The best thing about "Donkey Xote" is its title, a whimsically mischievous little pun. The worst thing about "Donkey Xote" is everything else.
The film, the first CG animated feature to come from Spain, aims to create a charming sequel to the literary classic as told mainly through the eyes of Sancho Panza's mule, Rucio. But the filmmakers are inspired not by Cervantes but by DreamWorks; the tone here is non-stop "Shrek," so much so that the Eddie Murphy character gets a shout-out ("the only talking donkey I know is a friend of mine who hangs out with a green ogre," Rucio jokes). Fart jokes and pop music abound, talking animals make (un)funny faces, and there's even a visual punchline involving - egad - the Macarena.
The basic premise shows some potential: years after Quixote's quests, Cervantes' chronicles of the tale have gone on to great success, and now every fool in the land wants to be his own Don Quixote. The real Quixote and Sancho Panza, meanwhile, remain poor, until word arrives of a knight festival culminating in a chance to win the hand of the lovely Dulcinea.
There are some almost-clever moments with this set-up, often in the troubles of Quixote having to prove he's the genuine article amidst a crowd of wannabes. But the screenplay, by Angel E. Pariente, barely bothers to make sense in its episodic journeys that such bright moments become too rare.
Indeed, sorting out the plot becomes a major hassle. The script bounces off on countless tangents in the name of episodic adventure, but none of them add up - Quixote finds himself in the clutches of a shrewish Dulcinea imposter; an evil wizard hatches unclear plans do do unclear things; a sniveling bureaucrat from Quixote's village schemes against our hero as well, also unclearly; a rooster and a lion join the story for no clear reason other than cute animals equaling kiddie comedy; Rucio keeps insisting he's a horse, not a donkey, with "comic" results; etc. A finale involving a jousting tournament threatens to pull everything back together into some sort of logical heap, but then we're thrown some insane plot turns and off-the-wall character decisions that tip the heap over again.
As the story continues to confuse, the jokes bomb, one after another, each one refusing to attempt wit. We're left with farts and overexcited talking animals and Pat Benatar songs on the soundtrack, not to mention a scene involving a horse in drag. One assumes the filmmakers wanted to include a musical number but couldn't get the rights to that dreaded "I Like to Move It Move It" song.
It doesn't help that the animation leans toward the cheap side as well. Backgrounds are gorgeously rendered with great detail, but they're one-upped by blocky, generic character work and uninspired designs, all with a plastic look that feels rushed. There's a bargain bin feel to the proceedings that undermines the effort.
Such cheap images might be easily forgiven with a more engaging story, but "Donkey Xote" delivers nothing of the sort. The short attention span attitude leaves us with a nonsensical plot and tiresome jokes, like a third-rate DreamWorks rip-off with half the story missing.
"Donkey Xote" arrives Stateside on DVD via Peace Arch Entertainment. For reasons unclear (perhaps they thought kids wouldn't get the joke?), the studio has renamed the film "Donkey X" for the DVD cover art - while retaining the full title on the film itself. ("Donkey X," meanwhile, sounds like the animated biography of Malcolm X recast with farm critters - a movie I'd sure pay to see.)
Video & Audio
The only limitations to the 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer come from the animation itself. The digital image looks mostly solid here, with great detail and terrific contrast in spots. Some of the backgrounds get a pinch soft, but that appears to be part of the film itself.
Three soundtracks are provided: English 2.0, French 5.1, and Spanish 2.0. I can't tell if the Spanish track is the original, but all three tracks sound rather lazy in their dubbing, with bad performances and mediocre effects. Again, that's an issue with the film itself; the mixes are quite adequate, if not impressive. No subtitles are offered.
The film's trailer (1:48; 2.35:1 anamorphic) is the lone bonus feature.
A good idea gone bad, "Donkey Xote" is a garbled story peppered with lame jokes, like a bad translation of a bad cartoon. Skip It.