dir Anthony Silverston
scr Raffaella Delle Donne, Anthony Silverston
prd Mike Buckland, Stuart Forrest, Jean-Michel Koenig, James Middleton, Anthony Silverston
voices Jake T Austin, Liam Neeson, Steve Buscemi, AnnaSophia Robb, Loretta Devine, Richard E Grant, Laurence Fishburne, Catherine Tate, Anika Noni Rose, Ben Vereen, Roger Jackson, Alexander Polinsky
release SA 25.Oct.13, US 6.Dec.13,
UK 11.Apr.14
13/South Africa 1h25
Panic in the desert: Khumba and friends

neeson buscemi robb
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
Khumba This South African animated adventure is packed with visually striking locations and endearing characters, even if the script strains to mimic the Hollywood formula. Plucky heroes, zany sidekicks and a relentlessly evil villain are all on hand, but there's also a fresh comical tone.

In the Great Karoo desert, a herd of zebras fences off its own water hole. But a drought brings needy creatures to the attention of young Khumba (Austin), an outcast with half the stripes everyone else has. So when Khumba hears about a magical pond that can restore his stripes and supply badly needed water, he leaves his best friend Tombi (Robb) to take a cross-country trek with a variety of critters including a hyena (Buscemi), buffalo (Devine) and ostrich (Grant). But he also catches the nose of bitterly vengeful half-blind leopard Phango (Neeson).

What the film lacks in imagination it makes up for in skilful animation and positive energy. Even with vicious Phango on the prowl, the filmmakers keep things cheerful without tipping over into slapstick, although there are a few limp musical numbers. The range of animals may feel trite, but there are enjoyable surprises like a bonkers sheep (Tate), a family of too-agreeable meerkats and a herd of meathead springboks.

Meanwhile, the voice cast adds unexpected spark. Neeson gives purring depth to Phango, a baddie with issues so deep that he can't change his spots. Similarly, Austin's Khumba is a plucky hero who earns his stripes as he reluctantly learns that his uniqueness has nothing to do with how he looks. Fishburne adds some gravitas as Khumba's concerned dad, while Devine and Grant stir some emotion into their comic-relief roles.

But what really holds our interest is the way the film looks. The vast desert is gorgeously animated, looking both photorealistic and artistically heightened at the same time. Some of the design work is hackneyed (such as sending the characters up a ludicrously perilous cliff), and a few plot points fall oddly flat. But even though we never see a human, there are strong comments about how we interact with nature. And since the filmmakers never get preachy or sentimental, the movie both entertains and leaves us thinking.

cert u themes, violence 6.Mar.14

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© 2014 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall