Born with only half of his stripes, Khumba is slung from his clan of over protective zebras, all the reason this South African feature needs to dump this adventure into predictably direct motion. Naive Khumba doubts himself due to his perceived physical flaw, forcing himself to lump in with additional animal rejects in a search for a mythical watering hole.
In the midst is Phango (Liam Neeson), a brooding, mostly blind leopard with a personal grievance toward Khumba (Jake T. Austin). Considering the protective nature of the zebra clan, it’s remarkable how these outside critters know of this unstriped, teenage legend before he even leaves his home.
Kudos to young studio Triggerfish Animation, pounding out tiered animation above the budgetary grade, piecing together wily animal life and sultry, sun baked exteriors. Khumba is suitably gorgeous, breathing life into rarely (if ever?) animated Southern Africa landscapes, plucking a conditioned reality for their anthropomorphic creatures to rummage through. Constant sunsets may cause restlessness in a search for variety, but no one will complain about their visual scope.
Joined by a (somewhat) sophisticated ostrich and sassy wildebeest, Khumba trudges toward those sunsets to reach his water gorging goal, stopping with frequency to engage with rampant side characters. The film adores inserting new wildlife – with varying success – including name confused antelopes who spur the piece’s tightest series of gags. The rest fill backgrounds.
Unfortunately, this all jumbles up to create patchwork adventure, often aimless or confused as to how to stall this narrative into acceptable runtime. Chase scenes and arbitrary danger collude to plunge Khumba into an abyss of storytelling mismanagement, too stunted for the usual pacing vibrancy of children’s fare. Those few exciting snippets of action reach chilly conclusions sans any impact to Khumba himself.
And of course, Khumba will derive a lesson as he proves himself to the herd and those who ridiculed the stripelessness will learn to respect this spunky kid. It is anticipated because the genre asks it to be, a familiar lesson for the target audience who can engage with zebras sans Chris Rock. Khumba’s heart is harmlessly effectual, if beating with limited punch.
From the offices of Millennium Entertainment and a disc pressing factory… well, somewhere comes this AVC encode which rarely seems bothered. Depicting source animation to a pristine spit shine, definition works its way through non-Hollywood budgets to seat itself proudly in the realm of crispness. Texture work soars and the short fur of the central character is generous, with distance or otherwise. The disc is one to pour resolution onto the frame.
Digitally crafted locations depict varied regions, some tipping into the realm of human life, with most handling deeply rendered rocky outcroppings. Plants and other wildlife sting with their lushness. Even when cast in sandy browns, Khumba is pushing to provide visual stimuli somewhere in the frame.
Khumba works in both light and dark, generating sufficient shadows when sun passes below the horizon line. Black levels are substantially satisfying with excellent adherence to keeping depth alive. Contrast is jaunty enough to serve the piece, keeping kids locked in with brightness. An affectionate color range is equally affluent.
For 3D enthusiasts, Khumba is less of a draw, although amongst animation, this disc holds high tiered, capable nighttime scenarios. Typically flustered by cross talk or dimming depth, this disc finds itself having no such problems – or they become so limited as to avoid any such comments. Under moonlight, Khumba proves that darkening glasses do not necessarily lead to sagging image density.
Otherwise, stereoscopic effects are mundane, if passable. Some repetitive shots of animals being tossed toward the virtual camera apply a mild fish eye effect, never breaking foreground barriers. Animal snouts (or beaks, or horns, or etc.) poke toward the screen with menial effect. Most serving to the 3D are the landscapes, stretching into horizon lines with careful application of foreground objects to ween a touch more from the layered frame. Khumba comes across as adequate, and if you’re 3D capable it’s no harm. If you’re not, it’s no harm there either.
Atmosphere may be lacking from the internals of this TrueHD mix, but in the undercurrent of Khumba lies an action-driven heart. Chased by a caravan of vehicles, Khumba is sunken into a vehicular wagon train with engines swirling in a 360 degree motion. The effect is pinpoint.
Closing in on its finale, thunderstorms rear up with aggressively planted rain and typical weather effects. Rushing water drips from slippery rocks and creates an enveloping environment for a dramatic clash. It’s a shame the desert surroundings are otherwise quaint unless the narrative demands a sonic intervention.
On a final note, the distinctive score is blissful, entirely embedded into the region. Ignore the few song numbers which are rather dreadful, but soak up the native songs which propel this story. These African beats are soothing and pure.
A behind-the-scenes featurette is somewhat puny at under 10-minutes, if the best bonus offered on the disc. Acting Out follows, showing live reference performed by actors to aid in animation. The Karoo lays out the real world landscape, and Nora briefly lays out the purpose of a side character.
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