The moment for Israeli animation may have arrived, as an 80-minute feature about King Solomon, created by a joint Israeli and Hungarian animation team, plays in Israeli theaters, and, hopefully, abroad as well.
“The Legend of King Solomon” takes a family-friendly look at the famed monarch, known for being fabulously wealthy and fantastically wise. The film takes viewers back to Solomon’s teen years, when he was slightly less wise and somewhat spoiled, grappling with his new leadership role and seeking a wife.
The characters and colors are sharp and rich, with Solomon as a hunky and adventurous leader-to-be; a Queen of Sheba who sounds — and has the look of Beyoncé; Solomon’s pet sidekick, Toby the Fox, voiced by “Shababnikim” newcomer Ori Laizerouvich; and veteran Israeli actress Hana Laszlo voicing several key characters.
There’s a little bit of everything in this animated film, from likable heroes and tense thrills to historical subjects and lush desert scenery. The action comes from young Solomon, who has to save the kingdom of Jerusalem from the evil devil Asmodeus, a slightly scary visage for younger viewers, but mostly harmless.
Solomon is banished into the Arabian desert, where he ends up in Petra — yes, that Petra — and ends up teaming up with Arab princess Naama and the Queen of Sheba to put an end to Asmodeus and his evil ways.
Many familiar, Middle Eastern references are scattered throughout the film, from the facades of Petra and the rooftops of ancient Jerusalem to the tones of the Arab-Jewish Rana Choir singing parts of the soundtrack.
The young Solomon is a classic animation subject, said Hanan Kaminiski, who directed and co-wrote the animated feature with Gyula Böszörményi.
Kaminiski, 67, loves the cultural values imbued in a story like “The Legend of King Solomon.” He said he wanted to portray mutual respect between the different cultures of the Middle East, and the fact that there have been long periods of peace and prosperity in the region.
“If they did it then, why not now?” said Kaminiski, while sitting at a favorite local cafe in his hometown neighborhood of Jaffa.
A product of the Hashomer Hatzair Zionist youth movement while growing up in Belgium, Kaminiski immigrated to Israel in 1970, where he studied at the visual communication department at Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design.
He initially worked in Israeli television series, including “Rechov Sumsum,” the local version of “Sesame Street,” but ended up working mostly in Europe, where there were greater animation opportunities.
Kaminiski eventually ended up splitting his time between Europe and Israel for the better part of twenty years, including teaching animation for 20 years at Bezalel.
“I taught the current generation of animators here in Israel,” he said.
He also directed animated features and TV series like “The Wumblers,” “Aaron’s Magic Village” (based on a Chelm story), “Fantastic Flying Journey,” and others.
Kaminiski was waiting to direct an animated feature out of Israel, and finally got his chance with King Solomon.
The film is a joint production of Eden Productions of Israel and Cinemon Entertainment of Hungary, and had a $4 million budget with sponsorship from the Rabinovich Film Fund, the Israel Film Fund and Cinema City International.
It was also animated by a staff of 70 animators in Israel and another 100 in Hungary.
“I hope we’ll get to do more,” said Kaminiski, who’s thinking about other classic Jewish stories to be adapted for animated features. “It was tons of research and hard work. But look at that final product; it was worth it.”