Khumba, produced in South Africa, didn't get a theatrical release here in the States but it's been released on disc from Millennium Entertainment. The title character (voiced by Jake T. Austin) is a zebra, which has been rather underrepresented in animation. Actually he's only considered half a zebra though, because he only has black stripes from his head to the middle of his body, the rest of him is just plain white and much like "Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer" this makes him an outcast. His fellow zebras proclaim "I don't like different!" and comment "What do you even call half a zebra? Zeb?" Still his parents (voiced by Laurence Fishburne and Anika Noni Rose) stick up for him, and one girl zebra named Tombi (AnnaSophia Robb) is attracted to him.
The herd of zebras all live on a spot in South Africa's Great Karoo desert, where food and drink are usually plentiful, but they experience a drought (much like what we've been having in California) and the water supply starts running low from lack of rain. Some of them blame Khumba's lack of stripes for keeping the rain away, and his mother becoming ill and dying doesn't help matters. Before she dies though, she tells him the legend of the "magic water hole" where the early plain white zebras got their stripes from swimming in it, so Khumba sets off on his own to find it.
First Khumba meets a wild dog named Skalk (Steve Buscemi, doing a rather different voice than his usual) who tries to con him with a "miracle formula," but the other dogs in the pack decide they'd rather eat him. A wildebeest named Mama V. (Loretta Devine) and an ostrich named Bradley (Richard E. Grant) soon come to his rescue, and the movie becomes a bit like The Lion King from here as the odd pair decide to join Khumba on his quest. They camp for the night, where Bradley gets in his own musical number, and run into other interesting creatures in their travels including a family of meerkats at a human-made animal sanctuary, chanting rodents who bang on rocks, and a crazy sheep at a long-abandoned farm. All the while they have to stay clear of the great leopard Phango (Liam Neeson), who eats first and asks questions later.
The 3D computer animation is nicely detailed, on the level of most other CG-animated releases with the animals done in a style that is both natural and cartoonish. The story is rather simple but includes many interesting animal characters, with humans staying mostly out of the picture other than a carload of tourists with cameras which is the meerkats' main source of food. As one might expect from this type of movie, there's a nice message about embracing your individuality rather than trying to be just like everybody else.
The Blu-Ray disc is presented in a 2.35 ratio and in 3D, with a 2D playback option. As with most CG animated productions the picture is very clean, and the encoding appears to be free of obvious banding or compression artifacts even in 3D. The 3D stays clear of any ‘gimmick' shots but conveys a good sense of depth throughout, with frequent placement of characters in the foreground speaking to others farther behind, as well as shots through fences.
A standard DVD is also included, which besides being only in 2D and lower resolution is also cropped for 16x9 screens.
Audio on the Blu-Ray is in 5.1 Dolby TrueHD, with a few well-placed surround effects including some dialogue from the rear speakers and a music score covering a number of styles. A 2-channel Dolby Digital mix is also included, which sounds very nice Pro-Logic decoded and seems to have the ambient sounds at a higher level than the 5.1 mix. Both discs include hearing-impaired subtitles that are placed across the screen and Spanish subtitles.
All extras are on the Blu-Ray disc only, and are in 2D but keep the display in 3D mode. "Acting Out" shows a bit of the character design and some footage of live actors performing some of the scenes for reference. A longer "Behind the Scenes Featurette" repeats some of this, along with some more footage of the animators, voice cast and music recording. "The Karoo: A World of Difference" is a short look at the area the movie takes place in with some photos, and "Nora: A Great Partnersheep" is two minutes devoted to the sheep character at the abandoned farm, which the animators seem to have a fondness for. The trailer for Khumba is also included along with trailers for Home Run and When Calls the Heart.
Like the recent Tad, the Lost Explorer from Spain, Khumba is a good 3D animated movie that seems to have been a big deal in its home country but ignored in the US. While I wouldn't put it up there with the average Disney or Pixar release, it's unique with an appealing voice cast that should appeal to kids and grown-ups alike.
Jesse Skeen is a life-long obsessive media collector (with an unhealthy preoccupation with obsolete and failed formats) and former theater film projectionist. He enjoys watching movies and strives for presenting them perfectly, but lacks the talent to make his own.