Review: ‘Azur and Azmar’
The animated AZUR AND AZMAR is an original new Arabian Nights-style fairy tale by animator/ writer Michel Ocelot, best known for his Kirikou series. I was unfamiliar with OcelotÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s work but AZUR AND AZMAR did absolutely nothing to make me want to visit his earlier films. While many viewers may appreciate the AZUR AND AZMARÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s themes about religious acceptance and racial harmony, (and thereÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s certainly nothing wrong with that) I found this film to be a mostly ponderous, heavy-handed Sunday school lesson.
AZUR AND AZMAR tells the story of two boys. Azur is the blue-eyed son of a powerful medieval nobleman while Asmar is the dark-skinned son of the AzurÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s nanny Jenane, who raises (and breast-feeds) both boys. The boys are raised like brothers, and when theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re covered in the mud theyÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re playing in, they look identical (See, weÃ¢â‚¬â„¢re all the same on the inside!) The boys are enraptured by JenaneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s stories of the Djinn Fairy, whoÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s locked in a crystal cage, waiting to be freed. For some reason, AzurÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s father banishes Jenane and Asmar from his home, but years later the boys are reunited as grown men, and both decide to rescue the mythical fairy.
This may sound like some sort of classic fable, but AZUR AND AZMAR is actually an original tale by Ocelot. The problem is that itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not a particularly compelling story. The mission to save the fairies plays like an episodic video game (a magic key gets you through a magic doorway, etcÃ¢â‚¬ ¦) The dialog is stilted and dry and even the one humorous character, AzurÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s traveling companion Crapoux, is more of an annoying whiner than a true comic sidekick.
Much has been written about AZUR AND AZMARÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s animation style, a dazzling combination of cutouts and crude computer work. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s all colorful enough, but flat and unattractive. Ocelot tries to blend the beauty of Arabic art and itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Mediterranean and Middle East influences with newer animation techniques, but to my eye it doesnÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t work. The complex mosaic collages and the details within the architecture are often visually overbearing and overpower the characters. The humans, almost always posed at 90 degree silhouette angles, come off as unfinished computer renderings, and Azul especially looks just creepy. There is a beautiful crimson lion that shows up near the end, but itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s too little, too late.
IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m not sure who the target audience is for AZUR AND AZMAR. The pace is way too slow for kids and the story too simple for adults. Gabriel YaredÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s haunting score is outstanding and helps keep this all from being too dull.Ã‚ I wish Ocelot the best with his future films and there may be many viewers who are completely enraptured by AZUR AND AZMAR, but IÃ¢â‚¬â„¢m just not one of them.