Drawn That Way
Kaena: The Prophecy
By Kim Hollis
July 13, 2005

Kaena gets a little drowsy while she watches her movie.

Kaena: The Prophecy is the first ever CGI film to be created in France. Sadly, it doesn't do much to distinguish itself, as the movie is a dull, dreary piece of work that seems to drag on interminably.

The movie is set in a strange, faraway world called Axis. The inhabitants of this world realize that it is slowly dying, and have put their faith in their Gods to carry them through. An exception is a young woman named Kaena, who has explored more than most of her fellow citizens, and realizes that there is something else out there. She dreams of a blue sun that shines on a different land. The priest of the tribe, and Kaena's adoptive father, accuses anyone who does not follow the instruction of the Gods to be heretics, though.

It's not long until Kaena realizes there are no Gods. The "things" that are commanding her people are actually sap monsters, and it becomes a matter of urgency to uncover the mysteries of the "tree world" where she lives. After being banished by the priest, Kaena takes off on her own and joins up with an alien named Opaz and his army of flying worms to try to solve the mystery of what created their world, what is causing it to slowly perish, and to find a way to save her people.

Though the story is really more complex than that simple synopsis, it's rather difficult to go into further detail due to the convoluted and confusing nature in which the action unfolds. Frequently, the movie will skip from one scene to something else that has an entirely different focus and direction, and for anyone who is easily distracted by shiny things like I am, this is a big problem.

The graphics are perhaps the film's main high point, but even so, I was disappointed. After having viewed Kaena, I learned that it was originally planned as a video game, and I do believe that this fact is all too apparent in the rendering of the scenes and characters. The human-type beings have enormous eyes, a staple in many high quality video games, and there is an occasional lack of fluidity that is jarring. Also, the film's colors are muddy and dark, which while in keeping with the general tone and themes of the story, doesn't necessarily make for eye-popping visuals. Rather than looking like a cohesive, flowing piece, the film instead appears to be a series of video game cut scenes joined together to create one long story.

The U.S.-dubbed voice work for the movie is definitely notable and for the most part, pretty strong. Kirsten Dunst plays the lead character, Kaena, and she does an excellent job of infusing the heroine with plenty of emotion and singular identity. It's not Dunst's first time doing dub work for a foreign-animated film - she was the voice of the main character in Kiki's Delivery Service as well - and it certainly shows. Working alongside her is the late Richard Harris as Opaz, which is a bit of a distraction as it's somewhat difficult to separate the man from his distinguished voice. Anjelica Huston is the queen of the sap creatures, but doesn't stand out that much. Theoretically, Greg Proops should have provided a little bit of comic relief from the sober events onscreen as Gommi the flying worm, but instead he was just prissy and annoying.

And that leads to one of my bigger complaints about the film. It's too self-serious and totally lacking in any humor. Yes, the subject matter is grave and is an interesting allegory for what humankind is doing to earth itself, but everything is so glum and depressing that it's difficult to stay focused. It seems as though there were a few characters specifically inserted into the tale to bring about a little bit of levity from time to time, but the task simply isn't accomplished.

In the end, it's entirely possible that much was lost in the translation from French to English, which resulted in a subpar product. I do believe that the film's creator's intentions were good and that they had some great concepts and theories that might have been well worth exploring had they just delved a little deeper into the motivations of the various creatures and characters who populate the movie. Kaena stands out as a relatively strong female character amongst her animated peers - she's not a stereotype and it's certainly refreshing to see a heroine in such a story be an intuitive young woman. Unfortunately, the pieces of the puzzle just don't fit together well enough to make Kaena: The Prophecy a movie worth remembering.