Review: “Quest for Camelot”
Produced by: Andre Clavel, Dalisa Cohen, Zahra Dowlatabadi
Written by: Kirk De Micco, William Schifrin, Jacqueline Feather, David Seidler, Frederik Du Chau (screenplay)
Art Direction by: Carol Kieffer Police, J. Michael Spooner
Music by: Patrick Doyle (original score), David Foster and Carole Bayer Sayer (original songs)
Starring: Jessalyn Gilsig, Cary Elwes, Gary Oldman, Eric Idle, Don Rickles, Jane Seymour, Pierce Brosnan, Bronson Pinchot, Jaleel White, Gabriel Byrne, John Gielgud, Frank Welker; Andrea Corr, Bryan White, Celine Dion, Steve Perry (singing voices)
Based on the novel The King’s Damosel by Vera Chapman
I had been thinking of this movie for quite a while, contemplating whether I should watch it or not. Every now and then, the itch would hit, and I’d consider it, but then I would reconsider and decide to skip it for either a much better or (when the mood struck) worse movie. I’ve actually owned this film for probably over ten years, but, to be quite honest, I think the number of times I actually watched the disc could be counted on one hand, and for the longest time, the film kind of just stood in my collection as the lone Q in my alphabetized shelf, only to find its would-be partner, Quantum of Solace, stashed way up top with the rest of the Bond films in the B section (for “Bond” of course — I like my film series in sequential order, therefore U.S. Marshals is up there in the F section since it’s a sequel to The Fugitive. It makes sense to me!).
But before too long, the itch got too intense, and with the impending release of the Pixar film Brave, I figured it was probably about time that I gave this superficially similar-looking film its due before it was inevitably blown out of the waters of my mind by what is likely to be a far superior film. And so, like a forgotten relic rediscovered, I dusted off my old DVD copy in those awful cardboard snap cases Warner Bros. always used to use in the early days of DVD, set aside the old paper inserts still residing within that marveled at the wonders of this disc-based movie viewing technology, and threw the old double-sided disc (film on one side, special features on the other) into the PS3 to see if I could relive the magic…
The film starts off strong enough, though hints of its film-by-executive-committee are quite obvious from the outset. The young daughter of a brave Knight of the Round Table named Kayley begs her father to once again tell the story of King Arthur and why her father decided to become the brave knight that he is. Mother sighs at her daughter’s excitement, but Kayley’s father, of course, doesn’t mind and tells her once again before riding off to meet with the noble (and apparently musical) King Arthur and the other brave Knights of the Round Table. But of course, wouldn’t you know it, there’s one knight, Ruber, who doesn’t stand for “liberty and justice for all” (someone on the committee was apparently adamant about throwing in some good ol’ fashioned patriotism in). His desire for personal wealth and glory drives him to rebel against his king and in the ensuing struggle, Kaylee’s father is slain.
Years pass, and Kayley has turned into quite the adventurous tomboy, hoping to “fly on [her] father’s wings” and become and adventurous knight herself, much to her mother’s dismay. But when Ruber returns with a plan to steal Excalibur and take over the kingdom for himself using a magical potion that can merge man and weapon, Kayley finds her chance to go into action and, with her mother’s reluctant blessing, goes off on a quest to defend the crown and save Camelot.
It’s actually a pretty good setup for a fun animated adventure, the first fully animated film to be produced by the newly formed Warner Bros. Feature Animation (itself a merging of Warner Feature Animation and Turner Feature Animation), but, unfortunately, the film stumbles quite a bit in its own quest to emulate the Disney feature films that had recently seen a resurgence since The Little Mermaid and culminating into the massive hit that was The Lion King. Instead of letting the creative types work their magic on the film, however, the corporate executives basically called all the shots, seemingly by way of making a list of all the things from their rival studios’ films had and, basically, checking off boxes without paying attention to whether or not the quality matched.
Celebrity voice actors? Check! Musical numbers? Check! (In fact, some characters have celebrity singing voice actors, so double check!) Anachronistic jokes? Check! Silly sidekicks? Oh hell check! This film has several! There’s a chicken character merged with an axe named Bladebeak who quotes Taxi Driver! He’s also voiced by Steve Urkel!They mercifully didn’t give Jaleel White any songs to sing in that nasally, nerdy voice he affected, but don’t worry, because they created a couple other characters to take on that role in the form of the two diminutive dragons Devon and Cornwall… or are they just one with two heads? Who knows? They’re crazy, though, and they even have a pop-culture-referencing duet to sing about how they wish they could be apart, though, in the end, they learn the value of teamwork and are glad to be the self-professed “reason why cousins shouldn’t marry.” Edgy! And since they’re played by the prissy Eric Idle and cranky Don Rickles, you know the adults will like them ’cause they recognize the names! Oh yeah, and there’s also a fearsome griffin, but don’t mind him, ’cause, as evidenced by his sissy Bronson Pinchot voice, need for a monocle, and his value for table manners, he’s just a big wuss.
In all honesty, though, it’s actually not all bad. As I said before, it’s a worthy storyline that’s merely bogged down by a few admittedly terrible decisions, but the character of Garrett, the blind hermit who lives in the enchanted forest with his silver-winged (and non-speaking) pet falcon, Ayden, is an interesting character with a bit more depth than most of the other characters in the film, and the way that he and Ayden work together, with Ayden using specific audio signals to aid in combat and other action scenes, is pretty cool — it would probably make for a fun video game mechanic, to be quite honest! Think of them as a medieval fantasy version of Daredevil.
The animation also has moments of beauty, too, mostly within the enchanted and dangerous forest and during the song segments. There’s also a great attention to detail. Watch Garrett and Ayden in action, and there’s a consistency to the action-reaction between the two. Sadly, it’s also fairly inconsistent, with some computer effects standing out against the hand-drawn artwork and the build up to the climax being very boring and empty-looking in what should be a crowded, hectic attack. As for the music, though, I’d actually admit to saying that a few of the songs are even downright tolerable, though I can’t say that I really much care for country singer Bryan White’s whiny singing voice for Garrett — Cary Elwes in the speaking role is fine, however, and the rest are serviceable enough.
That all being said, however, its still a shame that the two most important characters, that of the main female lead, Kayley, and the primary villain, Ruber, just do not rise to the occasion as they should. Kayley, though not exactly annoying, is ultimately a boring, almost useless tomboy archetype who only finds her true strength in the final battle of the film, and, despite her decision to go on this quest, she spends much of her time dreaming, gabbing, and worrying, with Garrett being left to do all the dirty hard work. They could have had a very strong female lead here to go up against the stereotypical Disney princess, and instead of coming out with a strong woman warrior like Mulan, they came out with someone who’s basically a more vocal version of Ariel from The Little Mermaid.
Ruber, on the other hand, has so many manic ticks in his face, so many insane ideas, and so much loathing for all things good (including his prissy griffin’s table manners — ho ho!) that he just comes off as one note and, considering his army, kind of stupid. He’s only a threat because he’s reckless, not because he’s particularly smart, and his recklessness is ultimately his undoing. (Kind of should have seen it coming since the magical potion he used was clearly marked as being from Acme.) And, by the way, that climax was so weak. (How did the sword somehow come in from the side only to somehow get lodged into the stone straight down?! Ugh…) Gary Oldman plays the character as best as he can, which means that he’s recognized the ridiculousness of the character and has run with it. (There’s an unintentionally hilarious part in the character’s very awful song where he gleefully sways to his own tune and hums during the instrumental interlude before picking up the vocals again that I wouldn’t be surprised to find out was improvised in recording. You’ll have to see it to get what I mean, maybe.)
So, basically, what you have here is a film that tried to endure despite the hire ups, but, ultimately, thanks to the threat of firing (and firings did happen so that these guys could get their way), the film suffered too many blows during the battle and was subdued and perverted by its adversaries. The actual filmmakers who worked on the film ultimately did so in a relatively short amount of time working long hours, and the film suffers for that in both storytelling, character development, music, and design. Warner Bros. just couldn’t follow in the footsteps of the Mouse, and, with Pixar now permanently by its side, it looks like Disney will prevail again this weekend, if the buzz on Brave proves true. Maybe one day the story of Vera Chapman’s The King’s Damosel will be revisited by another studio and get whatever its just dues are (I’m not familiar with it, to be honest), but until that time comes, you’ll have to look elsewhere for your strong female-led fantasy film fix.
The Viewer’s Commentary Rating: 2.5 / 5