Thursday, August 30, 2012
Random 90's Animation - "The Swan Princess" (1994)
Unlike the previous three films I've watched for my Strange Animated Films from the 1990's Made By Random Studios Marathon, I remember actually liking "The Swan Princess" quite a bit when I saw it back in the day. Watching it again for this project, it is by no means a bad movie, but the Nostalgia Filter sure was strong with it.
This is the first animated feature from what would eventually be known as Crest Animation (formerly Rich Animation and RichCrest Animation; interesting evolution, that), a studio created and headed by Richard Rich. You may remember that name from the Disney Animated Canon project. Rich started at Disney in the late 70's, co-directed "The Rescuers" and directed "The Fox and the Hound" and "The Black Cauldron", and went on to found his own studio. The film generally agreed to be his best independent film was also his very first independent film. For some reason, this sounds familiar - but you may notice that far fewer people discuss Richard Rich's post-Disney career than do Don Bluth's; probably due to the fact that all but three or four of Rich's features have gone straight to DVD.
"The Swan Princess" is -if you will forgive me- an odd duck indeed. For all the world, it looks like what people who dismiss all Disney animated features as cutesy Fairy tales and girly pink Princess B.S. assume every Disney feature is like. (By the way, yes, such people exist, and this saddens me.) About a third of the ways into "The Swan Princess", I was thinking, "Oh, so this is basically 'Sleeping Beauty'. Now it's kind of like 'The Little Mermaid'. This scene reminds me an awful lot of something in 'Aladdin'. And suddenly, we're in 'Cinderella'." I suppose this is, in a way, admirable. Most low-budget animated fairy tale movies would only rip off one or two very popular Disney Animated Canon features. This one has the brass balls to swipe from damn near all of them!
Now don't get me wrong, as I said, "The Swan Princess" isn't necessarily a bad movie. As it happens, there are some very clever and creative moments in it. Some of the supporting characters are a lot of fun and the background paintings are gorgeous.
In general, the problems stem from the fact that while this movie is a distillation of what people who haven't sat down and watched a Disney movie in years remember from Disney movies, it's hampered from having a very small fraction of the budget. As a result, the animation is very inconsistent, and occasionally downright sloppy. In particular, the less caricatured characters like Human!Odette and especially Derek look very strange after a while (oh my good God, Derek's giant mouth). The songs range from slightly dull to utterly tedious, and some of the gags (especially the header image) run at very sharp angles to the rest of the film's overall tone. And, so help me, the villain's final boss form really does look like a fruitbat. Speaking of, if you avoid saying the word "Beast" this often, it eventually becomes really obvious and distracting.
Finally, since things like this have to be pointed out in a review written by me (heh): What we have here is a story about a human princess who is forced to be separated from a weird-looking unlikeable doormat of a prince who openly stated that he was only interested in her because she is pretty by being transformed into a big scary dinosaur that can fly, kill a child easily, and seriously maim an adult. Remind me again how this is a curse? (I know, but we're ignoring Rothbart being a total creeper for now, especially since the movie itself doesn't seem to know what to do with that plot point either.)
Overall, "The Swan Princess" is worth a look, and is certainly a better choice for children than, say, any of the DTV Disney sequels. Next up, something that isn't on my official Queue list but I would be a total bockhead to ignore.
Sketch of the Day!
Went to the good old Maine Wildlife Park and drew some birds that -and you have to trust the birder here- are far less vicious and scary than swans.