Set in the desert plains of South Africa, 'Khumba' is the computer-animated family film about a young, half-striped zebra on a quest to earn his stripes. It's clear from the plot synopsis alone that the anthropomorphic character's adventure is a metaphorical journey of self-discovery, and it's nearly impossible not to guess the conclusion. Especially after Khumba's mother tells him a legend of how zebras developed stripes by swimming in a magical waterhole, we know by film's end the adolescent African equid will learn to love himself exactly the way he is. Naturally, Khumba fails to see the real meaning behind his mother's story and by extension, so will the youngest in the family, which frankly is all that matters here.
Seen from that perspective, the film by South African-based studio Triggerfish Animation Studios succeeds in its intended goal. Quirky, goofy-looking animals, such as a hyperactive zebra with a nervous twitch and Skalk the Wild Dog (Steve Buscemi), participate in the journey but add nothing of value or significance to the story. They are used simply for comical effect. And although the best they'll be able to manage is a smile from the adults, the kids, I would imagine, would be hypnotized by their silliness. There's also a sheep that protects her farm by wearing a ram's skull with horns still attached which is somewhat amusing. The only animal that makes any difference is a zany Riverine Rabbit (Jeff Bennett) who points our determined protagonist in the right direction.
The story itself follows a rather familiar, almost generic structure. After years of being treated differently for being half-striped, including his father (Laurence Fishburne) by not defending him more, Khumba (Jake T. Austin) sets out to find the mystical waterhole mentioned by his mother. One interesting aspect is seeing a striped-obsessed and superstitious zebra herd that voluntarily imprisons themselves with thorny bushes around a waterhole that is quickly drying. Too afraid of the world outside their comfortable enclosure, they've forgotten to live like the wild animals they are and chastise change, which means poor Khumba falls to the bottom of the totem pole despite his father being the herd's leader. Again, it's easy to guess where the young zebra's journey will end, but the message of valuing individuality is an admirable one and for the most part, makes this coming-of-age tale decently enjoyable.
Once outside the confines of his home, which apparently is quite easy to escape, Khumba is soon joined by another pair, a protective, motherly wildebeest (Loretta Devine) and a flamboyantly eccentric ostrich (Richard E. Grant). From here, the story seems to run on cruise control with nothing genuinely exciting happening, unless you count the trio encountering a bohemian bunch basking in the safety of a national park as some kind of high point. In fact, the happenstance experience with these other critters is so short and of honestly little importance that we're left wondering what the attraction is to follow after Khumba. At least when it comes to Phango (Liam Neeson), a maliciously fixated leopard that's meant to create a sense of danger but can barely muster a reason for even existing in the plot, we're given a flimsy excuse for his obsession for Khumba. It's unclear why everyone else cares all that much or why they should.
The animation studio's first full-length feature was another quirky story featuring the wild animal life of South Africa called 'Adventures in Zambezia.' And like that film, the animation work is highly impressive and outstandingly beautiful, showing incredible detail and realism in each character. It's clear the focus is on bringing more attention to the majestic beauty of the Great Karoo (or of the stunning grandeur of Victoria Falls and Zambezi River as in the case of 'Zambezia'), and in that respect, the movie does a tremendous job in bringing the splendor of that region to life. Unfortunately, the magnificence of that province in South Africa is attached to a rather generic plot that won't attract many adults although the youngest among us might find something to enjoy in 'Khumba.'
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
Millennium Entertainment brings 'Khumba' to 3D Blu-ray as a two-disc combo set. The Region A locked, BD50 disc contains both 2D and 3D versions of the movie, and a DVD-5 sits on the opposing panel. Both discs are housed inside a standard blue keepcase with a lightly-embossed slipcover. After a couple skippable trailers, viewers are taken to a 2D screen with full-motion clips and music. Owners can choose the 3D movie when pressing "Play."
The animation film from South Africa arrives stateside with a MVC-encoded transfer that won't rival the best 3D presentations already available, but it can hold its own. A few nighttime scenes and those taking place inside a dark cave towards the end are a bit on the flat side, yet they're pleasing enough. The best moments are brightly-lit exteriors where separation between the foreground and background are excellent, as the desert landscape penetrates deep into the screen, creating an amusing feel of distance and space. Characters have a nice roundness to their snouts and beaks, providing a welcomed sense of believability. A couple pop-out gimmicks are seen but generally flat and never seem to break through the screen.
Presented in a 2.40:1 framed window, the transfer shines best in the CG animation, allowing viewers to appreciable the tremendous work and love that went into making the film. Fine lines and objects are razor-sharp, as individual hairs can be distinctly made out on each creature's body. Every pebble on the desert floor, the tiniest blemish in the faces of animals and each crack in the rock formations is highly detailed and resolute. Contrast is spot-on with outstanding visibility into the distance and crisp, brilliant whites throughout. Black levels are inky rich and true with strong shadow details in the darkest moments. The color palette is a lush array of various hues and shades with sumptuously saturated primaries and clean, vibrant secondary pastels, providing the image with warmth and beauty.
The animated family film also explores the Blu-ray terrains with an excellent Dolby TrueHD soundtrack that complements the story nicely. A well-balanced soundstage delivers an expansive, welcoming image with brilliant directionality of various off-screen effects. The score also fills the entire front area with outstanding acoustical details and sharp, clean dynamics. The upper range seems to be lacking a bit, but the mids do great by carrying much of the load without a hint of distortion. Rear activity is for the most part silent, but when employed, a few atmospherics expand the soundfield convincingly. Low-frequency effects fail to deliver much impact, but there are a couple moments of heavy, weighty bass. With well-prioritized dialogue, the lossless mix does the film justice.
English SDH and Spanish subtitles are also included.
From South African company Triggerfish Animation Studios, 'Khumba' tells the story of a young, half-striped zebra on a quest to earn his stripes and incidentally save his herd by finding a new waterhole. The computer animated film won't likely attract adults, it could capture the imagination of younger viewers as it brings more attention to the majestic beauty and splendor of the Great Karoo. The 3D Blu-ray features excellent picture quality with the 2D version looking quite stunning and an enjoyable audio presentation. With a tiny collection of supplements, the overall package is pleasing enough, but families with toddlers will be content with the purchase while those hungering for more 3D material will want to give it a rent first.