Sunday, November 25, 2018

NYADIFF ’18: The Sky Princess

There is no Twilight Zone in this world. How very sad. They eat vegetables and work all day in Sun Village, because of the constant sunlight. In contrast, people scarf meat and dance all endless-night in Moon Kingdom. A poor young Sun Villager will bring the halves together, but it is not clear how or why in Dara Harper’s animated fable, The Sky Princess (trailer here), which screens as part of the 2018 New York African Diaspora International Film Festival’s school program.

Dafina’s family is poor, even by Sun Village standards. Yet, her parents take perverse pride in the hard-working simplicity of their lives. She is definitely short of princely suitors. She just has her goofball pal Mosi, who is determined to get out of the friend zone. As a result, she cannot resist when the evil Owl-creature Tamu offers her a bargain that does not sound so Faustian, allowing her to experience life as the princess of Moon Kingdom for as long as she wants. At first it is rather fun to live as royalty, but she eventually starts to miss her family (even though the voice of her new mom, the Moon Queen is supplied by Vivica A. Fox). Unfortunately, when she finally decides to opt out, Tamu shows her his true colors.

Even though the animation of Claye Edou’s Minga and the Broken Spoon is rather simple, it is still appealingly old fashioned in a sentimental throw-back kind of way. In contrast, the CG-animation of Sky Princess just looks cheap and down-market, like a YouTube gag video thrown together with public domain animation software.

Harper’s narrative is a nice story that has some nice messages with respect to true love and filial piety, but in some ways, it could be seen as a critique of Dafina’s aspirations for upward social mobility, which is problematic (suggesting she should have just accept her lot farming and eating veggies). The prologue and epilogue also clearly state Dafina brought about a rapprochement between Sun Village and Moon Kingdom, but we never see that happen at all. The songs are not especially memorable either.

It is nice to give every kid an opportunity to identify with heroic animated characters, but the timing for Star Princess is not so great, considering Miles Morales, the African-American-Puerto Rican Spiderman is about to swing into theaters. It is achingly well-intentioned, with no objectionable subject matter whatsoever, but animation connoisseurs will definitely find it a minor film. Obviously intended for young audiences, The Sky Princess screens this Tuesday (11/2) and Thursday (11/29), during this year’s NYADIFF.