Zodi & Tehu: Princes of the Desert review: Camels shine in enchanting Abu Dhabi-shot fable

Capturing the friendship between 12-year-old Zodi and his camel Tehu, this is an touching fable for all ages

Yassir Drief in Zodi & Tehu: Princes Of The Desert. Photo: Sife Elamine
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There’s an old saying among filmmakers that you should try to avoid working with animals or children.

Director and co-writer Eric Barbier really puts that adage to the test with Zodi & Tehu: Princes of the Desert, because it revolves entirely around the beautiful friendship between 12-year-old Zodi and his camel Tehu.

But the resulting film is so thoroughly enchanting and affecting that Barbier basically makes a mockery of the expression.

The family comedy adventure opens in Morocco, where a herd of camels is attacked by a jeep full of poachers, the leader of which is Tarek (Youssef Hajdi). The mother of one of the camels leads her offspring into a hidden cave. When the poachers move towards them, she darts out, only to be killed. The poachers depart the scene of the crime, leaving Tehu orphaned.

Nearby, Zodi (Yasser Drief) and his mother Amina (Nadia Benzakour) live in a village with the tribe who own the camels. Unlike the other children, Amina forces Zodi to go to school. He is mercilessly mocked for doing so and as a result feels alienated from others his own age and his fellow pupils make fun of him for being a nomad.

On his way back home from school, Zodi hears Tehu’s cries for help and goes to assist him. The pair bond quickly. Even after Tehu keeps the tribe up all night with his incessant screaming, Amina and Zodi set up their tent on the outskirts of the village to ensure he can stay.

One year later, with their friendship now firmly secured, veterinarian Julia (Alexandra Lamy) arrives to tell the villagers that the rest of their camels have developed a serious disease that means they must be quarantined. Only Tehu has avoided contracting it, because he spends all his time with Zodi.

This gives Tehu only a short reprieve, because the village leader Issouf (Amine Ennaji) sells the camel to Tarek to generate more money for the tribe. A distraught Zodi hunts down Tarek and saves Tehu.

After previously learning from Julia that Tehu has the makings of a camel racer, Zodi decides to earn funds for the village by entering his best friend in these contests. Zodi has his eyes set on entering Tehu in the race of the century, which has a prize fund of $1 million.

Since this takes place in Abu Dhabi, Zodi and Tehu have to somehow make their way across the Sahara and avoid Tarek. When they arrive in the UAE, they discover that the world of camel racing is much more professional than they had anticipated and, despite his natural gifts, Tehu will have to learn to be more independent to win the prize that Zodi’s village needs to survive.

Zodi & Tehu: Princes of the Desert could easily have been a cheesy and overly sentimental addition to the child-befriending-an-animal sub-genre.

But it manages to overcome all its potential obstacles through Barbier’s pinpoint direction and the sincere and natural portrayals from Drief and the camel cast as Tehu. They keep the tone heartfelt and emotional, while generating laughs in a manner that’s both realistic and obviously absurd. The trio of creatives work so well together that there are times where it genuinely looks as though Tehu and Zodi are communicating through an unspoken language.

Zodi & Tehu: Princes of the Desert is able to succeed because of the work it does in its opening act, where Barbier creates a powerful connection between the titular twosome.

It’s not just that he shows viewers how lonely and heartbroken they both are, but the director makes them feel how much they need and can help each other. At the same time, Barbier shoots the desert and the village in such a charming and detailed manner that you also immediately feel part of the community and are transported to that world.

Zodi & Tehu: Princes Of The Desert

Director: Eric Barbier

Starring: Youssef Hajdi, Nadia Benzakour, Yasser Drief

Rating: 4/5

Sure, the plot creaks along in places, especially in its overly long second act. But there are enough rousing sequences to keep audiences hooked, especially one in which Zodi and Tehu have to cross a sea of salt. Plus Barbier and Hajdi make Tarek so villainous that it’s a total delight to see him failing repeatedly to recapture the pair.

Zodi & Tehu: Princes of the Desert is a crowd-pleaser the whole family can enjoy, while pet-lovers should be forewarned that they’ll need to take plenty of tissues along for the journey.

Updated: February 02, 2024, 6:02 PM
Zodi & Tehu: Princes Of The Desert

Director: Eric Barbier

Starring: Youssef Hajdi, Nadia Benzakour, Yasser Drief

Rating: 4/5