Khumba: Film Review

Beautifully rendered landscapes and entertaining vocal performances compensate for the familiar elements of this South African animated film.

A young zebra born with only half his stripes sets off on an adventure in this Oscar contending animated film.

From its African setting to its large assemblage of wacky talking animals to its themes of tolerance and self-identity, Khumba is more than a little familiar and derivative. Nonetheless, this Oscar contending effort from South Africa’s Triggerfish Animation Studios is bound to please the small-fry thanks to its fast-paced storyline and frequent doses of humor. Their adult chaperones will take some pleasure from the gorgeously rendered images of African landscapes and a star-studded, hard-working vocal cast including Liam Neeson, Richard E. Grant, Laurence Fishburne and Steve Buscemi, among others.

The titular character, voiced by Jake T. Austin (Wizards of Waverly Place), is a young zebra born with the unfortunate condition of having no stripes on his rear half. His clan who live in a gated community -- one of the film’s several satirical elements that will go over children’s heads -- blames him for the drought afflicting the land and shuns him. So when Khumba learns of a faraway, mystical waterhole where zebras supposedly get their strips, he sets off on an adventure to find it.

Along the way, he not surprisingly runs across a gallery of colorful characters, including a maternal wildebeest (Loretta Devine); a neurotic ostrich (Grant); a jittery wild dog (Buscemi) and, most threateningly, a blind leopard (Neeson) who has it in for him. There’s also the requisite musical number, in which the ostrich sings about how “I am ostracized.”

Animation fans will recognize elements of the Madagascar and Ice Age films, and, of course, The Lion King, in the proceedings co-scripted by Jonathan Roberts (one of the latter film’s screenwriters). But that will hardly matter to kids, for whom familiarity is merely comforting. Since the film is being given only a brief Oscar-qualifying run, they’ll have to catch up with it on DVD, which is being sold exclusively by Walmart stores starting next month.

(Millennium Entertainment)

Production: Triggerfish Animation Studios

Cast: Jake T. Austin, Liam Neeson, Steve Buscemi, Loretta Devine, Laurence Fishburne, Richard E. Grant, AnnaSophia Robb, Anika Noni Rose, Catherine Tate, Ben Vereen

Director: Anthony Silverston

Screenwriters: Rafaella Delle Donne, Anthony Silverston, Jonathan Roberts

Producers: Staurt Forrest, Mike Buckland, Anthony Silverston, James Middleton, Jean-Michel Koenig

Executive producers: Michael Auret, Basil Ford, Edward Noeltner

Editor: Luke Mackay

Production designer: Daniel Clarke

Composer: Bruce Retief

Not rated, 81 min.