Azur & Asmar: The Princes' Quest (French: Azur et Asmar) is a 2006 French-Spanish-Belgium-Italy animated fairytale fantasy film written and directed by Michel Ocelot and animated at the Paris animation and visual effects studio Mac Guff Ligne. It is Ocelot's fourth feature, though his first wholly original creation since Kirikou and the Sorceress, and his first use of 3D computer graphics, albeit an atypical employment of this medium with two-dimensional, painted backgrounds and non-photorealistic rendering. Like most of his films it is an original fairy tale, in this case inspired by the folklore (including, but not limited to, the One Thousand and One Nights) and decorative art of North Africa and the Middle East and with an increased degree of characterisation relative to his previous works which pushes it into the genre of fairytale fantasy.
Once upon a time there were two children nursed by Jénane: Azur, a blond, blue-eyed son of a nobleman, and Asmar, the tan skinned and dark-eyed child of the Jenane. The nurse tells them the story of the Djinn-fairy waiting to be released from her chamber by a good and heroic prince. Brought up together they are as close as brothers until the day Azur's father cruelly separates them, banishing the nurse and Asmar from his home and sending Azur away to the city to receive schooling from a personal tutor.
Years later, Azur is haunted by memories of the legendary Djinn-fairy, and takes it upon himself to journey all the way to Asmar's homeland to seek it out. Now reunited, he finds that Jénane has since become a successful merchant, while Asmar is now a member of the Royal Guard. However, Asmar also longs to find the Djinn-fairy, and only one of the two youths can be successful in their quest.
Ocelot describes the visual style of Azur & Asmar, as distinct from his earlier works, as being influenced by French art and Early Netherlandish painting of the 15th century (in particular, Jean Fouquet, the Limbourg brothers and Jan van Eyck), Persian miniatures and Islamic civilization from the Middle Ages until the 15th century and 16th century Safavid art.
Azur & Asmar premièred on 21 May 2006 as part of the Directors' Fortnight of the 2006 Cannes Film Festival and was released to French theatres nationwide on 25 October 2006. An English-subtitled version was shown at numerous film festivals including the Montreal Film Festival for Children and Sprockets Toronto International Film Festival for Children - in both cases winning the festival's audience award.
The film was subsequently dubbed into English and distributed both in Ireland and the United Kingdom by Soda Pictures, receiving a limited release which began on 8 February 2008 and lasted several months, most likely due to the small number of dubbed prints made (as of 27 June 2008, it was still showing at one cinema in Cleethorpes). It was rated U by the British Board of Film Classification for "mild fantasy violence" and an English-subtitled, region 2 DVD-Video release followed on 28 July 2008.3
The Japanese DVD 4 and region A Blu-ray Disc5 released on 19 December 2007 and the Korean region 3 DVD released on 17 July 2008 6 include English subtitles.
The film was licensed for distribution in the United States by the Weinstein Company on 13 February 2007, during European Film Market at the Berlin International Film Festival. However, as of September 2008 - over a year later - no plans to release the film in the United States have been announced. Similarly, Seville Pictures announced that they would distribute the film to both English and French speakers in Canada, but as September 2008 they have only released a DVD with only the original French dialogue and no English subtitles.
Many suspected that a United States release would have proved impossible due to Jénane's nipples being visible during a breastfeeding scene early on in the film (Kirikou and the Sorceress went unrated to avoid the PG-13 or higher rating it would received from the Motion Picture Association of America despite the similarly non-sexual nature of the nudity in that film) and the director's refusal to allow his films to be distributed in a censored version; the Weinsteins' apparent dropping of the title seemed attributable to this. However, in early September 2008 it was revealed to been submitted to the MPAA by Genius Products (home video distributor for the Weinstein Company) and received only a PG rating for "thematic material, some mild action and peril," with no explicit reference made to the nudity.
The British-dubbed version had its American première at IFC Center in New York City on 17 October 2008. It was originally planned to run for one week in New York, before touring to other cities. However, due to the success of the first week (all screenings were sold out) its residency was extended for a second week of screenings. When these too sold out, a "third and final" week was announced. Cities it will tour to are expected to include Chicago, Columbus, Ohio, Tucson, Hartford, Connecticut, Seattle, and Washington, D.C. The film will screen at the San Joaquin Children's Film Festival, in Stockton, California from January 16 to 18, 2009.
Music is by Lebanese-born composer Gabriel Yared with the exception of one short song composed and performed by Afida Tahri; Souad Massi contributes vocals and lyrics to the Yared-composed ending theme "La Chanson d'Azur et Asmar." The score was nominated for the César Award for Best Music Written for a Film at the César Awards 2007.
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