I cant seem to remember an animated feature that’s more ineffably difficult to watch than director Michel Ocelot’s Azur & Asmar: The Princes’ Quest. The story, dealing with archetypical children’s themes such as tolerance, friendship, and honesty, has its heart in the right place, but fails at much else. The computer animation looks cold and wooden, with its characters painted in chalky pastels, moving unnaturally to each turn in the plot.
Ocelot’s story pitches two young boys, Azur and Asmar, against one another to find the storied Djinn-fairy. The supernatural being is said to wait for a prince to come rescue her from the confines of a mountain chamber.. Along the way the two boys clash with cultures, swords, and destiny, en route to claim their place as the first to find the imprisoned fairy.
During the adventurous exposition, many moral issues are addressed, such as racial understanding. The characters, as expected, rarely do a bad thing – and if they do, they are immediately apologetic. As with most children’s movies, situations occur only to expedite the notion of forgiveness and lesson telling. I understand that these aforementioned traits are commonplace, though the film’s wildly awkward animation is not.
The characters’ eyes in this film, above all else, seem particularly unsettling. Azur, for instance, has the most dead, lifeless eyes that I have ever seen in an animated feature. Wax caricatures in Madame Tussaud’s museum in London would seem more realistic than these computer graphics. I cannot imagine being a child, watching this film, and then feeling anything less than intense fright and despair. Azur and every other character in the film look like they’ve just suffered through a lobotomy.
Aside from the creepy glass orbs that Ocelot calls eyes, the general movements of our protagonist seem stiff and eerie. Stop motion animation from Ray Harryhausen would even seem like an improvement. And the voice acting, being littered with uneasy readings, make the whole production seem like a bad nightmare.
There is also nudity in this film, and though in context the scene is innocuous enough, it still makes me wonder why it was included in a children’s movie. In fact, there are several moments in Ocelot’s opus where the content is questionable. Apparently, Ocelot is a well known name in Europe, with his animation being heralded in many circles. In the United States, the United Kingdom and Germany, he is less successful due to his nature of interjecting objectionable material into his films. I will be the first to admit that acute levels of conservatism isn’t nominal in our country, and that I am all for filmic creativity, but this type of material is gratuitous since it doesn’t serve a plot purpose.
Overall, the story, with the two close pals going head to head against each other, isn’t such a bad idea. In the movie you have the garden variety action sequences, the bumbling humor, the white knight attitude of the hero, and the obligatory swordfights of classic fairytales. What this film doesn’t have is the ability to transfer the idea to film. Rarely, if ever, does one feel truly this awkward in a theatre setting.
One of the least accessible animated films, Azur and Asmar serves as a strange cacophony of color and sound. Stretching out for a little more than an hour and a half, you may feel yourself becoming just as listless as the characters in the movie.
Ocelot, who is no doubt a gifted gentleman with many talents, will eventually make a fine film. Unfortunately for us, Azur and Asmar falls well short of that promise.