(ANIMATED KIDPIC -- CANADIAN-FRENCH-GERMAN)
An Alliance Atlantis Releasing release (in Canada) of a Nelvana/Home Made Movies/TMO production, in association with the Clifford Ross Co. (International sales: Nelvana, Toronto.) Produced by Hasmi Giakoumis, Merle-Anne Ridley. Executive producers, Michael Hirsh, Patrick Loubert, Robert Rea, Clifford Ross, Clive Smith, Peter Volkle.
Directed by Raymond Jafelice. Screenplay, Jafelice, Peter Sauder, based on the books by Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff. EditorS, Karen Lawrie, Noda Tsamardos; music, Tom Thorney, Tim Thorney, Peter Coulman, Brent Barkman, Carl Lenox; art directors, Davian Bobrowska, Amelie Bouchard, H. Grace Waddington; animation directors, Albert Hanan Kaminski Arpad Szabo; sound, Chris Jannetta, Yuri Gorbachow; casting, Jessie Thomson. Reviewed at the Egyptien Cinema, Montreal, March 2, 1999. Running time: 81 MIN.
King Babar Dan Lett Queen Celeste Janet-Laine Green Young Babar Kristin Fairlie Cornelius Chris Wiggins Madame Elizabeth Hanna
Voices: Philip Williams, Wayne Robson, Ellen-Ray Hennessy, Jennifer Martini, Kylie Fairlie, Paul Haddad, Amos Crawley, Allen Stewart-Coates, Kristin Bone, Cody Jones.
The second "Babar" feature from Toronto animation studio Nelvana, following "Babar: The Movie" in 1989, is a gentle, no-frills chronicle of a large chunk of the life of the famous elephant. Refreshingly traditional ani is both inspirational and entertaining, as well as true to the spirit of the original books by Jean and Laurent de Brunhoff. But somber aspects of the story and its slow pace may be problems for some kids. Pic will appeal to parents looking for quality fare for their kids and will likely have theatrical legs in territories where "Babar" books are best known, notably French-speaking Europe. The film will be more of a small-screen item in other markets.
Pic opened Feb. 26 across Quebec in French and English, timed to coincide with spring break in the province. It generated a decent C$140,000 ($93,000) in its first week and it is set to open in all major markets across Canada over the next month. U.S. broadcast fights were pre-sold to HBO, which also airs the "Babar" series.
Tall tale opens with the baby Babar lounging around in the forest having a grand old time, playing with pals Celeste and Arthur (the latter no relation to the PBS aardvark). But the good times come to a sudden end when a hunter brutally murders Babar's mother. Alone, Babar wanders the forest and soon finds himself in a bustling city full of humans. There are a number of fairly funny scenes as the elephant strolls the town's streets, snarling traffic and scaring the pants off passersby.
Luckily, Babar meets a nice old lady who takes a shine to him and gives him some dough to get himself outfitted at the local haberdashery. Babar emerges from the upscale store in the trademark green suit and bowler hat. His lady friend teaches him the niceties of human interaction, but Babar eventually feels the urge to return to the jungle and is only too happy when Celeste and Arthur show up.
Director Raymond Jafelice lets the story take its lime to unwind, which is one of the pleasures of the film but may be a sore point for children with short attention spans. Helmer doesn't shy away from some of the troubling themes of the books, including the murder of Babar's mother, but neither does he let the film dwell on these dark plot twists. Jafelice and Peter Sander's screenplay does a good job of balancing weighty themes -- the importance of staying true to your roots, the fragility of family ties -- with the lighter, more frothy fare. But this classic approach may be a tough sell for young viewers accustomed to the more fast-paced animation available on network TV.
The animation has an uncluttered, simple look that's a pleasant contrast to much contempo toon work and gives pic the flavor of the original "Babar" illustrations. Much of the credit for keeping the pic on an entertaining course goes to the music of Tom and Tim Thorney, Peter Coulman, Brent Barkman, and Carl Lenox (aka Great Big Music). Their tunes are uniformly bright and bouncy but also have welcome shades of jazzy swing, worldbeat rhythms and soulful singing.