It is indeed “ama-zing” Adventures in Zambezia (Blu-ray) didn’t find a theatrical foothold with American audiences. I suppose it was seen as “just another bird movie” after Rio and that’s a real shame since I found this to be a visual treat with a well-told story and engaging characters.
Young falcon Kai (Jeremy Suarez, The Bernie Mac Show) has spent his life out in the African wilderness with only his father, Tendai (Samuel L. Jackson, Marvel’s The Avengers), for company. A chance meeting teaches Kai about Zambezia, an island haven for birds of all feathers to flock together. He takes off for the mystical city and leaves his father behind, not knowing what awaits him.
When Gogo the stork (Jenifer Lewis, Cars 2) and her best friend, Tini (Tania Gunadi, Transformers Prime), literally stumble into Kai they tell him all about their destination: Zambezia, a city created by and for all birds. Well almost. The exceptions to the rule are the marabous, scavengers who attack travelers in an attempt to gain access to any food they can and who are the reason for Gogo and Tini’s crash landing. As his guests recover their breath, Kai learns that in Zambezia there’s a troupe of birds who protect the city by fighting off invaders like the marabou. They’re called The Hurricanes and Kai is enraptured by thoughts of being one, so he heads to Zambezia.
Upon arriving, Kai quickly makes a friend in the form of Ezee (Jamal Mixon, Paul Blart: Mall Cop), the local tour guide and occasional screw-up. He also meets Zoe (Abigail Breslin, Little Miss Sunshine), who thankfully isn’t played as a serious love interest but rather another friend. She’s the daughter of Zambezia’s leader Sekhuru (Leonard Nimoy, Star Trek: The Original Series) who has his own ties to Kai. Though his methods are unorthodox Kai is able to secure a spot with The Hurricanes as a recruit, much to the chagrin of their rule-obsessed trainer Ajax (Jeff Goldblum, Jurassic Park).
But while Kai is busy trying to balance his solitary ways with those of his new team, his father has been trying to find him. And when Tendai spots his old enemy Budzo the giant lizard (Jim Cummings, Star Wars: The Clone Wars) talking with the marabous his attempts to learn what they’re up to results in his capture.
Yes there are echoes of Disney movies here, with The Lion King, The Little Mermaid, and Robin Hood all given nods. The themes of learning to work as a community, of finding your own place in the world, and the power of forgiveness are hardly new, yet Adventures in Zambezia never feels like it’s merely copying other movies. The story is told with a deft hand and the characters are grounded by their voice talents, many of whom are actors with serious longevity in the business. It’s a movie animation fans would do well to check out.
Adventures in Zambezia (Blu-ray) is a beautiful movie. The 1080p/1.78:1 transfer is absolutely gorgeous, but no amount of scrubbing and processing means anything without quality source material to begin with. And this is where the movie gets a lot of credit. The African scenery is truly striking, but more than that, what impressed me was the route the filmmakers chose to take: creating a world without humans. This is challenging due to the necessity of having to marry the visuals of the reel world with the real one in which humans are the intended audience, thus everything on screen needs to look like a bird could have conceivably made it yet be instantly recognizable to a human. It’s an underappreciated art to be able to accomplish that feat and yet the artisans make it look effortless.
The overall animation holds its own with any contemporary film and I would say it outshines many, especially since Adventures in Zambezia tackles both water and feathers, two of the most difficult things to animate, and creates highly realistic outputs. The palette is intricate and rich, with a high level of saturation such that colors pop when they need to yet the night shots aren’t left feeling bland at all but rather simply muted.
There will be those who argue Adventures in Zambezia should have been made into an all-out musical but I felt the story stood well enough without going that route. Not to say there isn’t music. This film goes the montage route over the song-and-dance one and it worked for me, mainly because allowing the visuals to be paired with the African melodies meant I was free to appreciate both at my leisure instead of having my attention forced. And the soundtrack is in its best light with the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio which fills up any space your sound system has. But for those who wish it, there are also a couple of Dolby Digital 5.1 tracks included and a descriptive audio track, overall an abundance of audio options where there could have easily been merely a stereo track. You won’t be disappointed in the way the movie looks or sounds, I guarantee it.
There are four behind-the-scenes featurettes included as special features, along with a music video inspired by the film. Probably the biggest special feature is a DVD copy of the film. The featurettes were very candid and more engaging than I expected, which was a nice surprise.
It’s easy to recommend Adventures in Zambezia (Blu-ray) as a purchase. With gorgeous animation, multiple audio tracks, a story that echoes other tales yet never feels derivative, and voice talents who connect to their characters; it’s a family film kids of all ages can enjoy.