By Renee Longstreet,
Common Sense Media Reviewer
Common Sense Media Reviewers
Enchanting African fable with some scares and sadness.
A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this movie.
Personal freedom is worth fighting for. Shows the value of keeping promises, loyalty, courage, and concern for others. Shows that storytelling can profoundly alter your outlook and understanding of the world.
Positive Role Models
The primary heroic characters, particularly one small boy, are devoted to principle, look out for the less fortunate, treat animals with respect and care, and have strong emotional ties with others. Multiple cultures play important roles -- African, Turkish, French, Bedouin, Egyptian. There are only two female characters, but they both have strong identities, are compassionate, and fight for their ideals. The villain is a Caucasian slave trader.
Violence & Scariness
Jeopardy/violence is animated but has emotional impact and often dire consequences. A cruel slave trader kicks a dog; chases, attacks, and holds children captive (in chains); guns down a defenseless animal; shoots a beloved hero; and often shows up to threaten and menace the good guys. A little boy and a little girl are in danger in many scenes from a ferocious dog, a cave-in, precarious falls, the burning desert, and pirates. A young boy's parents are captured (off screen), and his village is burned (shown in background). Some deaths are very sad; the characters grieve.
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"Damn" is said (subtitled).
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Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
A man becomes disoriented and fuzzy as he smokes from a long pipe. A distraught adult hero turns to alcohol and hides out in what appears to be a desert saloon. Wine drinking.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Zarafa is an enchanting animated story (in French with English subtitles) about an orphaned African boy's journey to find his place in the world and to protect a young giraffe for whom he feels responsible. Filled with funny moments, offbeat and interesting characters, and a bounty of exotic global settings, the movie also has some heartrending moments, including the deaths of characters whom the audience has come to love. Multiple scary and/or suspenseful scenes find two children in danger from a ferocious dog and an evil villain -- a slave trader who stalks them, keeps the little girl in chains, attacks the boy, and shoots to kill. A young boy's parents are captured (off screen), and his village is burned (shown in background); narrow escapes, rescues, and threat of capture are frequent. A man is shown under the influence of a substance he's smoking from long pipe, and a hero in despair turns briefly (and subtly) to alcohol and drunkenness. A hippopotamus is notable for farting and spraying its surroundings with feces. This French film is best for kids who are comfortable with reading English subtitles, can handle some sadness, and know the difference between real and imaginary violence.
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What's the Story?
In ZARAFA, an old man tells a group of young children a magical story they'll never forget. It's the tale of Maki (voiced by Max Renaudin Pratt), a young boy who watched as his parents were captured and his village burned at a time when ruthless men were enslaving the people of Africa. Rescued from the clutches of an evil slave trader by Hassan (Simon Abkarian), a mysterious Bedouin, Maki is distraught when he can't save Soula (Clara Quilichini), a little girl from his village. Instead, the trader, Captain Moreno (Thierry Fremont), takes Soula away in chains. Hassan, on assignment from an Egyptian pasha to capture a giraffe as a gift for the king of France, arranges for Maki to be taken to safety. But Maki will have none of it. Clinging to his rescuer and the giraffes he quickly befriends, Maki wins Hassan's heart and joins his mission. What follows is an extraordinary adventure in which the young hero makes a heartfelt promise to a dying "mother," sails across continents in a hot air balloon, and meets an array of wonderful animals and astonishing people, all while looking for a place or a family to call his own ... and being stalked by Captain Moreno and his ferocious dog.
Is It Any Good?
A combination of inventive animation, terrific performances, an original story, and insightful messages make this a very special film. When you add a cast of endearing, funny animals and idiosyncratic characters from Africa, Egypt, and France, plus a main character who's as enchanting, feisty, and honorable a child as we've met at the movies, it's simply not to be missed. The French filmmakers, Remi Bezancon and Jean-Christophe Lie, aren't afraid to let their audiences feel surprise, fear, and sorrow in addition to the rush of well-done action and comedy. The result is nuance, unpredictability, and an honest emotional connection. Zarafa is a great film for family movie night and is highly recommended for older kids, teens, and grown-ups.
Talk to Your Kids About ...
Families can talk about Maki and his "family" in Zarafa. Though the boy is an orphan, he managed to create a family for himself. Who were those new family members? What qualities, besides biology, make a family?
What role does violence play in the story? Do you think all of it was necessary? How is the impact of animated violence different from the live-action kind? How much scary stuff can young kids handle?
What was Maki's promise to Zarafa's mother? Was the boy able to keep his actual promise, or was he forced to keep just the spirit of that promise? How did you feel about that?
There were several surprises at the end of Zarafa. In what way(s) was this movie "unpredictable"? Which is more satisfying to you, predictable (or expected) endings or endings that are fresh and break new ground?
How do the characters in Zarafa demonstrate courage? Why is this an important character strength?
- In theaters: July 3, 2015
- On DVD or streaming: November 10, 2015
- Cast: Max Renoudin, Simon Abkarian, Vernon Dobtcheff
- Directors: Remi Bezancon, Jean-Christophe Lie
- Inclusion Information: Middle Eastern/North African actors
- Studio: GKIDS
- Genre: Family and Kids
- Topics: Adventures, Friendship, Wild Animals
- Character Strengths: Courage
- Run time: 78 minutes
- MPAA rating: NR
- Award: Common Sense Selection
- Last updated: November 30, 2022
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