09 January 2007

Ink Blots XLVI - Quest for Camelot

By 1998, the Disney Renaissance was starting to become a bit stale. Don't get me wrong, the films produced by Disney in the late 90's were still good in their own right, but they felt like they were not really stepping out of the formula for success established by The Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast and Aladdin. As Disney was bringing home the bacon, other studios wanted a pie of the pie. Enter Warner Brothers and Quest for Camelot.

The story was loosely based on The King's Damosel and is set during the Arthurian period. The evil knight Ruber wants his turn in the King's throne and challenges Arthur. The knight Lionel falls defending his king, though Ruber is defeated and exiled. 10 years later, Lionel's daughter Kayley has become a woman, a woman who wants to be a knight like her father. Also, Ruber has made plans for another attempt at taking over Camelot. His pet griffin steals the sword Excalibur, but loses in somewhere over the Forbidden Forrest. So, it is up to Kayley, a blind hermit Garret, and a two-headed dragon to find the sword and save Camelot.

One of Ruber's methods for destruction is that he has the magical ability to turn animals and people into weapons. For example he turns a chicken into an axe-beaked menace (who later says in a Clint Eastwood voice, "Do you feel clucky."). He also gives men mace arms and sword hands. I guess implanted weapons are easier to hold on to.

In any case, the film was pretty much a flop mustering only $22.5 million, but I feel it is a tad underrated, either that or it is just a guilty pleasure for me as I found a lot to enjoy. For starters, this is one of the better family friendly swords and sandals films out there. It is more fun than both Disney efforts The Black Cauldron and The Sword in the Stone, with more action and humor than both. Just like in the failed Cauldron, the tone may have dipped too dark to be completely family friendly and unfortunately, some of the humor doesn't fit too well with the sometimes serious tone of Camelot. This film takes place in a world where the good guys can really die, but the chickens perform slapstick, and a two-headed dragon (claiming to be the result of breeding cousins) sings rock and roll. There is also a bit of romance added for good measure. The truth is, the makers of Camelot must have checked off all the necessary elements of a hit Disney film, but forgot to stir the ingredients together into a consistent whole. While they included the witty sidekicks, catchy tunes, dash of romance, nice animation, and fairy tale setting, they failed to recognize that even for Disney, this recipe was getting old. Also, the timing of the film was unfortunate. Camelot did not have the instantaneous buzz that the hip new CG films were generating, and Camelot's failure was another nail in the coffin for traditional animation (at least for the hopefully temporary demise of 2D).

Now that I have given a bunch of reasons this film failed, I will address a few things that I think it got right. First of all, there are not enough films set in the Middle Ages. I still would like to see a good adaptation of the King Arthur story on film (even in live action). This film captures the spirit of Camelot and of the Knights code. It also presents a character that is not just a cookie cutter heroine. I found the character Kayley to be quite endearing and her desire to carry on the tradition of her father in the excellent song On My Father's Wings was a great scene in the film. In addition to that song, a couple of the other musical numbers also stood out including The Prayer and Looking Through Your Eyes. There were some funny moments in the film, and I appreciated that the zany dragon was not voiced by the easy choice of Robin Williams. In fact, the voice cast of this film sported a host of all stars including Cary Elwes from The Princess Bride, Gary Oldman, Pierce Brosnon, Don Rickles and Eric Idle. For the most part, CG elements fit very well into the traditionally animated film. A large rock creature stood out a bit, but was himself well animated using the computer technique. Lastly, I was pleasantly surprised by the Superman theme accompanying one of the film's heroic moments.

Sure, it is not a perfect film, but it is not the disaster many believe either. While it is rife with cliche, it still has a certain charm of its own. In all, I dub Quest for Camelot worthy of a B.

Quest for Camelot


j said...

Haven't there been a slew of live-action King Arthur movies made? (First Knight, King Arthur, others..) Maybe you're just saying you'd like to see a decent one made. :)

Chip Chief said...

exactly, why cant someone make an epic adaptation of the once and future king? first knight was ok, but pretty lame, and king arthur was "historically accurate." no one wants a magicless merlin.

Stormgaard said...

Agree. Found this one in Walmarts bargain bin for 5 bucks and it has turned out to be one of the most watched DVD's in my kids collection.

Granted it's a tad PC for my taste (King Arthur and the KotRT are basically communists), it's not gone overboard in that department and is a great heroic tale for teh kidXX0rz.