El Arca; and Les Bois des Vierges

reviewed by Dronon
©2010 Dronon

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El Arca Le Bois des Vierges

EL ARCA movie poster
“Based on the biggest best-seller of all time”
Title: El Arca
Spanish w/ English dub
Screenplay: Axel Nacher, Fernando Schmidt Bescio (writers)
Cast: (voices of) Joe Carey, James Keller, Wayne Legette
Crew: Juan Pablo Buscarini (director)

Patagonik Film Group, Argentina (2007), 84 minutes

   A couple of years ago, a foreign movie trailer started floating around the internet; it was for an animated adaptation of Noah’s Ark with anthropomorphic animals, in Spanish. What caught people off-guard was that smack dab in the middle of what looked like a kid’s film, there was a big-breasted feline woman doing a nightclub dance version of I Will Survive. Time went by and the fandom largely forgot about it. Then a couple of months ago, one of my friends brought it up and said, “What was with that, anyway?” I thought it was a good question, so I looked it up.
   El Arca was an Argentinian production that came out in 2007. I haven’t been able to find out if there was an English DVD release, but an English dub exists as Noah’s Ark that was aired on American television at least once. Clips of it may be on YouTube, but it can be a bit tricky to find a full copy. (If you go looking, use the words domino and rerip in your search.)
   The film is… well, it’s a bit of an odd mix. Personally I’d rate it a 5 or 6 out of 10. Even with that score it’s still watchable, but only if you don’t mind decidedly low-brow humor. The plot? Well… it’s Noah’s Ark. Noah sends out doves to deliver messages to the animals, who hold a conclave. The aging lion king has little choice but to send his son, Xiro (pronounced ‘Zero’), a shallow, naïve, immature protagonist who knows nothing of leadership, and mistakenly thinks it’s a pleasure cruise which will allow him “to multiply”. His female counterpart doesn’t make it on board, leaving him with his micro-managing secretarial lioness, Kairel.

   Once the Ark gets going, things aren’t so easy. With limited and boring food supplies available, Dagnino (the tiger) and a group of other apex predators manipulate and frame Xiro so they can take over and eat the other passengers. Meanwhile, two evil humans, Farfan and his wife Esther, have stowed away, disguising themselves as animals. Then Noah ends up unconscious, and chaos breaks out as his family can’t agree on how to handle things. Xiro figures out (after far too long) how to be an effective leader, Noah wakes up, everyone works together, happy ending.
   The most striking thing about this for North American viewers is what we encountered in the trailer—a They put that in a kid’s movie!? reaction. Consider the start of the film: A slapstick collection of cheap animal gags that includes a porcupine humping a pineapple. 30 seconds later, all the animals are shown captured or dead in marketplace stalls. Yes, once we leave North America, the notion of what’s considered appropriate content for children changes drastically.
   Some of the mature content is very obvious. Xiro’s interest in mating is as subtle as a Father of the Pride episode, and his closest friend, an orangutan, is extremely effeminate (read: gay, despite being married). The pantheress’ breasts are big. A donkey makes moves on a deer. Then there’s the nightclub scene, which is thankfully short.
   Some things wouldn’t be as obvious to kids, like how Noah’s three sons look nothing like each other (one of them is black), and what that implies. And finally, some things in the movie are simply unexpected. God is non-Caucasian. Noah’s son’s wives all speak in completely different, modern accents. Xiro and friends do a weird, useless dance before engaging the tiger and other predators in a fight. All the animals can talk, but aren’t supposed to do it when humans are around, to keep it a secret.
   The religious parts of the film are quite bearable, if obvious, and not frequent enough to be bothersome for the non-religious. Usually it’s just a line from Noah at appropriate moments. God and his angel assistant appear as characters, and the script has a surprising, light sense of humor with them. Like when Noah’s family prays to God for help, waking him from his nap, he mutters, “Of course, when they’re in trouble, they remember I exist.” There’s also a running dialogue between God and the angel over how to write the Bible, a work-in-progress. (Whatever you do, don’t show this film to fundamentalists; at one point, God throttles the angel.)
   Animation quality? Passable, but nothing special. 2D, with occasional CGI shots of the ark and awful flame effects. The backgrounds look much better than the characters, who are very toony. Some of the designs are rather odd. Xiro’s chin is huge. Kairel’s waist-to-thigh ratio is bizarre, and she and one of the other lionesses look very like Hanna-Barbera Yogi Bear rip-offs. English voice acting: Decent, but no one I’ve ever heard of. Occasionally the wording is strange—this is the first kid’s film I’ve seen that uses the word ‘plebian’.

   Would I recommend this film? Only for the curious; you’re not missing anything. Despite its low-brow humor, at least there are still mildly amusing moments, like when Noah’s sons discuss finding a retirement home for him after hearing his ark plan. And aside from the closing tune and the nightclub scene, no one breaks into song for the entire film.

El Arca Le Bois des Vierges

Cover of Robert Laffont hardcover edition
Title: Le Bois des Vierges
Author: Jean Dufaux
Illustrator: Béatrice Tillier
Publisher: Delcourt (May 2009)
ISBN: 9782756019024
Hardcover, 54 pp, color, ¤13,95

Publisher: Robert Laffont (Feb 2008)
ISBN: 9782221107270
Hardcover, 54 pp, color

   At long last, there’s a new anthropomorphic European comic drawn in a realistic style besides Blacksad! It’s Le Bois des Vierges (The Virgins’ Woods), illustrated by Béatrice Tillier, a French artist relatively new to the comics scene, and written by Jean Dufaux, a Belgian author with several other comics to his name.

   The setting is medieval in a mixed human/anthro world. About one-third of the panels have anthros in them. The story begins with an unprecedented arranged marriage between two noble families, a pact to end the ongoing warfare between mankind and the ‘high beasts’. But Aube, the human bride, wants nothing to do with Loup-de-Feu, her wolf husband, and has him murdered on their wedding night, fleeing the castle to take shelter in a distant magical forest that only virgins can enter and survive.

   The pact broken before it even started, war breaks out again, worse than ever before. Although the humans have invented a primitive firearm, the wolves are vicious fighters and have a lower infant mortality rate. Time passes, and after years of heavy losses, each side fears destruction and needs to rally their troops with an effective leader.
   Emissaries are sent out, because the leaders they need have both been exiled by their own people. Loup-Gris for marrying a fox, and Lord Clam (a legendary wolf-killer) for as-yet unexplained reasons, now living under a curse of some sort.
   Loup-Gris at first refuses the call to war, until his own father is killed. Enraged, he intends to form a military alliance between the high and low beasts to rid their territory of mankind forever. Meanwhile, Hugo (a human knight) searches for Lord Clam. The only person who knows where to find him is Aube’s disgraced father, and he only helps Hugo after the knight promises to deliver a message to Aube, a suicide mission. At the end of the comic, Hugo finds Lord Clam, and while he hasn’t agreed to help the war effort yet, the two are riding very close to the deadly woods…
   The artwork in this comic is excellent, and while Tillier’s humans are better on average than her anthros, she’s done a superb job and puts a tremendous amount of color and detail into everything. Some of her sketches and scans from the comic are online; I found examples here, here and here. The author and artist have taken a very cinematic approach to panel construction; the angle of view frequently feels very deliberate and camera-like. Warfare imagery is kept to a minimum, although there is some blood and the occasional up-front death.
   Furry-wise, the anthros are plantigrade and dress in very ruffly period costumes, so it’s mainly heads, hands and tails that you see. The anatomy sometimes seems a little off, but this isn’t distracting. Some of the facial expressions are really spot-on. Most of the animal characters so far are wolves, although foxes, lynxes and centaurs make an occasional appearance.
   Writing-wise, it’s never really explained how this story universe works. This ‘don’t ask’ approach isn’t unusual for French fantasy or science-fiction comics, but it means that as a reader you have to shrug and accept things as they are. Don’t think about the details and go with the flow. The author lists the Reynard cycle and Beauty and the Beast among his inspirations.
   Personally, I’m intrigued by the story and I want to know what happens next, to find out which characters overcome their past mistakes, and how. Issue one leaves things hanging, and two more issues are currently planned. According to an interview with the author, issue 2 will largely take place in the Virgins’ Woods, have beings that incorporate aspects of both the human and animal worlds, and will have some kind of love story introduced. Issue 3 will leave the forest and conclude the war. Of course, nothing is ever sure in the world of French comics publishing, so time will tell.

   It’s unlikely this comic will get translated into English, and even if you know a little French, the language is medievally archaic and difficult to follow. Not as hard as trying to understand Shakespeare, but it’s a bit of a challenge, is all I’m saying. If it hadn’t been for the English Wikipedia page, I would have had a much harder time.
   If this comic interests you, you’ll probably have to order it online and pay extra for long-distance shipping. The first issue was published in 2008 by Laffont, who then dropped their comics division. Subsequently, Delcourt picked up the title and re-published it with a different cover in 2009.

El Arca Le Bois des Vierges

   In other news: Dark Horse is going to re-publish Blacksad, including the third book in English for its very first time!

   And finally, I’d like to correct an error in an earlier review of mine, about La Guilde. The writer and publisher are indeed Belgian, but the artist, Óscar Martín, is from Spain, where its title is La Hermandad. I’ve since learned that he’s published two issues of his own comic in Spanish called Solo, about a big-muscled rat warrior in a sort of cartoony Mad Max universe. Some artwork here (click on the squares), as well as on his blog.

Got a book, movie, comic, etc. of the anthropomorphic kind that needs an Anthro review? Send it to Dronon!

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