If you're new to my animation feature film review library, I should begin this review by disclaiming a trend in the genre that nearly always ends disastrously: Domestic studios importing foreign films, slapping an English vocal track atop of the material, and claiming it as their own. The list of films guilty of this technique is long and ever growing. Considering Donkey X falls into this category, there was a strong suspicion going in that this one would be a proverbial train wreck. Worse still, the few reviews I was able to track down seemed to confirm such reservations. Fortunately I can begin this critique by assuring prospective viewers that of all the foreign translation jobs, this one is perhaps the most pleasant.
Released in Spain back in 2007, Donkey X (or "Donkey Xote" as it was originally called) tells the tale of a small town (La Mancha) where there resides a dreamer named Don Quixote (voiced by Steve Salazar).
Don is able to convince his close friend Sancho (James Phillips) to commit to an epic quest after having shared many misadventures together prior. Sancho's donkey, Rucio (Joe Lewis), is actually the centerpiece on which the literary classic tale is centered (hence the title).
With a little deliberation, the two heroes set off on chasing down the dream of locating Don Quixote's elusive true love, Dulcinea, once and for all.
The ingredients for fun are all present and believe it or not, the visuals are pretty stunning (contributing to the film often being heralded as Spanish cinema's finest computer animation effort to date). The trouble is that the prose is a bit clumsy and, interestingly, not the type of perplexity foreign adaptations are usually known for.
The dialog is actually witty, the timing natural and the narrative strong but Donkey X plods along with far too much complexity to be grasped by its target audience. Adults, especially those familiar with Miguel de Cervantes' classic tale, will have no trouble keeping the plot together but will likely be off-put by the film's failure to settle into a consistent theme (despite a fairly lengthy 90-minute runtime).
Angel E. Pariente's screenplay is certainly a bit muddled and shallow, and never fully establishes whether the protagonist is in fact Don Quixote or the titular mule. By the way, the resemblance to Donkey of Shrek fame is downright uncanny! It seems almost blasphemous when said character opens his mouth and Eddie Murphy's voice fails to follow. In the film's defense, at least a Shrek reference/ joke is included as a reminder not to take this all too seriously.
Taking a page from the Pixar/ DreamWorks plan for success, upbeat pop numbers are scattered about for effect, some working better than others.
The PG rating should definitely be taken seriously. While domestic efforts seem to earn it for less, Donkey X does contain a few references that parents may not appreciate (such as multiple breast references/ gags, a rather gross urine segment and some cross dressing humor).
Another oddity is the film's title itself. In its original release the name Donkey Xote (pronounced "Hotie") was a fairly clever play on the name Don Quixote (keep in mind this supposedly the donkey's telling of the tale). The film, for whatever reason, arrives Stateside on DVD/ Blue Ray via Peace Arch Entertainment as "Donkey X", thereby removing the first joke of it all right off the bat.
Interestingly the disc contains three vocal tracks: English 2.0, French 5.1, and Spanish 2.0 but no subtitles. One gets the feeling that English, for whatever reason, was the original language of choice as the mouth flaps are perfect.
A trailer for the film represents the only bonus feature included.
In all, Donkey X is by no means a masterpiece though it does have much more heart and entertainment then most animated features that have undergone the dub & re-release treatment. It is undoubtedly flawed but may serve as an hour-and-a-half's worth of entertainment for an animation-purist looking beyond the efforts of the "big boys on the block".
Perhaps the best way to surmise this feature is to take a look at the tagline used to promote it: From the producers who saw Shrek. One look at the title character confirms this statement but if you let yourself take it at face value, it's kind of cute in its own weird way.