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Don’t let the animation fool you: Arjun: The Warrior Prince is not a movie for kids. At least it’s not a movie for young kids, unless your toddler is fond of beheadings.
The title character, Arjun, is one of the heroes of the epic the Mahabharata. As in many of the stories in similarly ancient texts, such as the Bible’s Old Testament, Arjun’s story is full of graphic violence and complex gender issues. The subject matter may not be as universally appropriate as something like Cinderella, but the story certainly is interesting.
The middle child in a family of five brothers, nine-year-old Arjun and his siblings return to their grandfather’s kingdom. The boys grow up alongside their cousins, training to become warriors and, possibly, kings.
Duryodhana, the eldest of Arjun’s cousins and the story’s obvious villain — complete with pointy facial features and an ominous mustache — resents the presence of Arjun and his brothers and the threat they pose to his claim to the throne. When Duryodhana’s plot to murder his cousins fails, the king sends Arjun’s family to a remote palace, easing the tension but effectively dividing the kingdom in two.
A guy named Krishna (Sachin Kedhekar) shows up out of nowhere to teach a now young adult Arjun (Yuddvir Bakolia) how to be a proper warrior. The fact that Krishna is a god is not made explicit in the film and will be lost on viewers unfamiliar with Hindu theology. Arjun’s newly acquired archery skills win him the hand of a princess of a neighboring kingdom, providing his family with the monetary and martial support they need to finally oppose Duryodhana.
Arjun is an interesting hero, in that he is thoughtful and humble. He doesn’t act as though he is aware of his heroic destiny. Arjun is troubled when he sees his older ox of a brother, Bheem (Ashok Bhantia), beat a man to death. (The dead man isn’t shown, but Bheem’s flying fists and the resulting spurts of blood are.) Arjun isn’t sure if he can be a killer.
Not knowing the story ahead of time, I expected introspective Arjun to find a way to solve his problems and save the kingdom without resorting to violence. That was before Arjun stages the most gruesome animated killing spree I’ve ever seen, beheading scores of soldiers and chopping many others in half.
The climactic bloodbath doesn’t even solve the conflict at the heart of the film. Vague epilogue notes state that Arjun fights future battles against Duryodhana, but doesn’t explicitly say, “To be continued.” If Arjun: The Warrior Prince wasn’t intended to spawn a sequel, then it needed a more definitive ending.
The obvious selling point for Arjun is its animation. It’s gorgeous. The depth of detail in the terrain and buildings is astounding, a mark of Walt Disney Picture’s role as co-producer alongside UTV. During a scene in which Arjun’s home is set ablaze, the paint melts and drips from the walls.
Arjun: The Warrior Prince is worth checking out for the sake of the animation alone, but consider switching it off before the hero starts slicing his enemies in two.
*Arjun: The Warrior Prince is available for streaming on Netflix