Behind every great pharaoh is a woman — and “Princess of the Sun” relates the adventure-packed adolescence of one of them, Princess Akhesa, the future Mrs. Tutankhamun. Stunning backdrops and an appealingly animated if narratively standard story make for a Gallic take on ancient Egypt with potentially universal appeal. In addition to cracking the Egyptian market, with a wave of other French fare to follow, producers of this widely presold kidpic, budgeted at $5.4 million, are hoping for pharaonic returns. Strong opening in Gaul on April 4, on a hearty 300 prints, bodes well.
With few exceptions, French films have been absent from Egyptian screens for the past three decades, even though the language is widely studied there. (Pic officially world preemed in Egypt March 13, in an Arabic subtitled version, where it’s racked up a healthy 10,000 admissions to date.) Toon also marks the first screen adaptation of a work by popular Gallic writer and Egyptologist Christian Jacq, whose books have sold tens of millions of copies in 30 languages over the past two decades.
Pic is primarily the story of a smart and fearless 14-year-old girl who’s destined to rule, but the tale can also be read as “My God Is Better Than Your Gods.” Highlighting the then-newfangled cult of monotheism, yarn purports to be an accurate depiction of religious and political power struggles during the 18th Dynasty (1540-1307 B.C.).
Toon immediately sets a lively pace with an ancient traffic jam in the thoroughfares of a bustling city. Impatient locals include young Prince Tut (voiced by David Scarpuzza), who is being taken by his nursemaid, against his will, to audition as a suitor for Princess Akhesa (Coralie Vanderlinden).
But Akhesa, against her father’s wishes, is incognito in town, scrambling up and down structures with gymnastic elan as her seemingly telepathic cat leads her in a merry chase over scenic rooftops. When they meet, the two teens get off to a terrible start, but they will later join forces to overcome nearly insurmountable obstacles.
Akhesa’s father, Pharaoh Akhenaten (Arnaud Leonard), is so caught up in his monotheistic devotion to Aten, the Sun God, that he has ignored his family, starting with his wife, legendary beauty Nefertiti (Catherine Conet). Latter is now leading a solo life down south, on Elephantine Island.
Meanwhile, a renegade group of priests secretly continues to worship the full panoply of gods via their effigies at Karnak, the majestic city Akhenaten declared off limits because it harbors the “wrong” theology. Also, Akhenaten’s faithful general, Horemhem (Mathieu Moreau), can’t get his sovereign to look away from the sun long enough to take seriously the threat of vicious invaders, including shrewd one-eyed mercenary Zannanza (Philippe Allard).
When Akhesa fails to persuade her sun-worshipping dad that his peaceful policies are not the ideal way to protect the country, she and Tut set off down the Nile to reach Nefertiti’s distant island. Along the way, they risk ravenous crocodiles and enemy capture.
Toon does a splendid job of bringing the structures and sandy vistas of ancient Egypt to life — even to afterlife. A sequence in which a character is transformed into grains of sand while his diaphanous ancestors hover is a memorable razzle-dazzler.
Film, whose original 2-D animation was hand-drawn (in Hungary) and then scanned, rather than being totally computer-generated, is aimed at kids, yet never talks down to them or indulges in antics that don’t move the saga forward. Character motivations are sometimes complex but easy enough to follow. Score by Didier Lockwood is varied and melodic.