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ReelTalk Movie Reviews
Snake Surprise
by Richard Jack Smith

Up to the age of seven, I was terrified of snakes. Even a python in a picture book would give me the screaming horrors. In the nursery, they had to remove the "S" from the overhead alphabetic display because it appeared in the shape of a serpent. Getting over that fear was a wonderfully cathartic experience. Regarding Sahara, I was curious to see how a love story involving snakes would translate to animation. 

Let's begin with the story. Ajar (voiced by Omar Sy) lives with the Dusties, snakes who don't wash. He's a blue Cobra whose best friend Pitt (voiced by Franck Gastambide) happens to be a scorpion. They are regularly bullied and ridiculed, yet Ajar dreams of getting away. He's not alone in that sentiment for Eva (voiced by Louane Emera) also seems dissatisfied with her lot in life. She lives in the oasis, a space with beautiful waters and not much to occupy the tenants except for sunbathing. Eva's father wants to match her up with the son of the Spencers, "the ones with the big south-facing stone." Oh the luxuries! Having none of it, she escapes and quickly runs into Ajar. It's love at first sight. They get into a spot of mischief, including a swim down the rapids. Everything appears safe until Eva ends up captured and recruited into Omar's Snake Paradise, a ballet company for serpents. Slithering far from home, Ajar and his new companions venture across the Sahara to save the girl.

Directed by Pierre Cor é who wrote the screenplay with Nessim Debbiche and Stéphane Kazandjian, Sahara seeks to entertain in the simplest way possible. Youngsters probably won't get the references to films such as Tod Browning's Freaks ("one of us, one of us") or the throwaway nods to Romeo and Juliet as well as Planet of the Apes. Occasionally, the film verges on the hokey, especially with those glowing bugs which drool all over the place. Thankfully, toilet humour is rare and there are some redeeming features.

Consider the instrument which Omar uses to make the serpents perform in his shows. Known as the flute of Kpassenou (ke-pass-a-noo), it was "carved in the vertebra of a Seba python, by a voodoo master from Benin." I wouldn't mind having one for my collection!

Then there's the music by  Jérôme Rebotier - slightly exotic, not quite pop but entirely creative. You'll discover a theme buried in the sand. it might not be Pinocchio or The Stolen Princess yet it tantalizes as a fine delicacy. Sadly, the music was mixed far too quietly. Therefore, many of the more intriguing sections cannot be heard. 

Now, the success or failure of Sahara depends on animation quality. Colour schemes are evocative, especially the clean oranges and yellows of the desert. Once or twice, Ajar appears to be purple instead of blue. It might just be a lighting issue but it struck me as a little off. Ultimately, character movement appears smooth and vibrant, especially during the ballet performances. Not to mention, there's an exciting sequence during a sandstorm. Overall, it was very good.

 (Released by Netflix and rated "TV-Y7.")

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