17 November 2011 | chuck-526
1002 Arabian Nights, maybe
This is a great fairy tale animation, both for kids and for "older kids"; it's among the best animations I've seen in the last decade. (I'm surprised it's not better known in the U.S., and suspect the issue is incomplete understanding of the language options, leading to the mis-conclusion that subtitles are necessary. -see below-) It's rather like another episode of "1001 Arabian Nights". Like any fairy tale, it plays fast and loose with time (16th century or 20th?) and place (Arabia or Persia?). There is no gore, very little blood, no glorification of violence, no double entendre talk (well one raised eyebrow once) ...and no "good guys" or animals die. Although it started out a bit slow and simple, I was soon pulled in so thoroughly I couldn't even contemplate pausing the DVD while I went to the bathroom.
The animation backgrounds appear to be typical 2D paintings, sometimes with multiple layers. Two things about the backgrounds stand out: First, they are highly detailed and variegated. And second, they use a lot of different strong colors at every opportunity - stained glass windows, meadow flowers, a spice market, dyed yarn, architectural tiles, geometric building decorations, etc. The magical figures appear to be 3D models, but so outrageously patterned and colored they're a feast for the eyes. The human figures also appear to be 3D models, but very simple ones, and in most cases projected as just simple flat areas of solid colors. Clothing mostly doesn't "drape", although flags, pennants, and sashes wave here and there.
A couple effects are used especially well. One is the movement of point source lights. Walls and rooms subtly change color from one end to the other. Direct sunlight in the observatory is blinding. Fireflies light a scene. Darkened rooms gradually turn into brilliantly light ones as individual lights come on. And djinns cause showers of sparks. The other is swirling particles. Dust comes together into imagined figures (rather like seeing figures in the clouds). Fog envelops figures so thoroughly they disappear. A crystal prison shatters and the shards form an arch before disappearing.
In summary, the animation doesn't attempt to do 3D model animation better than Pixar, instead going off in a completely different direction. Rather than being clever and realistic, the animation flaunts its gorgeousness and the focus is on the story line. The figures are adequate to convey the story, but without any attempt to be marvels in their own right. Another difference from typical Pixar wannabes is there are no pop culture or current events references here; rather than presenting jokes every few tens of seconds, this animation relies simply on impeccable pacing of the story itself.
The "moral" of understanding diverse cultures and its benefits is hammered home again and again. Even the end credits call attention to the diverse cultures the animators came from.
A perfectly serviceable English audio track exists; it was on the DVD I got from Netflix in late 2011. Younger viewers and others not comfortable with subtitles may find this the best way to make this animation accessible. The mismatch between mouth movements and the English audio is not distracting. This simpler view is complete and enjoyable; there's no need to understand any more.
But if you want to look a little deeper, it quickly becomes apparent that characters often switch between speaking French and speaking Arabic, sometimes even to different individuals in the same scene. Some of the jokes only halfway make sense if you're not aware of the language switches. And in a couple places the language switches are even relevant to the story line itself. Unless you know either French or Arabic, or have very quick ears, you may not be able to pick out all the language switches. The best way to understand them (for me at least) was to select "French" as the spoken language track and "English for the hearing impaired" (_not_ the regular "English") as the subtitle track. The "English for the hearing impaired" subtitles not only provide the dialog itself, but also indicate what language is being spoken. In fact, these subtitles are some of the best I've ever seen at conveying multi-lingual content.