'Ghatothkach: Master of Magic," the latest in a new genre of animated Bollywood-esque Indian films, starts out as a rollicking good time, complete with foot-stomping hip-hop beats and dancing peacocks. Due to a few strange plot twists, though, the film loses quite a bit of its, well, magic.
The animated feature tells the watered-down story of the mythological figure Ghatothkach, who uses his immense strength and magical powers to become a selfless hero.
In the epic of the Mahabharata, Ghatothkach, a half-demon by birth, uses his magic to fight in the Kurukshetra War at the turning point in the story and then commits the ultimate sacrifice. None of these weighty details seem appropriate for the movie, which is aimed at a younger set not looking for a moral lesson.
Instead, the movie is broken into two parts. It starts with young Ghattu, who develops his powers and explores the forest he controls.
There, he meets his best friend Gajju, an endearing baby elephant who wants desperately to learn magic. When evil forces are determined to destroy Ghattu before he can fulfill his destiny, he and Gajju form an unstoppable team.
Ghattu is decidedly less adorable in the second act, when he is a grown man with a full beard and a couple hundred extra pounds on him. Nevertheless, he retains his good nature when the plot completely changes to focus on his efforts in helping his half-brother marry the woman he loves. The switch in his physique and the plot as a whole is disorienting.
The musical numbers are upbeat, and the animation captures the carefree, colorful dancing of Bollywood films while adding a cast of talking animals and other creatures.
Some of the songs are quite catchy, such as the autobiographical "I Am Ghatothkach" and the visually dazzling "Maya Bazaar." The musical breaks are frequent and quickly get redundant, but that's true of all middle-of-the-road Bollywood films.
The English dubbing is passable, but some lines come off as choppy. Though it's clear that director Singeetam Srinivasa Rao wanted to create a cross-cultural hit, I wonder if the movie would have been more enjoyable in one of the other six languages it was recorded in -- with subtitles, of course.
The animation is old school, but for some dance numbers, the makers at Sun Animatics switch to more advanced computer graphics, which is just random and confusing. Indian animation has a long way to go.
Even though "Ghatothkach" isn't strong enough to be a crossover hit, Indian families will find it an enjoyable film to take their youngest members on these hot summer nights.