Kayley: I will not serve a false king!
Beware: Spoilers may follow.
Back in the 90s major animation studios tried to compete with Disney by trying to compete with them at their own game. And among the attempts to do came this movie from Warner Bros. In theory this has the potential to be a great movie being an animated feature based on the King Arthur legends with animators and filmmakers going all out in the fantasy aspects. But sadly that was not the case in execution. Though it has a couple of bright spots it just tried too hard to be Disney when it wasn’t Disney.
The story involves a young girl named Kayley whose father is a knight and dreams of being a knight herself one day. She gets an opportunity when the sword of Excalibur is stolen and an evil knight bent on destroying Camelot named Ruber attacks King Arthur. Thus Kayley must venture to find the sword with the help of a falcon, a two headed dragon, and a blind man named Garrett.
While the story to retrieve Excalibur is rather simple and predictable it does take the time to craft a very fascinating medieval world. The story focuses much less on the plot to find Excalibur and more of the obstacles Kayley and her companions encounter along the way. In doing so the movie showcases many fantasy elements such as various mythical creatures and also give its own spin with the magic. The story is very interesting in its environment and how the characters go about it. With all of this being said in trying to utilize Disney tropes its tone gets lost, as it has no idea what it wants to be. At times it wants to be intense and serious and at other times it was to be a wacky cartoon. These are two tones that don’t mesh given that they’re on two completely opposite extremes. Particularly in trying to be comedy it employs a lot of lowbrow humor and pop culture reference that really downplay the fantasy. Although the story has great ideas but it lacks the direction to bring out the best of the story.
The movie has some great ideas and does know how to visually showcase them in the animation. Places like Camelot and the Forbidden Forest are given a large scale to show the wonders and secrets within. The backgrounds in particular are painted in such a way that pays good attention to detail. On top of that the movie uses its colors well to play around with the light and dark sides of the movie. The movie goes all out with the mythical creatures giving their own spin on dragons, ogres, Ruber’s minons literally made of weapons, and so forth. They are what really bring the fantasy to life. The animation on the characters is done well depending on the role they play. Humans characters are more realistic and the comic relief is drawn more eccentrically. The issue with the movie is that when it tries to be Disney-esque it really shows right down to the design of the main character being near reminiscent of Belle from Beauty and the Beast. The movie also utilizes early CGI and it does not mix well with the traditional animation and makes the movie dated.
The characters are sadly the weaker parts of the movie. The protagonist, Kayley is pretty much the dreamer from birth who wants to be a hero with not much more to her. Garett’s character is has more potential being a blind man but knowing his ways around the perils of the forest. It’s quite rare to see a disabled warrior in an animated movie and it would have been better were he the main character but for most of the movie’s he’s mostly a love interest for Kayley. Devin and Cornwall the two-headed dragon is mostly comic relief and while they can get annoying they do play to the story. Bladebeak is largely forgettable. Finally there’s the villain. And make no mistake: the voice actor for him Gary Oldman has shown to be a powerhouse actor time after time even in the world of animation. Here however they try portraying him as this madman but his craziness just is so inconsistent going from calm and collected to lashing out at random. And even when does get angry he sounds so over-the-top that it’s hard to feel any sort of intimidation from this guy. Even when the characters are at their best the movie’s direction with them gives them a lot of problems and makes them harder to appreciate.
The songs on their own are great and define the characters well such as On My Father’s Wings and I Stand Alone. Other songs like United We Stand have a beautiful composition to them. However the movie doesn’t know how to incorporate them into the movie and when the musical numbers happen, it feels like they are out of nowhere. The difference between the voice actors and the singers is extremely noticeable and it makes things awkward. One of the most awkward moments of the songs is The Prayer. It’s a beautiful song that even got nominated for an Oscar but it’s used during a chase scene while Kayley is fleeing from Rubert’s minions. There’s nothing wrong with the songs but they’re handled so badly that it doesn’t instill the right emotions.
Quest for Camelot is the one of perfect examples of wasted potential. It has so much great material to make an enjoyable animated movie with some unique ideas, some nice animation, and some songs that work well independent of the movie. But the movie itself has such abysmal direction and wasted characters that bog it down a lot. In trying to copy Disney it loses so much heart in its story that it just becomes a knock-off. It would be so much more had it tried to do its own thing. If you can overlook the fact that this movie is copying the Disney formula there’s some entertainment to be had but it’s not going to be anything grand.