'Dragon Hunters'

Visually rich and narratively emaciated, "Dragon Hunters" is a reasonably enjoyable yet ultimately insubstantial installment in the ever-expanding canon of French CG toons.

Visually rich and narratively emaciated, “Dragon Hunters” is a reasonably enjoyable yet ultimately insubstantial installment in the ever-expanding canon of French CG toons. In crafting this medieval fantasy set in a dragon-infested world of floating islands in the sky, the filmmakers clearly spared no expense designing an impressive, at times beautiful series of landscapes, yet seem to have expended little effort on the story or characters, rendering the final result oddly flat. Nonetheless, kids with ages still in the single digits will be plenty entertained, and family DVD business looks promising, especially in Europe.

Pic hinges on a restless, oppressively loquacious tot named Zoe, who is perpetually running away from her rich, blind uncle with designs on becoming a knight. After running afoul of some miniature dragons in the nearby woods, she is saved by a pair of roving hustlers — bulky, heroic Lian Chu (voiced by Forest Whitaker in the English version), and scrawny, scheming Gwizdo — who return the girl to her uncle hoping to make a quick buck.

Once there, the two are mistaken for knights and commissioned to fight a massive dragon known as the World Gobbler, whose nominal occupation threatens Life as We Know It. From there, pic becomes an extremely straightforward series of dragon battles (mostly well-choreographed, if sometimes frenetically edited) and narrow escapes.

Backstories for any of the characters are kept to an absolute minimum. Fittingly, the characters themselves often look like rough sketch models, on which further detail and personality have yet to be drawn. Nor does the pic offer any sort of explanation for the origins or physical properties of the floating world — characters rarely seem to interact with the intricate environs around them, giving the weird impression of a two-dimensional existence in a 3-D milieu.

Noteworthy exceptions to the above are a brilliantly animated, Stitch-like blue mutt that accompanies the heroes throughout, and a fearsome, skeletal dragon that threatens them at the end (the latter, however, may be a little bit too scary for the pic’s ideal audience).

Below-the-line contributions are solid all around, and the sound design is particularly punchy and effective.

Dragon Hunters

France

Production

A Futurikon Films production, in co-production with Trixter, Luxanimation, Ma Guff Ligne, France 3 Cinema, RTL-Tvi and Belganim, with the participation of Canal Plus and TPS Star, in association with BAC Films and DNC Entertainment, with the support of Region Ile-de-France, Centre National de la Cinematographie, Film Fund Luxembourg, Film Fernseh Fonds Bayern, Bayerischer Bankenfonds. Produced by Philippe Delarue. Co-producers, Michael Coldewey, Lilian Eche, Jacques Bled, Jean-Jacques Benhamou. Directed by Guillaume Ivernel, Arthur Qwak. Screenplay, Frederic Engel-Lenoir, Qwak.

Crew

(Color); editor, Soline Guyonneau; music, Klaus Badelt; production designer, Ivernel; animation directors, Kyle Balda, Laurent de la Chapelle; character design, Valerie Hadida; sound, Bruno Seznec, Jean-Marc Lentretien; associate producer, Gladys Morchoisne. Reviewed on DVD, Los Angeles, Dec. 9, 2008. Running time: 83 MIN.

With

Forest Whitaker, Rob Paulson, Mary Mouser, Dave Wittenberg, Nick Jameson, Jess Harnell. (English dialogue)

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