Boyhood pals grow up to be rivals in this striking animated fairy tale from French filmmaker Michel Ocelot. Azur is a blond, blue-eyed aristocrat who befriends Amar, the dark-skinned son of his nurse. The nurse wows them with stories about the Djin fairy who's waiting to be rescued by a prince in a far off land, so the grown Azur goes looking for the fairy. He finds more than he bargained for in this simplistic but visually charming story.
The dubbed English version of this French-Arabic production leaves something to be desired: many of the voice actors sound stilted, partly because of the unsophisticated dialogue. The story is also slow, labouring too long on the boys' childhood hi-jinks when it's the adult adventures that really deliver. Azur's quest becomes involving when he arrives in a strange land where people with blue eyes are regarded as bad luck. His dramatic solution is to shut his eyes and feign blindness, a typically grand gesture for this fairy tale that deals in absolutes and symbolism rather than reality.
"THERE'S A SERIOUS MESSAGE ABOUT RACISM"
There's a serious message about racism and xenophobia that won't go unnoticed by either children or adults. But there's levity, too, as Azur meets a comedy sidekick - and there's visual splendour as he and Amar get close to their goal. The Princes' Quest can't match the standards of big-budget animations such as Ratatouille, but then it doesn't want to: it's a humbler affair with a distinct visual style and a story that's quietly charming despite its flaws.
Azur & Asmar: The Princes' Quest is out in the UK on 8th February 2008.