This visually stunning sci-fi feature was produced in Paris by a team of game-developers, which probably explains the mixed reviews: Almost everone praises the realistic artwork, but many complain about character and plot, describing the latter as at best unimaginative and at worst confusing and dopey. If you want a clear, linear storyline with all the details neatly spelled out, this is not the movie for you. But if you're looking for sophisticated visuals and are willing to use your imagination to fill in some storyline gaps, I think you'll enjoy Kaena. I know I did.
I love good artwork, and here Kaena delivers. This is not the flat, black-outline art of many Japanese animes, rather it has fully 3-dimensional graphics, similar to that seen in Toy Story and Shrek. But forget all the big-eyed Japanese characters and the cutesy stuff Hollywood produces. The French animators have created a visually dense, rich, and vivid tapestry, with all the deep perspective and dramatic chiaroscuro found in the best of modern adult comics. The opening sequence is memorable - you fly like a bird dead on into an oncoming spacecraft that's in the process of breaking apart, travel through the center, then reverse perspective and pass out through the rear just as it blows up.
The plot is relatively simple: On an unknown planet called Axis, a mysterious globe contained in the wreckage of the doomed spacecraft has generated a massive branching organic tangle that extends 100 miles into the sky, almost but not quite touching a sister planet hovering nearby. In the midst of this tangle, just above the clouds, a primitive group of people dwells. Their lives consist of little more than harvesting sap from the great plant network and offering it to their gods, who provide them with sustenance. Kaena (Kirsten Dunst) is a rebellious teenager, who prefers exploring and sketching her surroundings to harvesting sap. Her dreams have convinced her that a better existence can be found beyond the cloud layer below, and she's determined to investigate. Her refusal to accept the status quo and the commandments of the High Priest (Richard Harris) get her into trouble, of course. Cast out from her village, she eventually encounters a last survivor of the spacecraft and embarks on a dangerous quest to find the mysterious orb, which holds the key to the fate of Kaena's people and Axis itself.
The "villains" of the epic are beings that morph from the great pool of sap on Axis. It appears that the very network that gave birth to the humanoids is draining the life-gving fluid from the planet at its roots. For hundreds of years, the Sap Queen (Anjelica Huston) has been trying to destroy the orb, but to no avail. In fact, she's become so obsessed - like Ahab ready to destroy ship and crew in pursuit of Moby Dick - that her vicious attacks on the orb are threatening the existence of her entire race. So there's a little ecology thrown in with the other plot threads of teenage rebellion and a quest for a better existence. I admit it can get a little overwhelming.
I agree with some of the comments that there are a few technical flaws in the CG rendering and that Kirsten Dunce's voiceover is mediocre. And for a teenager, Kaena has a body and a skimpy wardrobe that would better do justice to Barbarella or to Frank Frazetta's buxom women. Nevertheless, the visuals and the world they depict are georgeous. As another reviewer put it, there are scenes that will linger in your memory for days. So, if you're looking for a visual feast and can put up with a plot that gets a little clearer as the story unfolds, maybe you should give Kaena a try.