KAENA: THE PROPHECY
*/**** Image A Sound B Extras C
screenplay by Tarik Hamoine and Chris Delaporte
directed by Chris Delaporte
THE LION KING II: SIMBA'S PRIDE
½*/**** Image B Sound B- Extras C+
screenplay by Flip Kobler and Cindy Marcus
directed by Rob LaDuca & Darrell Rooney
by Walter Chaw There's a timorous, resonant quality to Kirsten Dunst's voice. It's amazing, really: it vibrates at a contralto as tense and lovely as a cello string drawn--I think it's her most attractive feature. She's tailor-made, then, to be a vocal performer, and finds herself as such in French filmmaker Chris Delaporte's plodding misfire of a movie Kaena: The Prophecy. Completely computer-animated, it's every bit as ugly and prosaic as its American cousin Ice Age (insomuch as it even includes a prehistoric-squirrel vignette towards the end) and obsessed with the jiggle dimensions of Kaena (or is that me, obsessed?), who must save her tree-world Axis from destruction at the hands of the evil Selenites (whose queen is voiced by Anjelica Huston). The story is so Joseph Campbell hero's journey-obsessed, so humourless and--how do I say it delicately?--Bakshi in its execution, that poor Dunst, in the title role, is wasted on plucky pronouncements and grunts of exertion as her .gif alter-ego leaps hither and yon.
It seems that the Selenites have enslaved Kaena's people, enlisting them in the harvesting of Axis's sap, which appears to be something that the Selenites either need to survive or are composed of entirely, it's not clear. Maybe they just have a lot of pancakes. Kaena is a free spirit, though, shirking her sap-tapping, worm-shepherding duties so that she might explore the outer limits of her environment, sketching what she finds in a little notebook and showing it now and again to her village's Cro-Magnon children. In other words, Kaena: The Prophecy is extremely boring, and the anticipated action scenes aren't worth much of a damn because the whole enterprise is as sterile and intractable as a--well, as an animated film without a hint of anima. In her traipsing around, Kaena finds a nifty knife and then an unlikely ally in Opaz (the late Richard Harris), the last of his species. Stranded on Axis during a prologue set six centuries previous, he's building an escape vessel (but escape to where? He's the last of his kind, right?) with the help of prosthetically-enhanced caterpillars whose fussy comedy relief doesn't translate.
It's all very arbitrary, of course (the title giving away all there is to know about the movie in a nutshell), with the filmmakers doing their best to obscure the simplicity of their archetypical tale in layers of quickly-forgotten lore. The high priests of the this-and-that and then the sap and the life and the tree and the bridge and the two worlds, and up is down and black is white, and it's all about freedom so come on, humans! It's twice as tedious to watch as it is to write about, and while most praise the look of the piece, I found it to be glossy, flat, and uninvolving. I'm impressed by the massive size of the mainframe needed to process something like this in the way that I'm impressed that someone can juggle chainsaws: it's not something everyone can do, but I wonder if it's worthwhile to do it even as I point out that it's also not something that no one else can do. The test isn't the razzle-dazzle, it's the resonance--for Kaena, only Dunst's beautiful pipes reverberate.
The hero of Disney's desperate direct-to-video cash grab The Lion King II: Simba's Pride is a female lion cub named Kiara--Kaena, Kiara, roll call at the UN school (Kiara is voiced eventually by Neve Campbell)--destined to unite, "Romeo and Juliet"-style, her daddy Simba's (Matthew Broderick) pride with the "outsider" pride led by Zira (Suzanne Pleshette), the widow of the first film's villain, Scar. The object of Kiara's affections is cub Kovu (James Marsden), Zira's kid and definitely persona non grata in the eyes of the surprisingly bigoted Simba. Not even the ghost of daddy Mufasa (James Earl Jones), channelled by witch doctor pastiche Rafiki (Robert Guillaume), can convince Simba to change his "us vs. them" mentality--and so it's up to another plucky young girl to save the world against the patriarchal structure that seeks to keep her meek.
Girl power never looked this insipid. Between Kaena and The Lion King II, the cause of young women striving to find a place for themselves backslides a couple of decades into the sludge of girls needing to play at boys in order to excel in a male-dominated society. If it's possible, the messages in The Lion King II are even more obvious and tedious than those festering in Kaena--worse, a harsh undercurrent of intolerance permeates the Disney product, making every horrible musical interlude sound like some weird combination of Johnny Clegg and Savuka and Tim Rice. Meanwhile, Simba's grave warnings that Kiara steer clear of "the outsiders" who "don't belong" and "don't think like us" stink like something long-dead regardless of the knowledge that Kiara will eventually undermine those beliefs through her dalliance with Kovu. It's the Cuba Gooding Jr. school of permanent stains: some character flaws are so egregious that no matter the late-act heroics, there's just no saving them. There's a reason Mufasa--I mean, Darth Vader--ended up on a pile of flaming sticks.
With a mind-blowing ten writers credited with bringing this shipwreck to shambling half-life, a lot of the bit's glaring inconsistencies and narrative weaknesses have explanation, if not excuse. The Lion King II isn't as bad as some of Disney's other direct-to-video rapings of beloved classics (this desire to franchise has nothing to do with art or instruction, after all, and everything to do with franchising), mainly because most of the original voice cast has been drawn back into this mess--a feat that speaks more of how little time and how much money is involved. Other than that it's cut-rate, badly animated, badly written, full of unintentionally offensive moments, and born of a desire to make money off of children who don't know any better and their indulgent parents who should, The Lion King II: Simba's Pride, recently reissued on DVD in a two-disc Special Edition, is a must-have. Whatever you can say about Kaena and its keening, lulling self-importance, at least it aspired to be something noble instead of just aspiring to bilk a lot of undiscriminating kids out of their allowances.
Dunst-love or no, I can't help but think that the original French language track (if there is such a thing) would have been preferable to the English dub--alas, Columbia Tri-Star's DVD release of Kaena: The Prophecy doesn't feature a French language option. What it does provide is a supple, rich 1.85:1 anamorphic video transfer that faithfully translates the hastily-composited background and character animations. I'm guessing the picture looks as good as it can, and the Dolby Digital 5.1 sound is likewise fulsome and rangy. The opening explosion is mildly window-shaking, while every second of Farid Russlan's omnipresent score oozes from each speaker throughout--you decide if that's a good thing. A virtual interview with Kaena conducted in French is three-and-a-half minutes of an animated character pretending to answer the rote junket questions in a junket environment; elsewhere, a making-of doc (14 mins.) washes out as the standard behind-the-scenes piece made interesting by a few insights into the physical environment where the film found its life as well as a few of the pitfalls confronting animators. Yes, we've heard it all before (most notably within the extra features of Monsters Inc.), but it's not that painful to hear again. More interesting would have been a discussion of the English actors and whether, in fact, there was ever a full French-language version. A boatload of previews (Kaena, Cyborg 009, Memories, Metropolis, Mirror Mask, Steamboy, Tokyo Godfathers, and Everquest II) rounds out the disc.
The Lion King II: Simba's Pride's 1.74:1 anamorphic presentation (referred to as "1.66:1 family friendly widescreen" on the packaging) beats the previous incarnation's 1.66:1 non-anamorphic transfer by, if not a mile, then a kilometre or so. The THX-certified image is clean is the best I can say about it--though the colours are muted and the backgrounds are as lifeless as a Saturday morning cartoon's, that has a lot to do with artistic choices and little to do with DVD mastering. The 5.1 audio mix comes courtesy identical-sounding DD 5.1 and DTS options, the latter offering a little murmur at the high end that could just be my eardrum falling asleep. The track is surprisingly light in atmospherics, relegating most of its information to the front channels. Dialogue: clear. An option for pop-up factoids on Africa is playable during the film, as is an option that allows one to skip to each song selection (or play them all) with lyrics underneath to facilitate the looming insanity of bedraggled parents and long-suffering babysitters.
Disc Two is where to find all the alleged goodies of this "Special Edition." The festivities start off with a music video for "Love Will Find a Way"--performed by people named Heather Headley and Kenny Lattimore--that doesn't make any sense to me, in context of the film or out. An option for "Games and Activities" reveals three action-packed fun-bombs, the first of which is "Timon and Pumbaa's Virtual Safari 2.0," a P.O.V. walk through a badly-animated CGI Africa narrated by the titular characters that just goes on and on. Occasionally, you'll be offered the choice of direction to lead the story--I got sick of it after five minutes or so of noodling around. (Your kids, fair warning, may not get sick of it at all.) "Prideland Games" teaches shapes, and Rafiki's challenge has the character offer a variation on Three Card Monte. "Backstage Disney" provides another series of options: "Find Out Why" gives reasons for natural phenomena like thunder & lighting, sneezing, pandas not living in the desert, wind, and airplane flight; "Lots About Lions"(3 mins.) is exactly what it advertises; and "Proud of Simba's Pride" (7 mins.) is the standard making-of doc with cast/crew interviews and clips from the flick. Most interesting is one of the producers arguing that these cast-off dtv Disney flicks are for the benefit of the kids.
Finally, an "All New Animated Short" called One By One (6 mins.) represents what I'd imagine the opening ceremonies of a Tanzania-held Olympics to look like: lots of kids chasing symbolic leaves and flying painted kites to traditional tunes jazzed-up and watered-down. Sigh. Originally published: September 20, 2004.
- Kaena: The Prophecy
91 minutes; PG-13; 1.85:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1; CC; English subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Columbia TriStar
- The Lion King II: Simba's Pride
81 minutes; G; 1.66:1 (16x9-enhanced); English DD 5.1, English DTS 5.1, French DD 5.1, Spanish DD 5.1; CC; French, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9 + DVD-5; Region One; Disney