Film Review: Delhi Safari

Although set in India, the Bollywood-backed cartoon <i>Delhi Safari</i> speaks the universal language of middling kiddie entertainment.

You can't say that the makers behind the new computer-animated romp Delhi Safari, which was made in India but clearly has its eyes on the global marketplace, haven't done their homework in regards to the kinds of cartoons that travel well overseas. The plot of this eco-friendly road comedy is stitched together out of elements from such international hits as The Lion King, Madagascar, Rio and even FernGully: The Last Rainforest (well…okay, three out of four count as international hits), although the filmmakers do at least set it to a Bollywood beat—and retain the Indian names for the characters (all of whom are voiced by recognizable Hollywood talent for the U.S. release) and locations—to give the picture some local flavor. But don't worry about there being any cultural barriers that might hinder your child's enjoyment (or, at the very least, mild tolerance) of the film; both the best and worst thing that can be said about Delhi Safari is that it's on par with any average American-made kiddie cartoon that does the bulk of its business on DVD and cable.

The film starts in Lion King territory with our hero—a leopard cub named Yuvi (Tara Strong)—witnessing the death of his father Sultan (Cary Elwes) at the hands of a demolition crew tasked with clearing out a swath of jungle to make room for a new high-rise. Furious at the destruction of their home, Yuvi hits the road Madagascar-style with a crew of critters, including his protective mother Beggum (Vanessa Williams), slow-witted but loyal bear Bagga (Brad Garrett), and revolution-minded monkey Bajrangi (Carlos Alazraqui), bound for India's capital city, Delhi, where they intend to argue their case in front of Parliament. How do they plan to communicate their FernGully-esque environmental message to mankind? Simple—they'll kidnap a chatty parrot named Alex (Tom Kenny, known to gazillions of children as the voice of SpongeBob SquarePants) and make him their spokesperson…um, make that, spokesbird.

Of course, as the pet of a high-rolling player in the local film industry, Alex has never set foot outside his comfortable cage (shades of Rio's Blu) and doesn't exactly take to life in the wild. He's especially perturbed about having to spend more time with the violence-prone Bajrangi, who is secretly planning to make a more forceful argument (i.e., one that involves his trusty gun) in favor of protecting wildlife when the group arrives in Delhi. It goes without saying that Alex, Bajrangi and the rest of the group experience a change of heart—and learn a few life lessons—on their way to the big city. For example, Alex realizes that being a free bird isn't such a bad thing; Bajrangi discovers that talking, not punching, is the best way to solve problems; both Yuvi and Beggum come to terms with Sultan's death; and Bagga…well, he doesn't learn much of anything. Then again, he's already the most sensible animal in this particular menagerie, so maybe that's for the best.

Entirely cheerful in its mediocrity, Delhi Safari ambles amiably along from scene to scene on the way to its heavy-handed, lessons-learned finale, enlivened occasionally by a few amusing bits of broadly comic business (most of which involve Bajrangi, whose hotheaded ways make him a natural favorite with young viewers) and the spirited work of select members of its vocal cast, most notably Kenny and Alazraqui. Those curious about what an animated Bollywood musical might look like will be disappointed to hear that the song-and-dance numbers in your average live-action production are more colorful and enjoyably cartoonish than the rather wan sequences included here. (There's only one number, involving a cast of dancing flamingos, that's up to the usual Bollywood standards.) In fact, the animation style itself is fairly stiff and generic, offering character designs and landscapes that lack personality or detail. While the point of Delhi Safari may have been to show the world that an Indian animation house is capable of producing a polished feature-length CGI cartoon, here's hoping that the filmmakers' next effort aspires to be more distinctive that this forgettable trifle.