Cheerful family-friendly animation from Mauritius
Dir: Brent Dawes. South Africa/Mauritius. 2020. 88 mins
Group hugs and friendship are the most powerful forces in the universe, at least in Jungle Beat: The Movie. The first animated feature from Sandcastle Studios offers sweet, wholesome family fare that should win the approval of parents and hold the attention of younger viewers. An established fan base from fifteen years of the Jungle Beat television series and subsequent game provides the obvious target audience for an eager-to-please, good-natured affair.
A perky scenario that favours the tried and trusted
Director Brent Dawes and co-writer Sam Wilson appear to have thrown a number of familiar ingredients into the blender to create a story for Jungle Beat: The Movie. The colourful menagerie of Madagascar, the solidarity between species of the Ice Age series, Dr. Dolittle’s ability to talk to the animals and the homesick alien of E.T. all contribute to a perky scenario that favours the tried and trusted. It may not be especially distinctive but it has enough comedy, colour and energy to serve the family market.
Another morning beneath starry African skies sets the scene for the arrival of a purple alien called Fneep (voiced by Ed Kear). In appearance, he is a combination of off-colour Smurf and a wobbly jelly baby. It is his manner that makes him the most unexpected and endearing of the film’s characters. The most reluctant of conquerors, he is mild-mannered and bashful. There is an echo of Martin Freeman in Ed Kear’s vocalisation of someone constantly apologetic, long-suffering and eminently reasonable.
Fneep has arrived from Scaldron where the only recognised symbol of achievement is conquering distant planets. His space ship has crashed on earth. His mission is the claim the planet for his race and make his domineering father Grogon (David Rintoul) proud. All he really wants is to go home.
Help is at hand in a group of wild jungle animals led by brash wisecracking monkey Munki (David Menkin in Jim Carrey mode) and including elephant Trunk (Ina Marie Smith), hippo Rocky (also David Menkin) and an irascible hedgehog called Humph (David Guerrasio). Fortunately, Fneep has arrived armed with a handy speech pod that allows all of the animals to speak for the first time - in English, naturally. That is one of the significant changes from the television episodes.
Accepting their conqueror with remarkable good grace, the animals can’t help but warm to Fneep and help him recover the spacecraft that will allow him to return home.
Jungle Beat has the manic fizz we have come to expect from family-friendly international animation. Editors Ryno Ritter and Clea Mallinson ensure that the pace never flags. Animals are forever skipping towards the camera, swinging through the trees, swooping through the skies or careering towards another quickly resolved dilemma. The script is strewn with running gags, slapstick comedy and schtick. The jaunty score constantly threatens to burst into a singalong tune that never materialises.
Unusually, the villain of the piece is less of a dastardly megalomaniac and more of a misguided father demanding too much of his sensitive son. It only takes a good cuddle to teach him the error of his ways.
Jungle Beat: The Movie tends towards the bland but its cheery message of friendship, tolerance and acceptance does seem particularly timely and can only help endear it to viewers.
Production companies: Sandcastle Studios, Sunrise Productions
International sales: Timeless Films firstname.lastname@example.org
Producers: Jacqui Cunningham, Phil Cunningham, Tim Keller, Rita Mbanga, Joe Pistorius
Screenplay: Brent Dawes, Sam Wilson
Editing: Ryno Ritter, Clea Mallinson
Cinematography: Charl James Collocott
Art direction: Lynton Levengood
Music: Andries Smit
Voice cast: Ed Kear, David Menkin, Ina Marie Smith, David Rintoul