Courtesy Photo
"THE KING & I" (1999)
*1/2 stars 80 minutes | Rated: G
Opened: Friday, March 12, 1999
Directed by Richard Rich

Voices of Miranda Richardson, Martin Vidnovic, Ian Richardson, Christiane Noll (singing), Daryl Hammond, Armi Arabe, Tracy Venner Warren (singing) & Allen D. Hong

This movie is on the Worst of 1999 list.


A complete hack job that absolutely ruins the spirit of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic. Don't bother with this tripe. Rent the wonderful and kid-friendly '56 original - in letterbox! - it makes full use of Cinemascope.

   VIDEO RELEASE: 7/6/99

Animated 'King & I' drastically dumb down by 'toon formula re-write

By Rob Blackwelder

Correct me if I'm wrong, but don't kids like the "The King and I" the way it was? All the kids I know do. I did when I was a kid. So why did Warner Bros. feel it was necessary to drastically dumb it down and give it a shopworn formulaic re-write when they created this new, animated version of the Rogers and Hammerstein classic?

"The King and I" seemed like a natural for animation -- a vivid, colorful setting, great role model leads, plenty of lessons to learn without it feeling like Sunday school -- but animator Richard Rich practically threw that all away in favor of casting the Kralahome, the king's traditionalist prime minister, as a sneering and supernatural nefarian bent on dethroning his shiny-headed majesty.

He's Scar from "The Lion King." He's Rasputin from "Anastasia" (who was likewise recast in a stock baddie mold). He's a generic cartoon antagonist with a half-witted henchman for comic relief, and he's the best example of how this movie takes a perfectly good story and turns it into a trite and tiresome tome.

The first scene sets the tone for fixing "The King and I" where it wasn't broken. The movie opens in rough seas onboard the steam ship bringing Victorian English school teacher Anna Leonowens to Siam where she is to instruct the king's children in math, science and Western customs. This scene serves only to introduce her allegedly adorable, meddling son and his allegedly adorable monkey, the first of many requisite animal sidekicks shoehorned into a paint-by-numbers, Disney-style outline.

It's ironic that Rich chose to burn screen time this way, because at 80 minutes -- nearly an hour shorter than the 1956 live-action film -- the movie has to rush through many important scenes as it is.

The song "Hello Young Lovers" comes about seven minutes into movie. The King has only eight kids, taking a big chunk out of the introduction scene. The "Getting to Know You" number includes a Kabuki passage, allowing them to bypass the socially questionable "Uncle Tom's Cabin" scene later in the film.

To save time on subplot, Tuptim, the slave girl, falls in love with the crown prince (a 20-something here instead of a 12-year-old as written by Hammerstein), instead of being separated from her lover when she is given to the king as a gift.

What's worse, "Shall We Dance," the most magical and memorable moment between Anna and the King, is broken up into two scenes, half an hour apart, ruining the rhythm of their relationship and deluding what little romantic tension there was between them in this pallid imitator.

Anna is sung by Christiane Noll and voiced by Miranda Richardson, a great actress who doesn't seem to put much heart into this portrayal. The King (Martin Vidnovic speaking and singing) isn't much better. He's forced to rush through his character's trademark "Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera!" bits and in his hands the honorable monarch comes across not like someone who occasionally struggles with English, but more like he can't form a coherent sentence.

In fact, the only character with a modicum of real personality is the Kralahome's pudgy henchman (Daryl Hammond), who keeps getting his teeth knocked out through the course of the story.

Rich, who directed "The Swan Princess" movies, "Black Cauldron" and "The Fox and the Hound," really starts to take liberties toward the end, when he has the King use a hot air balloon to rescue Tuptim from going over a waterfall, only to be shot down by the Kralahome with huge firecrackers.

I'm not making this up.

To top it all off, the animation is pretty scanty by today's standards. The backgrounds are as flat as the characters' personalities and the occasional influx of computerized components couldn't be more out of place. The steamships look like they're made from Legos.

I often root for the studios now taking on Disney for the cartoon crown, hoping that they'll feel obligated to become more creative and break out of the formulaic dungeon that has dogged American feature animation all these years. But I give up. If the challengers can't stop themselves from slaughtering something that lends itself to animation as well as "The King and I," there's no hope.

And I'm not the only one who feels this way. I saw this movie with four kids, ages 4 to 14. All of them said they prefer the Yul Brynner, Deborah Kerr version.

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