themselves enjoying it too. I predict huge DVD sales.



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