The Sleek But Unwieldy Azur and Asmar
With its delicate, fairy-tale bones and layer of politically conscious muscle, Azur and Asmar is a sleek and yet slightly unwieldy animal. The fourth animated feature from French director Michel Ocelot (Kirikou and the Sorceress), Azur's hybrid appeal should be one of its strongest selling points but proves its weakest: The lessons of cultural intolerance are pitched simply enough for children to understand, yet the execution lacks the schmoozy wit and splashy visuals to keep them entertained; adults will find the elegant combination of cut-out and CGI animation bewitching but the thematics unsubtle, at best. Azur and Asmar are introduced as babes at the breast of an Arab woman (nanny of the former, mother of the latter) in an unspecified Anglo land. Raised as brothers, Azur is an Aryan wet dream, while Asmar is brown like his mum. The boys are separated by Azur's unaccountably evil father, but meet years later in an unspecified Arab land, both chasing a childhood fable that involves freeing a fairy princess. Azur is feared by the Arabs for his blue eyes, a sort of reverse racism that causes him to feign blindness, and all of the Arabic dialogue is untranslated, heightening his feeling of isolation. Aside from a visual shout-out to Jesus and a mention of madrasas and mosques, Ocelot skirts religious questions altogether, offering a moral about ethnic differences, with interracial dating as "the answer for a harmonious future."
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