There are more than a few lessons nicely woven into the plot of Delhi Safari, but thankfully this 3D animation film from director Nikhil Advani never talks down to its young audience, or beats them on the head with its overarching message of wildlife and environmental preservation. At a crisp 95 minutes, the film is an enjoyable and entertaining adventure, despite never achieving Pixar-level greatness.
A young leopard cub, Yuvi (voiced by Swini Khara), motivates a group of animals to head to the Capital to protest against the takedown of their wildlife reserve, after their leader, and his father, Sultan (Sunil Shetty), is killed by redevelopers constructing a residential complex in its place. Bajrangi the chimpanzee (Govinda), Bagga the bear (Boman Irani), and Yuvi’s protective mum Begum (Urmila Matondkar) enlist the help of a domesticated talking parrot, Alex (Akshaye Khanna), as they head Delhi-wards to get their plea heard. But it’s a bumpy journey ahead as Bajrangi and Alex repeatedly get into scuffles, and the group encounters all manner of obstacles along the way.
Featuring a gallery of well-etched characters, Delhi Safari benefits from snappy writing and some solid voice work, particularly by Govinda, Akshaye Khanna and Boman Irani, who infuse real personality into their respective beasts. Govinda’s manic senapati monkey is the scene-stealer here with his Bhojpuri-laced dialogues, his devious plotting against Alex, and his interactions with his two cowardly sidekicks. Akshaye Khanna too, appears to be having fun with the part of Alex, who can’t understand why these animals would seek freedom and independence instead of enjoying the luxurious lifestyle of a kept pet. Boman Irani delivers plenty laughs as the posh bear who speaks in an Anglicized accent, and lands some of the film’s best one-liners.
Like so many Hollywood animation films, Delhi Safari is packed with clever pop cultural references and particularly film jokes. But there’s no escape from cultural stereotyping, you discover, as our group of desperate animals encounters a community of Garba-obsessed flamingoes as they’re passing through Kutch. It’s all done affectionately, though, stopping just short of caricature.
The film’s best scene is an Indiana Jones-style set piece in which our protagonists are chased through a quarry by a swarm of angry bees who assume different shapes, like that shoal of fish in Finding Nemo. On the flip side, too many songs stretch the film’s narrative pointlessly, and Shankar-Ehsaan-Loy’s score is serviceable at best. The animation itself is good, superior to many Indian animation features, but much bigger budgets may be required to achieve the texture and the detail one sees in films like Ratatouille and Madagascar.
You might overlook the one glaring hole in the film’s premise, a result of film logic clashing with ‘real logic’ – Why did the animals need to recruit a ‘talking’ parrot to convey their problem to the humans, when they speak the same language, and just as eloquently as the parrot?
Despite these quibbles, the film works on account of its charming characters and some hilarious dialogue. I’m going with three out of five for director Nikhil Advani’s Delhi Safari. Take your kids for this one, chances are both of you will come out smiling.