Weekly Wire
Metro Pulse Quest for Cash

Even marketing can't capitalize on this lost opportunity.

By Adrienne Martini

MAY 26, 1998:  Demographics. It's all about demographics. Before Warner Brothers dove into Quest for Camelot, it's very clear that they did the full demo research, complete with snazzy charts and graphs, a gaggle of marketing weenies, and the latest edition of Politically Correct Weekly for Kids. And you thought Godzilla was scary.

Gone is the wit for which this studio has been famous, replaced by two—count 'em—two tepid jokes that could be considered the slightest bit irreverent. Gone is the sharp visual style that marked the work of Chuck Jones or Tex Avery, replaced instead by more Disney clones and some jarring CGI. It's enough to make even the most nonchalant animation watcher weep.

Of course, it doesn't stop there. The plot, based on Vera Chapman's The King's Damosel, is enough to make a grown woman toss her movie theater popcorn after being force-fed more pabulum than a person should endure in a lifetime. Picture yourself in King Arthur's court, an era that allows Warner to cash in on the whole Riverdance/Celtic culture revival. Kayley, the young heroine, wants to be more than just chattel and craves to be a knight like her dead dad. Lo and behold, the wondrous Excalibur is stolen by a giant griffin (a half-bird, half-lion beastie to those of you who have forgotten your Greek mythology), and Kayley must travel through a Forbidden Forest to retrieve it to save the kingdom. During her quest, she meets 1) the love of her life, in the form of the blind Garrett, 2) the comic relief, in the form of a two-headed dragon, and 3) the magical element, in the form of some odd, phallic plants and an enchanted Hawk. Isn't the suspense just killing you? Me neither.

The writers do try to build in some excitement with a requisite addition of evilness. Ruber, the disgruntled ex-knight, is the personification of greed and power lust, which you know simply because he has dirty, cracked fingernails, a high, flat forehead, and the voice of Gary Oldman. Ruber is the keeper of the sword-stealing griffin, whose delightfully evil physical contortions are a perfect match for Bronson Pinchot's vocalizations, making this the only character that even approaches interesting.

Not only are the rest of the antagonists dull, including the frighteningly-odd-but-still-not-worth-a-second-thought Bladebeak, a chicken who has been mated with an ax by the grungy Ruber, they are also stupid, consistently coming within a hair's breadth of their objectives only to be foiled yet again by their lack of mental muscle. The protagonists don't fair much better. Kayley is as dull as dishwater, single-minded in her quest and even more 2-dimensional than her animators intended. Eric Idle and Don Rickles should have been a schtick-lovers dream as the two-headed dragon, but they are never allowed to go near any ground which would be controversial. Oh, heavens no. We must keep this sanitary in order to keep everyone in every possible marginalized group happy.

But even that doesn't quite work out. If Warner Brothers can play fast and loose with the role of women in King Arthur's court, then they can also equally massage the racial make-up of the times as well. For some odd reason, they don't. Nor do they try to make Kayley a strong enough character to give all of the young girls in the audience a role model to strive toward. Nope. Even this feisty female has to be rescued by—get this—a blind guy and a mutant dragon. Bully for the visually- and chromosomally-impaired community.

It's these kinds of lost opportunities that make Quest for Camelot reek worse than a knight after battle. Not only did the film miss a great chance to create a world that includes all of their potential audience and/or a capable girl, they also missed the great big inside-joke target that some of their voices provided. Think about it. Eric Idle in a movie about Camelot? Cary Elwes, who provided the voice of blind Garrett and made his stellar debut in The Princess Bride, as a stableboy who later journeys through a Forbidden Forest? The casting of these folks set up some great possibilities; all it took was a person with half a sense of humor to knock them down. But any such person was outvoted in the marketing meetings and the bulk of the script is equally devoid of anything that would snare a thinking grown-up who wants more from his animation than pretty pictures.

From what I gather, though, the movie really isn't geared toward thinking adults in the first place. No, this is a film for the knee-biting set, with characters that are ready to be slapped on action figures and Happy Meal toys, with a sweet message about just being yourself that any parent would love. But our kids deserve better than the same old hackneyed plots slapped with a new coat of trendiness that have had anything the slightest bit controversial or snidely comic surgically removed.


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