You kind of have to go into these direct-to-DVD CG feature releases from Arc Entertainment a bit leery on account of the practice of taking a foreign-made film and slapping an English dialog track atop it and calling it a day. I don’t mean to suggest that there’s anything wrong with this practice from an ethical or political standpoint but simply the end result is usually pretty messy.
I am pleased to report that of all the films on the market these days that use this technique, Animals United is perhaps one of the solidest. The timing is decent, the mouth flaps pretty well aligned and the English voice actors actually manage to bring a degree of character to the characters.
The visuals are absolutely gorgeous and should have little trouble impressing this, a culture raised on the benchmark standard set by industry icons Pixar and DreamWorks (especially in high def). No, the trouble here has more to do with a heavy-handed moral agenda- but more on that in a bit.
This film began life as Konferenz der Tiere; a 2010 German 3D computer-animated comedy-adventure film directed by Reinhard Klooss and Holger Tappe that was redubbed in English and released in June of 2012 as Animals United (Adventures in Africa) by Arc Entertainment.
Animals United Adventure in Africa is a 93-minute un-rated tale of life in the African savannah where the animals inhabiting the region notice there’s a shortage of water. A small ragtag group of critters consisting of a lion, meerkat, giraffe and elephant set out to find some answers. In the mean time, due to humanity’s influence on their own respective regions, a rooster, polar bear, kangaroo, koala bear, Tasmanian monster and a pair of tortoises make a pilgrimage of their own into the unknown.
All of these animals end up meeting in the savannah and, as the title suggests, unite in the common cause that is sticking it to the man. And by “the man” I literally mean mankind. If the environmentalism subject managed to ruffle proverbial feathers in Happy Feat, prepare for an all-out plucking with Animals United!
Covered in the hour and a half runtime are the subjects of global warming and natural resource consumption, humans are depicted drinking and motorcycling through animal habitats, drinking and crashing an oil tanker, poaching, polluting, creating industrial waste, damming vital water supplies; in short you can’t help but hate us by the end of this one.
As the story progresses, the heavy-handedness of the theme becomes so blatant as border on ridiculousness and manifests itself into a single human “hunter” versus the whole of the savannah and a marauding group of insects who deliver the message that the animals mean business by swarming off offending humans’ clothing.
If this all sounds a bit much- uh, yea this isn’t the kind of silliness one would expect from Madagascar, the cleverness of Happy Feet or the subtlety of say Bambi, Animals United makes sure to deliver the message that man = bad very thoroughly.
However, political, socio-environmentalist messages aside, the film does manage to do what very few direct-to-DVD options can and that’s maintain a sense of coherency throughout. There are even a few genuine laughs to be had along the way (I was particularly fond of the means by which the animals disposed of said hunter and his jeep during one sequence). However, do expect some toilet humor and plenty of slapstick to attempt to hold the younger ones’ interest while the adults are force fed its agendas.
All in all, this one may be worth a rental when all of the big budget CG feature films are out for the night at the Redbox but be forewarned, pretty textures and decent characters alone can’t right all of its wrongs. Its overly preachy approach will certainly keep this one from ever being classified as an animated family classic.
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