Review: Khumba – A Zebra’s Tale / Cert: U / Director: Anthony Silverston / Screenplay: Rafaella Delle Donne, Anthony Silverston / Starring: Liam Neeson, Jake T. Austin, Steve Buscemi, Laurence Fishburne, Richard E. Grant, Catherine Tate / Release Date: April 11th
Heard the one about the zebra with only half his stripes? Never mind, it wasn't very funny anyway. Khumba: A Zebra's Tale is a South African 3D animation where the laughs are even more scarce than the water in the drought-inflicted desert where Khumba and his zebra tribe live.
When Khumba, the half-striped zebra, is born, his superstitious herd blame him for the drying up of their safely enclosed water hole in the middle of the Karoo desert. After his mother dies and a silent but sage praying mantis leaves Khumba a map to a mythological magic water hole, Khumba sets out on a journey to discover himself and hopefully earn his stripes. Along the way he meets a sassy wildebeest, flamboyant ostrich, confused springboks and has to evade hungry evil leopard Phango.
When the night sky is the most interesting part of a film, you know there is a problem. Though it shares DNA with the likes of The Lion King, Madagascar and Finding Nemo, Khumba has little of the charm, wit or loveable characters of any of these. Children are spoiled with great animated films these days, and though Khumba looks pretty and has some good voice work (particularly from Liam Neeson), it will struggle to hold the attention of even the most patient kiddies.
Adults might find the odd bit of distraction in the starlit skies, stunning landscapes and beautiful sunsets but there is little in the script or the story to make this trip through the desert worth taking. The message of respecting and celebrating diversity is lost beneath the silliness and though there are Australian bunnies, Scottish eagles and British ostriches, the African voice cast are sadly sidelined in forgettable supporting roles.
Richard E. Grant is on comic relief duties but mostly falls flat on his ostrich face, Catherine Tate pops up as a disturbed sheep (more sad than funny) and Laurence Fishburne is wasted as Khumba's boring one-note father. Only Liam Neeson and Steve Buscemi seem to chew on their roles, with Neeson given a character that teeters on the brink of becoming truly interesting. Kids will be amused by some of the other characters Khumba meets along the way, with the South African springboks being particularly funny in a single scene but most viewers will also be aware of having seen it all before.
Apart from the occasional visual flourish (the night sky, the ghostly flashbacks and Phango's smell-o-vision point of view), there is little to hold the attention. For a comedy about a zebra lacking in stripes, Khumba could have done with a few more good lines.
Expected Rating: 5 out of 10