Quest For Camelot (1998)



Don't come looking for familiar Arthurian legends in Quest For Camelot , or you're sure to be disappointed. The famous king and his court receive mention more as a form of name-dropping than from any real connection to well-known chivalric lore, so if you're hoping for a movie about Camelot, you've come to the wrong place. Still, the Warner Brothers animated feature offers a young heroine more akin to Morgaine of The Mists of Avalon than typical portrayals of simpering Guinevere and deadly Morgan, and older viewers may find the movie more engaging than Disney's dated The Sword in the Stone, despite glaring anachronisms certain to upset medievalists.

Some of the modern twists have been carefully calculated -- references to Dirty Harry and Apollo 13, a joking reference to Beauty and the Beast (Céline Dion, who performs the title track of that Disney feature, has a song in this film as well). Villainous knight Ruber uses an evil potion produced by Acme, presumably the forerunner of all the devices that Wile E.Coyote would later use on the Roadrunner in Warner Brothers cartoons. Meanwhile the protagonist, Kayley, has grown up magically free from the restrictions typically placed on girls of her century: she wants to become a knight like her father. This is pseudo-history in an idyllic world where people burst into Carole Bayer Sager songs to express their feelings.

The story, based on Vera Chapman's novel The King's Damosel, follows Kayley on a mission to rescue her mother from Sir Ruber after the evil knight kills her father. In order to do so, Kayley must retrieve the stolen Excalibur, which can prevent Ruber from taking over the kingdom. So the quest is personal as well as epic, and it becomes a love story when Kayley meets Garrett -- a would-be knight who has been ostracized because he is blind. Together they brave the Forbidden Forest to find the sword, evading Ruber's evil forces...and not-so-evil forces, like his deadly chicken, Bladebeak, the result of magic gone awry. With the help of Garrett's falcon and the magical creatures and plants of the forest, Kayley confronts a giant dragon and heads back to Camelot to save her father's legacy.

The film does a good job juggling a large number of characters, including a nasty griffin, a number of brutish thugs, and of course Merlin. Kids tend to be most excited about the comical double dragon, Devon-and-Cornwall. You wouldn't expect kids to get Elvis references or jokes about one male dragon trying to kiss another, but the antic shrieks of Don Rickles and Eric Idle provide lots of levity. On the other hand, because the screen is so crowded, some fine voice actors seem wasted on small roles -- the talent includes Cary Elwes, Gary Oldman, Pierce Brosnan, Jane Seymour and John Gielgud, but the latter three get little to do, and Oldman plays a one-dimensional villain.

An equally impressive list of performers provide the singing voices of the characters but, if you don't like pop music, you'll have tuned out long before Lee Ann Rimes' rendition of the signature song "Looking Through Your Eyes." Irish rocker Andrea Corr and country star Bryan White sing for Kayley and Garrett, multiple Grammy winner Céline Dion performs Juliana's songs, and Steve Perry of Journey provides King Arthur's vocals. Some of the music seems oddly cropped into the film; those who hate long musical introductions may be pleased to miss the swelling lead-ins, but the characters sometimes burst into song (in an abrupt transition from their speaking voices), then stop singing and go right back to speaking as if they never stopped.

The animation too is a bit choppy -- beautiful scenes in the forest give way to flat, cartoonish vistas at Camelot, and the characters' lips aren't always in sync with their singing. While viewers are laughing at "Corny" or enjoying songs, that isn't so much of a problem, but it undercuts dramatic scenes, particularly given all the discussion of the sights Garrett cannot see. His disability is handled fairly well, overall, since his skills and courage make the viewer forget the reasons for his ostracism, though using blindness as a metaphor in a children's movie seems a bit heavy-handed.

This isn't a truly great film either as a children's story or as a new twist on Arthurian myth, but it's reasonably entertaining and heartwarming in the end. It's nice to see a young woman put her mark on the chivalric code as knight rather than damsel. If you're one of those adults who loves The Little Mermaid or Pocahontas and you don't mind some serious tampering with a traditional story, give Quest For Camelot a try.


[ Michelle Erica Green ]