There are elements of a lovely children’s fable in this French cartoon loosely inspired by the true story of Zarafa, the first giraffe to be held in a Paris zoo. But in trying to tell an epic tale over just 78 minutes, the filmmakers sacrifice anything that might have made their film memorable: namely character, humour and common sense.
Maki is an African boy stolen from his tribe by a cruel slaver. Escaping from captivity he meets and adopts Zarafa, an orphaned giraffe, and the two of them join Arab trader Hassan on a journey through the desert to Alexandria, which is under siege from Turkish forces. And this is just the first few minutes.
‘Zarafa’ never pauses for breath, rattling from one hasty, perfunctory sequence to another. The editing is appalling: scenes seem to simply stop halfway through to make way for another bout of exposition, and a ropey English-language dub doesn’t help. The tone is schizophrenic, taking a hard look at the slave trade one moment, laying on gushing sentiment the next.
All of which is a shame, because the pastel-shaded hand-drawn animation is rather lovely: the transition from African desert to European greenery is handled beautifully, and the historical period is lovingly recreated. If only the directors had given us time to enjoy it.