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Print to Projector: Pride of Baghdad

By  · Published on January 22nd, 2011

As the only literate Reject, it’s my duty to find the latest, the greatest and the untouched classics that would make great source material for film adaptations. I read so you don’t have to.

One thing has become clear in the past week. Despite the comic book movie news flowing fast and furiously, the heroes were all familiar faces. The studios investing the most in bringing comic books to life have lost the plot a bit when it comes to the next few years of heroes to cultivate. Marvel tapping Black Panther is a nice start, but the studios are going to need to find alternate comic books to adapt in order to bring new life to the genre and surprise the fans who think seeing Spider-Man again will be fun but unnecessary.

This week, we’ll look at the story of a family of lions in a time of war that remind us that there is no freedom that isn’t earned.

Pride of Baghdad

By Brian K. Vaughan

Art by: Niko Henrichon

Letters by: Todd Klein

“The sky is falling! The sky is falling!”


With well-crafted characters, Brian K. Vaughan has created a stunning book that focuses on four lions that escaped from the Baghdad Zoo during the first major offensive into the city during the Iraq War. Based on a true story, the book truly starts with the sky falling – the bombs bursting in air – as the animals try to figure out why their human caretakers are running away.

The pride of lions consists of a ferocious female named Noor who is desperate to be free and eat something she’s killed herself. Her cub (a source of constant curiosity) is Ali. With them is a male named Zill who is level-headed until he needs to fight, and an older lioness named Safa who appreciates captivity after the harsh life out in the wild.

Their escape from the zoo sees them wandering through the city under siege – witnessing tanks rolling through, bombs hitting the ground, and speaking with creatures they’ve never met before. It leads them all through the old palace where they encounter a huge, violent bear kept by the regime, and onto the roof so that Ali can witness his first sunset.

The ending, especially, is unforgettable.

Potential Problems

There are two challenges in bringing this story to life. One is structural, and the other deals with design.

As to structure, the book is a quick read, and it would be to be drawn out in such a way that kept its spirit but added to the meat of the characters. As it stands, a straightforward adaptation would only be about 45 minutes long. Fortunately, the characters would have plenty more to do in a longer format.

The film would undoubtedly have to be animated, and there’s a question of design there. Traditional hand animation would be vibrant, and it would help to create an easier-to-believe group of large cats than CGI.

However, even though that would work well, too. CGI has the potential to create something even more stunning.

The Pitch

Directing: The go-to here is Zack Snyder – not because of his comic book history, but because of The Legend of the Guardians. In that, he worked with a stellar team of animators to bring the owls to life. Creating a larger animal might prove a dangerous trip into the uncanny valley, but it’s a trip worth taking. Plus, Snyder (as surface level as many of his movies are) has the chops to help shape the beautiful imagery that would really make this story shine.

Writing: Hands down. No other person. Brian K. Vaughan. He has a bit of experience as a screenplay writer, although none of his has been produced (they should), and he’s got teleplay experience from Lost. However the real reason he has to adapt his own story is because he’s so absolutely skilled in crafting characters, and he’s done such a formidable job with the comic book that it seems like sin to take away his chance to write it for the big screen. Plus, he’d get a chance to go even deeper with the characters and the journey they take.

Starring The Vocal Talents Of:

Kevin Conroy as Zill: Conroy is a seasoned voice actor (who is probably best known for voicing Batman on Batman: The Animated Series and subsequent Bat-based television shows. He can craft a gruff but gentle voice (which seems impossible), and his talents would be great here.

Shohreh Aghdashloo as Safa: The name might not seem familiar, but Aghdashloo has appeared in several mainstream US movies like X-Men: The Last Stand and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Her voice was showcased as the narrator of Mystic Iran, and it’s that rich combination of gravel and silk that would be perfect for the wizened figure in the pride.

Zoe Saldana as Noor: Commanding and feminine – she’s the perfect voice for the role of a lioness who wants to fight more than she knows how, someone who is caged for most of her life and simply wants the freedom to live and die on her own terms (and to boss Zill around into mating with her because she wears the lion pants in the pride).

Arnold Vosloo as Fajer the Bear:A veteran actor that was in The Mummy Returns, 24, and had a strong role in Blood Diamond. He’s just got to add a little more snarl to his voice and maybe smoke a pack a day for a month before recording, and he’ll have a perfect voice that thirsts for blood and rips at flesh just as much as the bear’s claws do.

An Unknown as Ali: This might be punting here, but how many Arabic child actors do you know? Ahmad Khan Mahmoodzada from The Kite Runner would be a good choice, but it really just takes a curious child’s voice and that could be found fairly easily.

Tony Shalhoub as Unnamed Sea Turtle: A small but pivotal role, the Unnamed Sea Turtle (who lives in a river) tells the pride of how things on the outside have been since the lions have been kept in the zoo.

The other option is to British-ize the entire Iraqi cast of characters and make Jeremy Irons the villain.

Who Owns It:

The book was published through DC Comics (specifically Vertigo), so it stands to reason that production would be overseen through their film shingles. In fact, considering their current partnerships, Warners might be a leading candidate to take the project to.

The Projection:

This would be a comic book adaptation unlike any other seen. It would spark a bit of life into the genre by further proving that comic books can be a source of incredible drama and vibrant characters that don’t always find themselves wearing spandex. Or being human at all. It’s a touching story (heartbreaking in parts) that tells a vital story with candor, humanism, gritty reality and pride.

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