This is an animated retelling of the famous Indian saga, in which an earthly incarnation of Vishnu does battle with the forces of dark not-niceness. Relentlessly paced, pic has no heart for general auds to cotton to, and is not even great to look at.
The classic “Ramayana,” originated around 500 B.C. and usually credited to the poet Valmiki, was continuously censored and altered by touchy Brahmins, fearing even a secular retelling of the life of the privileged Prince Rama, who hit the theosophical big time as the Gautama Buddha. They needn’t have bothered, if they’d known it would end up in the hands of these Japanese and Indian animators; picture Schwarzennegger as a well-armed cartoon Jesus (“Ah’ll be back”) and you’ve got some idea of the moral tone of this action-crammed epic.
It’s like reducing “War and Peace” to a series of disjointed battle scenes, with most of the females jettisoned from the plot. With one violent confrontation after another, there’s little of the reflection necessary to get even a hint of spiritual underpinning. Instead, traditional notions of masculinity, courage and filial piety are drummed home, between noisy clashes of metal and wood.
The art itself places flatly drawn, rigidly moving central characters (in the “Clutch Cargo” style of mass-prod Japanese cartooning) against richly painted Indian backgrounds. One of the few times these elements are integrated is in a climactic sequence pitting hundreds of monkey-warriors against an awesome, sky-filling giant.
Even with English dialogue, the results won’t find B.O. nirvana on the animation circuit. It will, however, play well with laserdisc-owning boys, unlikely to notice, or care, that the good guys have the lightest skins, or that Rama and his buddies speak in hushed Oxford tones, while the lesser beings have plain Indian accents.