Truth be told, the only notable thing about “Kaena: The Prophecy”, which is hyped as the first French 3D animated film ever, is that American movie star Kirsten Dunst is the voice of the lead character, the titular Kaena. Which, by itself, brings some baggage, in particular the fact that everytime you hear Dunst’s voice you can’t help but wonder why Kaena isn’t blonde and spunky, but is instead brown-skinned, a little bald on the forehead, and walking around in a very revealing loin cloth. And let’s not even get into the fact that Kaena, as envisioned by the computer animators, have abnormally big breasts that, on a real human girl, would probably have caused some severe back problems by age 10. Kaena looks to be in her late teens.
“Kaena” follows the adventures of young Kaena, a free-spirited girl who lives in the Axis, a sort of tree city surrounded by clouds. Kaena’s people, primitive humanoids who ranches and eats large fat worms, spend their time worshipping unseen Gods that lives in the trees. These Gods demand that the villagers harvest saps for them, because — well, I don’t really know what these false Gods, who are actually a dying species of sap-loving monsters called Selenites, do with all that sap. I guess they cover their bodies with it and roll around in it all day, or some such.
In any case, the Selenites have been using Kaena’s people as slaves to harvest the saps for hundreds of years — or 600 years, to be exact, ever since intergalactic aliens crashed onto the planet (shown in the prologue) and created the Axis. Now the Selenites, who blames the aliens for invading them (don’t ask), are led by a Queen (voiced by Anjelica Huston) obsessed with destroying a glowing blue orb, which also happens to be the last remaining artifact of the alien race, come hell or high water. Or more precisely hell, as what remains of the Selenites are slowly dying off because the Queen refuses to mate with the only living male Selenite (voiced by Keith David).
It’s all very confusing, to be sure, and I haven’t even touched on the fact that Kaena, after getting cast out of the village for daring to question the fire and brimstone High Priest, meets up with the sole survivor of the alien species that crashed on the planet hundreds of years ago. The alien (Richard Harris) has geared up some worms with exo-skeletons, and they’re fixing up his ship –
Oh, whatever. It’s all jumbled, uninteresting nonsense anyway.
Running at 80 minutes, “Kaena” would probably have worked better as a two-hour movie. Mind you, I’m not saying that I would have sat through all two hours of it, as even at 80 minutes “Kaena” is already tedious and dreadfully dull. The only real interest I had with the film is wondering what race the Axis people were patterned after. They seem to be African in appearance, with dark skin and tribal birthmarks. But their religion seems to be patterned after Islam. And how come Kaena has such big breasts, and how come they never bother her as she’s slinging her way through the movie? You’d think having breasts that big would prevent her from all those gravity-defying moves she pulls off, but strangely, they don’t.
Being that “Kaena” is a completely computer animated movie (the first of its kind for the French, as you’ll remember), the focus should be on the screen. In that respect, the movie does look good, if not overly impressive. Most of the time the film tries to convince you that you’re looking at something grand and marvelous by pumping up the orchestral score on the soundtrack, but the visuals just don’t quite close the deal. There’s no real “wow” factor in the look of Axis, and almost all of the character designs, particularly in the character movements, are jerky and unrealistic. This is made worst during the action scenes.
The only real visual standout is in the design of the Selenites, but unfortunately they spend all their time hiding out underneath the trees swimming (or bathing) in sap. And I’m still not all that clear as to why they need the sap, except to use it as some kind of 24-7 bubble bath.
Although there’s a lot of swinging, sliding, and quite a bit of falling (a lot of falling, actually) by Kaena (and mostly just Kaena, as the rest of the cast doesn’t really seem to do anything), the film isn’t actually action-packed. Much of the action revolves around Kaena jumping or falling or swinging around Axis; or she’s running from the occasional flying monsters that try to eat her. Comedy relief is provided by Greg Proops, a prissy comedian in real life who is perfect as the prissy worm Gommy. Michael McShane, another comedian, is the straight man to Proops’ wiseguy, and Richard Harris sounds so, so very tired. No surprise, as “Kaena” would turn out to be the last movie he would do before his death in October of 2002. In an ironic twist, his character also dies in the movie.
I don’t mean to give the impression that “Kaena” is a total failure, just this: it may be the first of its kind, but it’s just not the best. The visuals, usually the saving grace of most animation, is routine stuff here, especially in the aftermath of films like “Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within”, made 2 years ago, and the legion of Pixar films that have come out since. It was also probably a bad idea to have someone as well-known as Kirsten Dunst doing the lead female’s voice. Hearing Dunst give voice to someone who looks so much unlike her in every way is just distracting. Of course it doesn’t help that the film really is not all that interesting. The word “blah” comes to mind.
Chris Delaporte, Pascal Pinon (director) / Patrick Daher, Chris Delaporte, Tarik Hamdine, Kenneth Oppel (screenplay)
CAST: Kirsten Dunst …. Kaena (voice)
Richard Harris …. Opaz (voice)
Anjelica Huston …. Queen of the Selenites (voice)
Keith David …. (voice)
Michael McShane …. Assad (voice)
Greg Proops …. Gommy (voice)