The Other Side of Animation 89: Sahara Review

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When I choose a film to watch, I try not to go directly into the film with a sense of “oh man, I’m going to hate this film”. Who wants to go into a film knowing it’s going to be bad? I said in my previous review that I like to be surprised. If it turns out to be a good or bad movie, that’s up to the film, and what I take away from it. That’s how I go into every film, and it was no different with the newly released Netflix-distributed film, Sahara. I knew about this CGI-animated film from France since the end of last year, but was intrigued when I saw Netflix was going to distribute it. I was a bit concerned when they didn’t really advertise the film, and after watching it, I understand why. Let’s dive into the desert with Sahara.

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The story revolves around a cobra and a scorpion, who feel out of place with the colony of other snakes they live with. The cobra named Ajar, voiced by Robert Naylor, decides to try and fit in with the snakes that live within the oasis on the other side of the valley. Unfortunately for him, the snakes in the oasis are pretty high class, and have a rather strong defense system. He and one of the oasis snakes escape the boundaries of the environment, and end up bonding with one another. That is, for a few seconds, as a snake charmer kidnaps the oasis snake. Ajar, along with the Oasis’s snake’s lazy obnoxious brother, must go save the “love” of his life before she ends up in a worse situation.

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Yeah, as much as I love foreign animation with their focus on story and characters, with different art styles and styles of animation, Sahara definitely doesn’t feel like one of those amazing films I talk about on my site. It becomes very obvious, outside of the rating for this film, that it’s meant for very little kids. Even if this was meant for younger kids, I can’t imagine someone like my niece sitting through this boring film. I don’t think I have ever felt so bored with an animated film from France since forever. None of the characters are very fleshed out, and they end up getting stuck with very basic character traits. Ajar is your generic lead character, Pitt the scorpion is your nervous safety-reliant friend, the female lead has no real character to her, and even the villain isn’t a super terrible guy. He’s not a good guy or anything, but the villain of this film feels forced. That’s also a problem when one of the characters you follow has a very hipster/surfer bro-style of talking that sounds way off from the original French dub of the film. Yeah, that’s another problem, the English dub is terrible. It’s not poorly done, but I feel like they either got the wrong voice director, or the actors weren’t putting their all into it, but a lot of the characters in this film were annoying to listen to. Especially that brother to the lead female, he is by far the most annoying character I have seen so far in 2017. First off, how does he have a blonde wig? Why does he talk like a surfer? Why is he a pot addict? Yes, it’s technically not pot but pollen, but it’s the same thing in terms of context. How do these characters reference things like Batman and Robin when they are snakes in a desert? I made it halfway through the film before I paused, switched to the French dub, and watched it with subtitles. You can tell that the French actors were putting more into their performances than the US cast.

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The film also loves to include a slew of characters that have no real purpose for the film. None of them push the narrative along, they don’t have much in terms of personalities, and sometimes, they are entirely 100% objectively pointless. For example, Pitt gets a scorpion girlfriend. Why? Because they needed a love interest in the last 20 minutes for him. Why? Because heaven forbid, we get any animated films these days that don’t rely on a romance between characters. You have bullies that never show up again, a cult of bugs that don’t show up again, and a family of scorpions that were way too willing to let their daughter go along with Pitt on the adventure that you never see again. And you have these security birds that only appear in the beginning of the film, and I swear one of them probably dies in the desert. I wouldn’t mind all of these pointless and boring main and secondary characters if they had any real chemistry. There is no convincing chemistry and charm between any of the characters. The two leads don’t even have romantic opportunity together; they fall for each other in a matter of seconds. Give Disney some credit, they at the very least, give the leads three or more days to do such a thing. It’s so weak and poorly executed that it’s eye-rolling.

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Did I like anything about this tale of snakes? Well, that’s one thing I can give credit to for this film. It is about an animal that you don’t see as leads in an animated film very often, and are not villains. I also like the animation and designs of the characters. It looks generic by US animation standards, but it looks way better than most foreign CGI fares. Even the humans have good looks to them that remind me of the Illumination Despicable Me look. I also found the movements to be fluid, and maybe that’s because most of the characters are snakes, but I think that’s pretty commendable that they put more detail into the animation. The colors are also very nice, because even though it is the desert, there can still be a lot of different colors, from the vibrant plants to the different skin or scale tones of the animals that live there. It was also nice to see the film was willing to take breaks every now and again to let the characters breathe. It’s nice to see that since a majority of animated films from the states tend to be very hyper and comedy-focused; this one could take its time for viewers to breathe and to slow the plot down. It doesn’t fix any of the issues with the plot, but having some atmosphere is nice.

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I still stand by my opinion that a lot of foreign animation is leagues better than a majority of the films made in the states, but this is one of the few times where I consider this one of their blunders. It’s not the worst animated film from France by any means, but it makes you wonder why the heck Netflix picked it up, and why it was even made. It has nice animation, but nice animation can’t save a film from its lackluster characters and story. If you really want to see this, for the love of animation, please watch it in French with English subtitles. It’s one of the few French-animated films that I have seen that felt like they weren’t even trying. Well, that happens from time to time. Thankfully, Sahara is way more watchable than what is quite possibly my worst animated film of 2017. You will just have to wait to see what that is next time. Thanks for reading!

Rating: Lackluster!