Movie Review - 'Azur & Asmar'

The gentle tale of
The gentle tale of "Azur & Asmar" doesn't bombard your senses. (Genius Productions)
Friday, December 12, 2008

Don't expect to find any kung fu pandas in "Azur & Asmar," an animated fairy tale that has nothing in common with the computer-generated cartoons so popular today. Instead of overloading our senses with sight gags and pop-culture references, French filmmaker Michel Ocelot unspools his yarn slowly, with a gentleness that borders on the old-fashioned. Some will find that refreshing; others will wish that Buzz Lightyear would show up and inject energy into this undeniably gorgeous enterprise.

Caucasian, privileged Azur and dark-skinned, poor Asmar are lovingly raised as brothers by Jenane, Asmar's mother and Azur's nanny. The boys spend their nights listening to adventure stories about the fabled, imprisoned Djinn fairy. Azur's father breaks up the family unit, which later motivates the adult Azur to find and liberate the Djinn fairy he never forgot.

Combining cutouts with 3-D digital animation, Ocelot turns every frame of his film into a beautiful, dynamic page out of a picture book.

Although he is telling a simple children's tale, Ocelot, who wrote, illustrated and directed, also touches on issues of class and cultural acceptance. No matter how much wealth we are born into, the movie suggests, any one of us can easily become a struggling stranger in a strange land. Of course, don't be surprised if your 6-year-old misses that point and instead turns to you to ask the important question: "Mommy, how come this movie doesn't have any zebras that sound like Chris Rock?"

-- Jen Chaney

Azur & Asmar PG, 99 minutes Contains thematic material, mild action and peril. At Landmark's E Street Cinema.

© 2008 The Washington Post Company