Quest for Camelot, The (United States, 1998)

A movie review by James Berardinelli

With new, high-profile animated features being produced by Twentieth Century Fox, Warner Brothers, and Dreamworks, movie-goers may have reason to be upbeat about the future of big- screen animation. The line of thinking goes something like this: now that the competition has upped the ante, Disney will be shaken out of its complacency, and this will result in a return to the quality evident in their early '90s productions, such as Beauty and the Beast. Fox's entry, Anastasia, proved that Disney-like animation can be achieved by a corporation not associated with the Magic Kingdom. So, it was with great interest that observers watched to see what Warner Brothers would do with the baton that was passed to them for The Quest for Camelot. The result is simple and disheartening: they dropped it.

Back in the late '80s and early '90s, as Disney began to realize profits from The Little Mermaid and Beauty and the Beast, a number of other studios rushed a series of low-budget animated efforts into the pipeline in an attempt to siphon off a few dollars from unsuspecting viewers who might mistake any motion picture cartoon for a Disney effort. (Remember Ferngully? If you don't, count yourself lucky.) Sadly, Warner Brothers' much-hyped The Quest for Camelot seems like one of those second-rate features. It's dull, uninspired, and, worst of all, characterized by artwork that could charitably be called "unimpressive." Its no exaggeration to say that the Disney direct-to-video animated sequels to Aladdin and Beauty and the Beast possess a more polished look than The Quest for Camelot.

The story, which is likely to make Arthurian purists sick to their stomachs, focuses on a dark period in the history of Camelot, when King Arthur's fabled sword, Excalibur, is lost as the realm comes under attack by the evil Sir Ruber (voice of Gary Oldman), whose goal is to supplant Arthur (voice of Pierce Brosnan) on the throne. Meanwhile, off in a remote village, a young woman named Kayley (voice of Jessalyn Gilsig), the daughter of one of the Round Table's most honored knights, the late Sir Lionel (voice of Gabriel Byrne), embarks on a quest for the sword when her mother, Lady Juliana (voice of Jane Seymour), is captured by Sir Ruber's men. Along the way, she gathers a diverse group of companions, including a blind recluse (and love interest) named Garrett (voice of Cary Elwes), a silver-winged falcon, and a two-headed talking dragon (voices of Don Rickles and Eric Idle).

If the surprisingly poor level of the animation was The Quest for Camelot's lone failing, the movie might still have been entertaining, but the problems only begin there. Almost every aspect of the production has an obvious flaw of some sort, and the overall impression is that not a lot of care went into the crafting of this particular animated adventure. To be frank, what The Quest for Camelot offers isn't much more impressive than what can be found on TV every Saturday morning.

The film's ripping off of stock Disney elements is blatant. Kayley is presented as a heroine struck from the same mold as Ariel and Belle (especially Belle). Cornwall and Devon, the two-headed dragon, are replicas of The Lion King's comic duo of Pumba and Timon. And, like in Aladdin, there are numerous quick references to easily-recognized Hollywood movies (including, amongst others, Taxi Driver and Superman). The story that these elements are grafted onto is not especially invigorating -- it's basically a group of characters running around in a forest, dodging perils, and looking for a lost sword. The Disney animated screenwriters may not be masters of plot and characterization, but their efforts eclipse these.

The songs are another misstep. The Quest for Camelot would have been considerably improved without the lineup of about a half-dozen treacly, completely forgettable tunes by David Foster and Carol Bayer Sager. As far as I can tell, they serve three superfluous purposes: (1) to pad the running length, (2) to interrupt any flow generated by the sputtering storyline, and (3) to sell soundtracks. Worse still, the "actors" providing the singing voices (Andrea Corr, Bryan White, Celine Dion) don't sound anything like the actors providing the speaking voices.

In all honesty, kids in the under-10 range will probably enjoy The Quest for Camelot, and, since it's aimed at them, it's difficult to be too harsh on the film. Keep in mind, however, that most children will contentedly watch just about anything that resembles a cartoon. One of the big selling points of the Disney animated features is their appeal to viewers of all ages. In this case, those who are more discriminating than the average 9 year-old will discover that The Quest for Camelot rapidly grows tiresome. Consequently, any adult on a search for the holy grail of animated pictures is advised to keep looking.

Quest for Camelot, The (United States, 1998)

Run Time: 1:25
U.S. Release Date: 1998-05-15
MPAA Rating: "G" (Nothing Objectionable)
Subtitles: none
Theatrical Aspect Ratio: 1.85:1