Special Review: Delhi Safari – English Version

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Directed and written by Bollywood director Nikhil Advani (Kal Ho Na Ho, Salaam-E-Ishq), Delhi Safari is his first foray into an animated adventure feature. The original Hindi film version was voiced by some of the greats of Bollywood, including Boman Irani, Govinda, Akshaye Khanna and Urmilla Matondkar. When I heard about that project I was very intrigued, and when I saw the trailers and heard the fab songs by Shankar Ehsaan and Loy and I couldn’t wait to see and hear more about Delhi Safari. I was also excited when I heard that in an unique move, Advani and the producers also made a version with an American cast that includes some of the greats of Hollywood, which included Jason Alexander, Brad Garrett, Vanessa Williams, Jane Lynch, Christopher Lloyd and Cary Elwes – a nice coup. It is the Hollywood version, which by the way has been shortlisted for the Oscars for animation, that we are going to take a look at today.

Now, first I have to admit that being a Bollywood lover both hindered and added to my enjoyment of this film. A friend and I were discussing this; we agreed it was hard to get the Hindi version voices out of our heads! However, for the purpose of this review, I will stick to looking at this as a Hollywood version of an Indian animated film… with the caveat that sometimes my Bolly-fanness colored my thoughts.

First the story:

Delhi Safari is the story of a journey undertaken by a cub leopard Yuvi (Tara Strong), his mother Begam (Vanessa Williams), a monkey Barjrangi (Carlos Alazraqui), Bagga, the lovable bear (Brad Garrett) and Alex the parrot (Tom Kerry) as the forest they live in is on the verge of destruction. The animals of Borivali National Park wake up and go about their business as usual. It is an ordinary day for each of them except Yuvi, the young leopard cub. For him it is going to be a day that will change his life forever. For today is the day that he will learn the importance of tradition from his father Sultan – Leader of the Leopards. But his lessons will remain unfinished and end in tragedy. Humans who have only one agenda – clear the forests, kill the animals, and construct multi-story buildings.

So begins the story. A story of how a group of how this disparate group of animals decide to take their petition to the leader of the humans in Delhi… the ministers that work in the parliament. To reach this impossible achievement they must do two things. One – kidnap Alex the parrot who can speak the language of the humans and so will become the voice of the animals. And two – travel from Bombay to Delhi. The journey across the country becomes a journey where enemies become friends and a family comes together to fight for what rightfully belongs to them. Along the way, they meet a motley crew of jungle friends: the Bee Commander (Cary Elwes), the Pigeon (Christopher Lloyd), the singing Flamingos (Jane Lynch and Jason Alexander), and the hyenas that want a snack, and many more. Their mission is simple: once in Delhi, they will ask the government some very simple questions. Why has man become the most dangerous animal? Doesn’t man understand that if the forests and the animals don’t exist, man will cease to exist? Will they save the animal’s home in the forest and will people and animals live together in harmony?

The story is a heart filled and courageous tale with a wonderful message. Not only does it shine a light on the environment, the deforestation around the world and that we need to protect animals that live in those forests, it is also a tale of friendship, love everlasting and standing up for what you believe. Overall I would say the social message is made and received somewhat, but in some ways I think it got lost a bit in the extra layers and turns the story makes on its way to Delhi. Of course some of those extras and turns are the heart of the story, but it is too much and in the end the story rambles and I felt like I was watching two films. I felt it could have gone bigger and better to make its point about saving the forest, and their home.

One of the best things that Advani did was create a great mix of characters, with the protective but bold and fierce leopard mom, the cute and brave leopard cub, the lovable bear who just wants to keep peace, the militant monkey, his funny sidekicks and the reluctant and slightly devious parrot. They ALL seem to work in this world and this is part of what made the film enjoyable to watch.

I loved the mix of the animation in the film. The computer generated animated characters, the storyboard section that told the tale of the destruction man has wrought, the maps, and the picturizations (see my Bollywood is slipping in) of the songs were great. I did not get to see it in 3D, so I cannot comment on that, but I am not sure, seeing the story, if the 3D was needed. They retained the flavor of a Bollywood movie and that was a definite plus. Highlights were the slow motion fights, the full on Bollywood style flamingo production number, Alex singing “Main Tere Tota” and I really liked the bee army and the chase in the mine.

So here is my main problem, and again my Bollywoodness is slipping in, though Vanessa Williams was wonderful as Begam, Brad Garrett fabulous as Bagga, Carlos Alazraqui’s Bajrangi was spot on and Tom Kerry’s Alex too good, it was jarring to hear American voices, especially when the minor characters, which are all human by the way, all spoke with an Indian accent. I kept expecting to hear Boman Irani, Govinda and Akshaye Khanna and I only saw the promos – I have not seen the full Hindi version of the film. This is not taking away from the performances at all of the actors in the English version but it just was odd, and I kept thinking that while watching it. Also to see Begam do the lips pursed to the side “hmmph” (you know what I mean) but know it is Vanessa Williams was just a bit off. Plus, why did Jason Alexander have an Australian accent in the middle of the Indian desert? He was funny but that was just not right. I am just not sure that using these American voices worked, it bothered me, and I think it would have even if I was not a Bollywood writer and fan.

The music by Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy is wonderful and fits the mood and the genre perfectly. Loved the beats, the songs and the feel that they created for this movie. The English singers were great, especially Vanessa Williams, but the English lyrics did sound a bit odd and sometimes a bit cheesy matching to the Indian beats, but that may be a pet peeve of mine. I have to confess though; since I watched the movie I have been singing ‘Come Along On Our Delhi Safariiiii’ (trust me you don’t want to hear my version). Do check out SEL’s songs (in Hindi) if nothing else.

In the end, it is an enjoyable adventure animated film, with many cute scenes and with a great message but somehow the story missed the mark and I think that happens both in Hindi and English versions. I applaud Nikhil Advani (be sure to look for his animated cameo) and his entire team for the story and the experiment but I think it should have gone all Indian – this mix did not work. More importantly, I am not sure this will work for audiences – especially American ones.

Check out the trailer:

Delhi Safari is in theaters in the US and Canada now!

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