Though loaded with 3D wonders, “Magic Journey to Africa” isn’t the enthralling ride it should have been. Packed with startling images and some interesting ideas, this wordy odyssey of a young heroine is so didactic and lacking in drama that it feels more like a film parents will want their kids to see than one kids will want to see themselves. Still, as Spain’s first venture into 3D, “Magic” could make the journey to limited offshore territories.
Jana (Eva Gerretsen) becomes obsessed with a young African boy, Kabbo (Michael Van Wyk), whom she sees stealing a cell phone in a Barcelona restaurant. Intrigued as to why Kabbo doesn’t have any money, she innocently pesters her mother (Veronica Blume) and father (Adria Collado) to find out more about him, and they trace him to a hospital where, it’s suggested, he may have died: Jana is told he’s gone to meet his forefathers in Africa.
Following a visit from a fairy (Leonor Watling, clearly unsure how to play it), Jana heads off (in her dreams) to Namibia to find Kabbo with the aim of helping him. She’s aided in this endeavor by a toy winged horse she carries in her bag. Taking flight, the horse can carry her vast distances. Jana meets a few talking animals, including an unhappy lion whose partner has been killed by hunters. A zebra grumpily reminds her that “this is Africa, not Disneyland.” She eventually becomes friends with a Namibian boy, Mel (Raymond Mvula), who takes her back to meet his family. Mel introduces Jana to some of the local myths, including the sacred tree that presumably fired James Cameron’s imagination for “Avatar.”
The script spends no end of time extolling the virtues of the imagination, but there’s too much of the kind of finger-wagging dialogue that will have tweens squirming in their seats (“The world of dreams is full of things you can’t see”). Pic’s plot and dialogue are pretty short on imagination themselves: Given that we’re on a quest, there are remarkably few dramatic highs and lows, while the repeat visits by Watling’s gauche fairy seem drawn from a different work entirely.
Still, the pic features some memorable visuals, including the shape of a tree emerging from the stars in the night sky and several spectacular aerial shots of the desert. Producer-writer-director Jordi Llompart uses 3D proficiently but not intrusively, whether drawing us into a lion’s open mouth or reaching out for the horizon of the Namibian desert.
Fusion of live-action with digital is fairly seamless, and the fact that the animals’ words match their lips shows the pic’s attention to visual detail. The score is mostly pleasant — often guitar-based new folk, perfectly in keeping with the general mood of political correctness. Gerretsen, debuting, is present in most scenes and acquits herself just fine.Pic is dedicated to the helmer’s young daughter, who died two years ago.