Azur and Asmar Review

AKA: Azur et Asmar, Azur and Asmar: The Princes’ Tale
Genre: Fantasy/Adventure
Year Released: 2006
Distributor: GKIDS
Origin: France/Belgium/Spain/Italy
Running Time: 98 minutes
Rating/Recommended Audience: PG
Related Films/Series: N/A
For Fans Of: Aladdin, The Thief and the Cobbler, The Secret of Kells, Eleanor’s Secret, Kirikou and the Sorceress, Sinbad, The Black Cauldron, The Pagemaster
Notes:
-The French/Arabic language track was used for this review.

-The DVD used was the Genius Products/Weinstein Company version. GKIDS owns the rights to Azur and Asmar currently. Since I had the misfortune of reviewing a version of this movie that was once owned by TWC, all I will say is that I hope Harvey suffers in jail even though Rikers Island is treating him with kid’s gloves. Okay, I need to stop before I burst a blood vessel about how disgusting of a monster he is.

-WARNING! Spoilers will be mentioned in this review.
Fun Facts:
-Azur and Asmar is the 2nd film and 1st animated feature ever to be licensed by GKIDS. I guess after this movie, they went all in the animation basket, I assume.

-This is the 1st CGI animated work from notable French animation director Michel Ocelot. Some of his famous work involves Kirikou and the Sorceress, Princes and Princesses, and Tales of the Night. He has also directed the music video for Bjork’s “Earth Intruders” song. Despite being born in France, he lived in Guinea when he was a child. Also, one of his biggest admirers was the late Isao Takahata of Grave of the Fireflies and The Tale of the Princess Kaguya fame.

-Azur and Asmar was animated by French studio Mac Guff. They have animated Dragon Hunters, A Monster and Paris as well as Dilili in Paris (also directed by Ocelot). The studio would eventually be bought out and split by Illumination. Want to know what Mac Guff’s most profitable work was that allowed that purchase to happen? Despicable Me. I’m not even joking. The studio who worked on this little-known animated movie would eventually animate this movie 4 years later.

-Hilarious in Hindsight: One of the lines from the story by Jenane is “One day a handsome prince will come.” Don’t lie, everyone. The first thing you thought about was THAT song from Snow White and the Seven Dwarves!

-Jenane is voiced by the Arab-Israeli Hiam Abbass who is an actress from Nazareth. Outside of this film, she has acted in Munich, The Visitor, Paradise Now, and Blade Runner 2049.

-Lebanese-French composer Gabriel Yared made the music for this film. He has scored Judy, Amelia, City of Angels, and Cold Mountain.

It has been far too long since I’ve reviewed any Western animation works. Then again, I don’t think I’ve watched that much animation from time to time this year. This isn’t because I’m avoiding animated movies or series. Far from it. I’ve just been dealing with other movies as well as other priorities at the moment. Obviously, most animated works I cover are from Japan and my catalogue really speaks for itself. I can’t lie, I’m a bit biased when it comes to anime. GKIDS however has a good balance of animated movies from multiple countries. There were some movies of theirs that I really enjoyed that were from different countries like Ireland’s Song of the Sea, the French/Swiss film My Life as a Zucchini, and the Spanish film Wrinkles which is the first Western animated movie to get a 10/10 from me. Then again, GKIDS has also disappointed me from time to time with The Rabbi’s Cat and especially The Painting.

Will this European fantasy animated work be up there with Wrinkles or possibly a let down like The Painting?

Azur and Asmar deal with a pair of boys with the same names in Medieval France. Azur is a wealthy French boy while Asmar is the son of Jenane who is also the former’s nanny. She tells them various stories, takes care of them, and both boys even learn French as well as Arabic around her. Both boys are like brothers being together so much, but they argue and fight. Azur is able to do lots of posh things such as dancing, fencing, horse-riding and learning Latin while Asmar watches nearby. They both grow up, but Azur gets his own room and is separated. After getting into some trouble, he’s sent to a boarding school while Jenane is fired on the spot since Azur’s father has no more use for her. Both boys remember the story of the Djinn Fairy from far away who is looking for a prince to show up and deal with enchanted trials. In Azur’s adulthood, he runs away from home to go on this expedition away from France. He ends up shipwrecked somewhere in North Africa where he sees an impoverished Arab-majority community and the locals are terrified of Azur’s blue eyes since they believe they’re cursed and devilish. Azur searches for the keys to see the Djinn Fairy and reunites with his nanny/surrogate mom Jenane as well as Asmar, but he has a different attitude to this Frenchman he considered a brother despite their quarrels. Only one prince will see the Djinn Fairy, so how will these bonds affect this enchanted journey?

Besides being an older GKIDS movie, I knew nothing about Azur and Asmar. There were some intriguing things about it though. The music was certainly fascinating. It was never overbearing and uses lots of traditional Arabic rhythms as well as instrumentation. The recurring song that Jenane and the boys know is certainly an iconic number throughout the movie. When the adult Azur sings it to prove it’s him in front of Jenane, that was a very powerful scene. The backgrounds and creatures looked quite unique. There was a mix between Persian and European art which I thought was a nice take with the avant-garde backgrounds. The scarlet lion was also a brief highlight with it’s character design. I did like the Jenane character. At first, I thought she was just a generic servant woman in the beginning, but she ended up being a much stronger character than I thought later on in the film. She wants the safety of the boys, but she also won’t take crap from anyone especially after dealing with Azur’s cruel father only leaving her and Asmar with just the clothes on their back. Jenane eventually becomes a wealthy merchant in her homeland, so that was a good rags to riches story. At least she didn’t have to abuse anyone in that process like Zamiatou from Faraw! that’s for sure.

Azur and Asmar’s magical qualities did fall short. While the backgrounds were well done, the CGI for the characters is aged and quite awkward. There were multiple uncanny valley moments which came off as unintentionally creepy as the characters look like avant-garde computer dolls walking, talking, and dancing (some rotoscoping was better than others). I thought the characterization felt generic and in some cases insulting. Azur comes off like a generic Disney prince and Asmar feels underdeveloped despite being a title character. The insulting aspect really comes from Crapeaux and even Azur when he gets shipwrecked. Both of them are guilty of acting racist against the Arab and African locals especially Crapeaux with his whiny diatribes about how they don’t have this or that or saying how everyone is poor and disgusting. When the people freak out about Azur’s eyes, half expected the characters to be like Shuri from Black Panther and say “Don’t scare me like that, colonizer!”. Speaking of that, Azur eventually wears fancy Arabic garb before going on this adventure that might as well have been made by Prada or Louie Vuitton. Can anyone say “cultural appropriation”? The movie even has white savior moments with Azur being such a hero to overshadow Asmar. What really got offensive to me was the implications of what could’ve happened when the characters deal with the slave traders. Asmar fights a bunch of them off and warns Azur not to be captured by them. Want to know the kicker? These were BLACK slave traders going after an Arab and a Caucasian man to enslave them. This is like some low key white fear implications playing up some racist “retribution” myths even though Black people were enslaved by both groups respectively before with the Transatlantic slave trade as well as the Arab conquest of Africa which happened centuries prior to the other atrocious form of human trafficking. The ending gets so contrived with deus ex machina and plot conveniences that it loses a ton of impact. Both of them find the Djinn Fairy as to be expected, but Asmar dies due to his wounds. Azur pulls off a big no almost as dramatic as Darth Vader and the Djinn Fairy sends for a Djinn Doctor who revives him literally less than a minute when he breathed his last while getting up like nothing ever happened as well as getting a brand new outfit. Side note: Sailor Moon just called, Asmar. She wants her boots back. Besides that, the other wise characters are flown into the palace from their homes to find out which prince should get the Djinn Fairy to be their princess. They can’t decide because they both saved each other. The Djinn Fairy then brings her Eurocentric cousin the Elf Fairy to marry one of them. Azur gets the Elf Fairy while Asmar gets the Djinn Fairy at first during a big dance scene. However, the fairies want the other prince, so they swap them off and eventually get married and living happily ever after. That means Azur gets the Djinn Fairy, so he still gets the main girl in the end even if it was in a way that was unexpected. Seriously, movie? That was such a cop out with the ending.

This work from Michel Ocelot was definitely overrated for me. The animation is a mixed bag with great backgrounds, but with bizarre CGI characters. The music and sound design were certainly highlights though. Besides Jenane, I found the other characters to be either bland or just cliche. There were racist elements and uncomfortable white savior elements that really diminished this movie. Azur and Asmar isn’t the worst thing GKIDS distributed, but it’s certainly one of their lower-tier works in their growing catalog.

Adjustable Point System:
Add 1-3 points if you like fairy tales (particularly original ones).
Add 1-2 points if you like French animated works.
Subtract 1-2 points if you want perfect CGI.

Pros:
-Great soundtrack
-Jenane actually having a strong personality
-Creative set designs and backgrounds

Cons:
-Generic or cliche characters
-Way too many plot conveniences especially in the finale
-Insulting elements of cultural appropriation and playing up white fear at points

Final Score: 4/10 points

Content Warning: The most adult thing that you’ll see in Azur and Asmar is Jenane breastfeeding the boys when they were babies. That scene happens very early in the film and there is nudity, but it’s entirely nonsexual (think: The Tale of the Princess Kaguya early on). Besides that, there’s some blood and violence, but the edited version of Dragon Ball Z is far bloodier than this movie. Some characters die even though Asmar gets revived very quickly in the ending. Some of the locals are crippled and amputated which could shock younger viewers. The topics of slave trading is brought up in conversation and there’s a threat that the characters could be eaten by the scarlet lion or the giant bird, but that never happens.

-Curtis Monroe

All photos property of their respective owners and used under US “Fair Use” laws. Azur and Asmar is property of GKIDS. The movie poster is from Michel Ocelot’s website and is property of GKIDS and Michel Ocelot.

5 comments

    • Definitely, Scott. I got some bad vibes with how some things were portrayed. Azur and Asmar is on the same level of The Rabbi’s Cat in terms of French animated movies that may have been critically acclaimed, but they have unfortunate implications abound in the portrayals of the characters and the subtext of the story.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I wasn’t expecting it to be perfect, but the movie ended up with multiple problematic elements which turned me off. The sad part is that Azur and Asmar had so much potential to be a better story.

      Like

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s