Steve Salazar, James Phillips
(Filmax Animation; US DVD: 11 Aug 2009; UK DVD: 11 Aug 2009)
Pity the poor independent or foreign film company that wants to break into America’s CG animation marketplace. Just from a commercial standpoint alone, you have to battle Disney and its flawless filmmaking minion, Pixar, Dreamworks and their jaded joke-a-thons, Fox and their equally failed pop culture rifftrax, and numerous studio sponsored brandings that have fits of artistic flourish, but very little to offer in the source/story department. Only the brave, the strong, or the inherently stupid even try, and when they do, the results are almost always awful. Sure, there are the rare rays of sunshine (Dragon Hunters) within the darkness, but for the most part, what works outside the confines of the U.S suffers from the same kind of culture shock that other imported titles have to deal with.
Take Donkey X (or Donkey Xote, as it was labeled in its native Spain). This supposedly spirited retelling of the classic Cervantes adventure Don Quixote offers up Sancho Panza’s mule Rucio and his desire to be taken seriously…as a horse. He does this by accompanying his master, his master’s famous friend, the heroic (if slightly over the hill) steed Rocinante, and a rather irritating rooster as they all travel to Barcelona for a big knight’s festival. There, Quixote will once again battle the many flowing figments of his imagination, as well as his notions of duty, honor, and chivalry to win the hand of the elusive damsel Dulcinea. In between, we have to deal with the conspiring head of Quixote’s home town, a weird evil wizard (?), a visit to a desperate Duke and Duchess, and one of the oddest cases of equine gender identity ever.
If you haven’t already guessed by now, Donkey X doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Perhaps in its native tongue, with the Spanish cast giving the proper vocal flair to every line, we’d appreciate this cloying, confusing effort. Even if the subtitles ended up being as disconnected and mystifying as the new English dialogue utilized here, at least we could defend the film’s heritage. But laboring under a new no-name cast and a script that literally throws plot logic out the window, this shoddy Shrek rip-off barely deserves a mention. Indeed, without Eddie Murphy’s lightning fast quips to keep things buoyant, this clear copycat of the worldwide phenomenon simply drowns.
It all starts with the smarmy premise. Cervantes story has already happened, Quixote has become an icon, and everyone is Spain wishes to mimic him. Panza, on the other hand, is just pissed that he didn’t get a royalty check from actually living the now best-selling tale. He only agrees to a new journey under the guise of getting p-a-i-d! In the meanwhile, Rocinante has spent his retirement training chickens to walk in militarily precise order while Rucio fights off the anti-mule sentiments of the local horse population. When a chance to finally find Dulcinea comes along (a plot by the aforementioned bureaucrat to get Quixote and his celebrity out of his life once and for all), our crew gathers back together and goes wandering - endlessly wandering.
Try as he might, director Jose Pozo just can’t hold his second animated movie together. He shows some spark in one single scene - Quixote dreams that Dulcinea is lost in a dangerous thicket, only to have the briars turn into ogres and other beasties - but for the most part, The Veggie Tales show more cartoon imagination. The blocky, basic computer generated imagery offers none of the current creative visionary pizzazz, and the character design is so Shrek-like, the studio should sue. There are some moments of decent action and Pozo does mix it up in the framing and composition department. But the reliance of oddball covers of antique rock songs (“True Colors”, “Hit Me With Your Best Shot”) and the bland, unrecognizable names behind the characters is truly depressing (original rumors had Alfred Molina and Jeff Daniels as Quixote and Panza, respectively. What happened?).
Yet none of this would matter if we could simply understand just what in the windmill is going on. Conservations contain both expositional and interpersonal non-sequitors. One moment a potential Dulcinea is a bitchy, bosomy gold digger - the next, she’s a whiny over 30 brat. Quixote’s quest is never full fleshed out, though we do get to hear how noble he is ad nauseum. Panza finally gets a payout, and then turns it all down to admit some sordid secret to his friend? And then Quixote’s horse falls head over heals for a stallion in filly drag??? By the time we get to the knight competition, complete with the clichéd stand-off between good and evil, the various loose threads come completely unraveled. We are stuck with a silly twist, a lame comeuppance, and an ending that makes even less sense than the rest of the film.
Again, this could all be a matter of translation. Ever input a foreign website into one of those online language converters? Donkey X plays a lot like one of those results, or better yet, a badly dubbed martial arts movies that loses all its dignity when recast into problematic pigeon English. Then again, when the storyline is stitched together and then deciphered, it’s hard to see any reverse back to a romance language helping this muddled mess. Kids will clearly think its all pretty colors and confusing ideas while adults will hit themselves over the head for introducing this dullness into their standard electronic babysitting cycle. Granted, when you go up against Wall-E, or Kung Fu Panda, or any of the Ice Age films, you’re bound to look second-tier. Donkey X is so lame, however, it shouldn’t be considered. It should be shot.