After (too many) years of overblown CGI, there thankfully seems to be growing trend towards hand-drawn animation. Of recent note are Ghibli’s beautiful The Tale of Princess Kaguya and Tomm Moore’s breathtaking Song of the Sea, which are two of the best films released this year. There’s a magic of human creation which simply cannot be reproduced by computers. Whilst Zarafa is not quite as successful, it’s intriguing both in terms of perspective and the true story its loosely based upon.
A village elder (Vernon Dobtcheff) recounts the story of Maki (Max Renaudin), a young African boy who escapes a French slaver (Thierry Frémont) and befriends a young giraffe called Zarafe. When she’s taken by a Bedouin named Hassan (Simon Abkarian), he sets off to keep his vow to return her. Hasaan has been charged by the Pasha to deliver a giraffe to the king of France as a gift, with the hope of securing support against the Turks. Along the way they are joined by a number of friends to help them on their quest, but when Maki reaches Paris he has to choose between Zarafa and his childhood friend Soula (Clara Quilichini).
Whilst Zarafa is a lovely tale clearly aimed at children, directors Rémi Bezançon and Jean-Christophe Lie also make serious points about religion, the slave trade, the ethics of keeping animals in captivity and racism. Most children’s films set in Africa are told from the perspective of the Western audience they are aimed at but Zarafa feels different. Despite being based on a historical event, it plays out more like a folk tale.
Zaeafa is out in cinemas on Friday.