Genius Products // 2006 // 99 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Kristin Munson (Retired) // April 22nd, 2009
The best video game you'll never get to play.
Azur and Asmar: The Princes' Quest plays out like the cut scenes from a truly excellent video game, and not just because of the PS2 quality of the character animation. The movie is all set up and character development: the actual "quest" takes all of 10 minutes, with little action, no sense of danger, and a finale that drags on into infinity. The whole time I couldn't shake the feeling that I'd be having more fun playing it than I was watching it.
The princes in question are little European Azur, who grows up in the care of a North African nurse, alongside her own son, Asmar. She spins them both the story of a beautiful fairy princess imprisoned behind all kinds of traps and monsters. Many years later both men set off across the sea out to free the fairy and win her for their own. See? Girls aren't the only ones that buy into fairy tales.
Michel Ocelot (Kirikou and the Sorceress) has created a truly beautiful setting and populated it with interesting characters, but the story just isn't there. There are scenes in jaw-dropping silhouette, stunning creatures, and magical vistas straight out of the Arabian Knights. It's utterly gorgeous but completely hollow because all those set pieces are designed to do is take you from A to B. Worse, Azur and Asmar's heavy-handed lessons about tolerance are more than a little uncomfortable because Azur -- who could be the poster child for the Aryan nation -- is almost sickeningly pure and good and the dark-skinned Asmar is petulant and rude.
Azur and Asmar: The Prince's Quest comes in a 1.78:1 matted widescreen. There are no obvious crops or problems with the format, and the colors look absolutely amazing, but I don't see why Genius couldn't have left it in the original 1.85:1. The 5.1 Dolby comes in an equally good French and English varieties but, although the English track has a strong voice cast, it leaves the Arabic dialogue undubbed, which is going to make things frustrating for younger kids. Genius also hasn't included any bonus material, which is strange, because the Region 2 release sports interviews and deleted scenes that would have just needed a fresh coat of subtitles to make it ready for American release.
A slight movie with even slighter extras, Azur and Asmar is nice to look at but not worth taking home.
Guilty of being pretty vacant.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Genius Products
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
* Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (French)
Running Time: 99 Minutes
Release Year: 2006
MPAA Rating: Rated PG