*Note: An English-language version of Delhi Safari will be released on December 7, 2012. This review covers the original Hindi-language version.
Bollywood isn’t known for making films specifically designed to appeal to children, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Delhi Safari, a wretched waste of time that insults moviegoers of all ages.
The most obvious criticism of the film is that it doesn’t look good. The animation quality is slightly above direct-to-video caliber. The character movements are so jerky you can practically see the physics engine that animated them.
Most of the backgrounds of the scenes are blurry and indistinct, presumably because the film released in India in 3D and the animators thought they could get away with it. My local theater only carried the movie in 2D, which emphasized every blurred face and fuzzy tree. Since many families will watch the movie at home on DVD or on cable television, it’s inexcusable to do the job halfway.
Of course, the obvious defense of the cheap-looking animation is that Indian studios operate on a fraction of the budget of a studio like Disney or Pixar, but many of the problems are stylistic choices. The animal lead characters have eerily human features like humanoid eyelids that render them grotesque (while the humans look like beings from The Sims). Combining creepy humanoid features with jerky movements lands the critters in the Uncanny Valley.
Sub-par animation could be forgiven if Delhi Safari‘s story was well told, but it’s not. There’s no sense of flow or pacing to the story. In order to keep costs down, the establishing elements of the story are rushed through. Within the first five minutes, we see a crying leopard cub, a flashback to the cub playing with his dad, and a song. By the end of those five minutes, the dad is dead.
The cub is Yuvi (Swini Khara), a young leopard whose jungle home is threatened by property developers. Yuvi, his mother, a bear, and a monkey make the journey from the greater Mumbai area to Delhi, kidnapping a talking parrot along the way to act as their spokesanimal in front of Parliament. Perhaps the film should’ve been named “The Road to Delhi,” as only the last ten minutes take place in the capital city.
Despite being a baby big cat, Yuvi is no Simba. Yuvi undergoes no character development, nor does he drive the story forward, apart from the occasions when his father’s ghost communicates with him from beyond the grave.
Often, the point of children’s cinema is to give kids a character they can relate to, a fellow young person who takes charge of his or her destiny in a way a real kid can’t. It’s inspirational escapism. In Delhi Safari, Yuvi just gets dragged along by the grown-ups around him. That’s the story of every day of a kid’s life, so why would any child want to sit through a movie where his on-screen avatar experiences more of the same?
The voice acting is okay, though I’m not sure what kind of accent Boman Irani’s rotund bear is meant to have. Govinda and Akshaye Khanna are entertaining as the monkey and parrot, respectively: antagonists who wind up being the main characters of the film. Govinda’s monkey also gets the lone funny moment in the film: when he goes to urinate in a field, there’s a “zip” sound effect, even though the monkey is naked.
Delhi Safari is a missed opportunity. The message of ecological responsibility is an important one that children readily understand and embrace. Much of the message is introduced through songs, but the version I watched didn’t subtitle any of the lyrics in English, even though songs make up about a third of the film’s ninety-minute runtime. A laudable message is no excuse for bad filmmaking.