DELHI SAFARI – DVD review

I was anxious to watch “Delhi Safari” because it’s the first animated feature from India that I’ve run across, and the first Indian 3D animated film—though it’s only being released stateside in DVD. Curiously, though, writer-director Nikhil Advani hardly showcases India at all.

A single parrot sings a Bollywood song, and that scene is so fun you wish there were more like it. The countryside is either generic or it resembles the backdrop of “The Lion King,” even to the point of employing the same mise-en-scene for the elephant boneyard scene with hyenas and the same positioning of three hyenas that advance on the animal pilgrims.

Earth movers look more like Transformers intent not on moving earth and trees but running down a leopard and his cub, and few other details ring true. At what train station in India, for example, would we find only a handful of passengers waiting for a train? And is there a train in India that doesn’t have people riding on the roofs of cars or hanging out the windows? Even shots of Delhi are remarkably open and airy, with only enough cars and people to populate the frame. To me, it felt like a wasted opportunity. My wife, who’s half Indian, felt the same. We would have preferred Indian actors to the usual American voice actor suspects: Christopher Lloyd, Cary Elwes, Jane Lynch, Brad Garrett, Vanessa Williams, and Jason Alexander.

The plot of “Delhi Safari” seems geared toward a young audience. After a leopard is killed by land developers, a group of animals goes to Delhi with a parrot who speaks human in order to tell whoever will listen that their environment needs to be saved. Along the way there’s infighting, mostly, but that’s the trajectory. The characters themselves aren’t all that interesting except for the parrot, who’s cute enough to cuddle.

But other aspects of “Delhi Safari” hardly seem appropriate for young viewers. It features a pugnacious monkey who keeps pulling a gun on other animals and at one point whips out a pocketknife with the intention of slitting another animal’s throat (we’re never told how a monkey comes to have weapons), while later a bear tries to choke that annoying monkey to death. As in “The Lion King,” a little cub has to watch his father killed (and again, in flashback), and there’s even a scene where they sing a song reminiscent of “Circle of Life,” with so many overall similarities to “The Lion King” that you begin to wonder how they got away with it. At one point the rogue monkey is shown from the waist up urinating in a field, and an Indian is shown wearing a t-shirt that says “FCUK” (for French Connection UK). Again, you have to question the inclusion of those elements when the film itself seems geared toward children.

The music is also aimed at younger children, but the songs are more generic than Bollywood-influenced. One involves a bear that inexplicably wears a Smoky-style hat while he sings a song that tries to replicate the success of “Bare Necessities” from Disney’s “The Jungle Book.” For me, the whole film was just too derivative, while the kids didn’t respond well to the partial animation—where the dialogue didn’t match the mouth movements very well (and it’s so minimalist that people watching in Hindi would have the same complaint). This 2012 film didn’t hold their interest at all, and my wife and I kept looking at each other wondering how it earned a Dove symbol.

As for the animation itself, the quality is uneven—sometimes as good as any CGI drawing, and other times so clumsy that objects held in creatures’ hands look disconnected. At times my son grumbled that the graphics weren’t as good as the most recent video game he played. But there’s promise here, and one hopes that Advani tries his hand at animation again, but with a fresher concept and a stronger plot.

“Delhi Safari” is rated PG for violence and menacing action, rude humor, suggestive content and thematic elements.

Video:
The video presentation is solid, even if the animation disappoints. Colors are consistently bright and fully saturated, black levels are decent, and the lighting is consistent. “Delhi Safari” is presented in letterboxed 1.78:1 widescreen.

Audio:
The audio is a standard Dolby Digital 5.1 in English, and there’s a surprising amount of rear-speaker action. There’s nice clarity and fullness of tone throughout the film, and so I have no complaints about the production values.

Extras:
There are no bonus features.

Bottom line:
So much work goes into animation that you have to wonder why directors don’t start with a stronger premise or script. That’s the main problem with “Delhi Safari,” an animated feature from India that, for the time being, is only available at Walmart. You can get it elsewhere on June 18.

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