Courtesy Photo
83 minutes | Rated: G
Opened: Friday, May 15, 1998
Directed by Frederik Du Chau

Starring the voices of Jessalyn Gilsig, Cary Elwes, Gary Oldman, Pierce Brosnan, Jane Seymour, Sir John Gielgud, Eric Idle, Don Rickles & Bronson Pinchot. And singing: Andrea Corr, Bryan White, Steve Perry & Celine Dion)

Animated musical clone of better 'toons, but has its heart in the right place

Trying to give Disney animated musicals a more serious run for their money, this week Warner Bros. released "Quest for Camelot," a low-overhead Disney clone, right down to the heroine with a dead parent and the wise-cracking animal sidekick.

However, unlike "Anistasia," last year's attempt by Fox to break the mouse's monopoly, "Quest" doesn't take itself too seriously. What's more, it doesn't neglect its roots -- the Looney Tunes influence is evident in sound effects, cameos by minor characters from the old Warner Bros. shorts and even magic potions purchased from ACME.

Loosely based on a novel by Vera Chapman called "The King's Damsel," the story doesn't pay much more than lip service to the Arthurian legend. About the daughter of a dead knight who tries to recover the stolen sword Excalibur and return it to King Arthur, this movie relies largely on formula but manages to be a joyous ride in spite of its shallow creative pool.

Kayley (Jessalyn Gilsig speaking, Andrea Corr singing) is a teenage tomboy who fantasizes about becoming a England's first female knight. When ominous horns sound from the walls of Camelot indicating Excalibur has been stolen, she sees her chance. (The famous blade must go missing a lot because everyone in the village knows instantly what this trumpeting means.)

Apparently without the sword, Arthur (Pierce Brosnan) is a powerless wimp, leaving him open to attack by a muscular menace named Ruber (Gary Oldman, expertly chewing scenery with his voice).

The Beelzebub of the Round Table, Ruber is an evil knight who has been banished from Camelot and is seeking comeuppance for the king by stealing the magic sword and using it to take over the kingdom.

Kayley ventures into the Forbidden Forest where the sword had been lost by Ruber's bumbling henchmen. There she is reluctantly aided by Garrett (Cary Elwes, sung by Bryan White), a handsome, blind, young woodsman who had been trained to fight by her father when he was a child and could see.

The two have a generic love-hate thing going, which is given comic relief by a bickering two-headed dragon that tags along on the adventure. An odd pairing, the dragon's two heads are voiced by Don Rickles and Eric Idle, who play off each other very well.

"Quest for Camelot" isn't especially clever, artistic or original. The animation is adequate (there is one incredible computer-illustrated sequence with a giant made of stone), the songs are slapdash, and the theme of self-acceptance, friendship and heroism are half-heartedly portrayed. In fact, Kayley doesn't really perform a single heroic act and the movie would only have been 30 minutes long if she had any common sense.

But its heart is in the right place -- "Quest for Camelot" is fun and energetic. Something parents can enjoy rather than suffer through.

Great sight gags abound, knocking "Miss Sigon," "Phantom of the Opera," Elvis and Sonny and Cher -- and that's just in one musical number. The walk-ons by stock Looney Tunes players (the sexy nightclub singer from the country wolf-city wolf 'toon, for instance) are like spotting a Hitchcock cameo.

Although Warner Bros. is still trying to find its footing in animated features, "Quest for Camelot" is a step in the right direction. But personally, I don't know why anyone even bothers to compete with Disney in this area. If Warners and Fox weren't so ambitious they could easily make low- to mid-budget animated features like last year's "Cats Don't Dance," and, with better marketing, make a tidy profit.

"Quest" will probably not do well because it's being sold like a Disney picture, and even a 4-year-old can spot a pretender in this genre. Perhaps Warners will take this as lesson.

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