Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Random 90's Animation: "Quest for Camelot" (1998)

Before delving into any of the projects I listed in the last post, let's cross another Random and/or Obscure Theatrical Animated Feature From the 1990's off the big old list.  Today's selection takes us into the late 1990's, and at this point animated features made in the very stereotypically Disney mold were coming in from even the most unexpected studios.

Arguably the strangest source for such a film was Warner Bros. animation. At the time, they were riding high on the success (commercially, certainly, goodness knows, not critically) of "Space Jam".  One of the people who worked on "Space Jam" -I forget who, unfortunately- described Warner Bros. feature animation as the antithesis of Walt Disney Feature Animation.  "They're the Merchant Ivory of animation," he said, "and we're more like 'Die Hard'!"  Which was a fine philosophy to have -- except then they went and made one of the most unabashed rip-offs of the Disney feature formula ever created.  Well then.

Watching "Quest for Camelot" with this in mind gives the movie an aura of strangeness that it certainly did not need, because the whole damn movie is just weird as hell.  It's weird in a really tedious and uninteresting way, though.  Rumor has it that the initial script for "Quest" was much more unique and interesting, but the poor thing got executive meddled to hell and back.  Additionally, nobody working on the film really enjoyed doing so.  I can believe both these rumors because you can really tell while watching "Quest" that the whole thing was a mess from the script level and nobody involved seemed to know what to do with it.

The basic story of the movie is staggeringly mediocre, to the point where it's even hard to discuss it.  I will address one of the big elephants in the room though: Not even a minute and a half into "Quest for Camelot" it occurred to me that this has to be what the people I know who still refuse to watch "Brave" must imagine "Brave" to be like.  It's as if "Quest" came first and took the bullet for "Brave", making all the boring and wimpy decisions so "Brave" didn't have to.

It is hopefully enough to say that "Quest for Camelot", having given us a plucky girl-hero who wishes to be a brave warrior instead of a pretty princess, decides about halfway through to give her a broody, angsty male sidekick/love interest.  *sigh...*

To the film's credit, they do at least attempt to do something interesting with AngstyWangsty McOurGirlHeroNeedsABoyfriend.  This is a major animated feature film with a blind protagonist.  That's actually really cool.  So it's too bad that (a) this movie sucks and (b) every song this character sings calls attention to his disability.  I couldn't make that up if I wanted to and it is just as horrible as it sounds.

So it's time to address the other elephant in the room: the songs.  Oh, boy, the songs.  I have a story to go along with one of the songs in this movie.  Did you know that the beloved and powerful Andrea Bocelli ballad "The Prayer" comes from this movie?  Most people don't know that.  I already knew this because (incoming sad personal story) I had the unfortunate job of picking the music that would play in the background during my Grandmother's wake.  Yeah.  My Grandmother was a huge fan of Andrea Bocelli, and this song was beautiful and moving and bittersweet, and everyone cried when they heard it.

So thankfully, it didn't seem like anyone there knew the original context for the song in "Quest for Camelot".  Most people would probably expect this song to play during a scene in the movie that would be, you know, appropriate.  At all.  Fortunately, I already knew that the scene where "The Prayer" appears is... not that.  Unfortunately, the scene in question is very like the "This is the skin of a KILLER!!!" scene in the first "Twilight" movie.  NOTHING can fully prepare you for it.


Man, I don't know where to take the review from here.  Would anyone mind if I just transcribe and elaborate on my notes?  Seems like the easier thing to do here cause I'm kind of sick of talking about "Quest for Camelot" and there's still a lot of ground to cover:

* - There's an awful lot of Irish iconography and Some-Kind-Of-Irishy-Or-Something music (actual genre; my iTunes library says so) in this movie supposedly set in Arthurian Merry Old England.  To be fair, this movie is already very lenient with the story of King Arthur (even though Arthur himself is barely in it and he, the Knights of the Round Table, and especially Merlin do an excellent job of being completely useless), but it gets weird.

* - I like how you can pick out who is going to betray the Knights of the Round Table only seven minutes in.

* - Funny, the animation here doesn't really look like "Batman: Mask of the Phantasm", "Space Jam", "Iron Giant", or "Osmosis Jones".  It actually reminds me more of "The Swan Princess," not least because of the male lead's distracting giant mouth.

* - In any case, whatever animation team they did put in charge was just not comfortable with it.  Ye gods, some of the designs on these minor characters...

* - There is a flashback to LITERALLY TEN MINUTES AGO!?!

* -  There is Conspicuous CGI and then there's this.  One of the special features on the disk goes on and on about this new computer-assisted animation technology called "Regging", and I wonder if that tech ever went anywhere or if it explains why the film looks so strange?

* - Sure glad that one character told us in the audience that the monster attacking King Arthur right now is a gryphon because this movie's take on the beast is... different.  This is the only instance where I didn't entirely hate that this is one of those movies where the characters provide a running commentary on everything we see happening onscreen.

* - This is... this sure is a Villain Song.

* - Say, why is ObviousBadGuy McCantEvenLookAtThoseFingernails even attacking Not-Merida's house?  It'd make sense if she made the potion he's using to make his monster army or something, but she didn't.  The stated reason is that her mom knows how to get to Camelot.  Except there's an obvious main road with obvious signs that lead you there?  It can't be because her presence would make them less conspicuous because they don't even bother to hide in the wagons along the way.  Basically, he's attacking Not-Merida's house because of Plot Reasons.

* - Speaking of ObviousBadGuy's monsters.  Holy mother of vocal dissonance, they come up with a kind of badass monster design and then they give it a shrill, whiny Bronson Pinchot voice, WHY?!?

* - You know, it'd be really cool if the Forbidden Forest was actually based on enchanted forest mythology from the British Islands, but that'd take actual imagination.  And not the "you can tell the animators dipped into the brown acid" kind of imagination.  Which is an easy dig, but really, look at this.

* - Let's not even talk about the deeply unpleasant dragon sidekick and it's (their? I don't even give a s**t) ghastly song.  It's like two insufferably obnoxious sidekicks for the price of one!

* - On the subject of small annoying creatures, was the falcon ever on-model to start with?  Cause for most of the movie it looks like a pile of fluff hovering around making dubbed-in Red-Tailed Hawk sounds.  Additionally, I'd call the chicken-thingy a JarJar-esque nuisance, except noted worst character ever JarJar Binks, like it or not, actually did contribute anything at all to the plot.

* - There's a scene late in the movie where it is heavily implied that Not-Merida would have succeeded in avoiding ObviousBadGuy and his minions on the road to Camelot and saved the day if she'd waited for her (all-male) sidekicks to join her.  Instead, she goes on without them, gets captured and dragged off to the castle, and ends up being rescued by the menfolks.  Seriously.  This happens.  Ugh...

* - The entire ending is just layer upon layer of "what just happened?"  A lot of plot points get resolved in a pretty cramped amount of running time, then the movie just stops.  But not before Not-Merida and AngstyWangsty get married, because of course that happens.  And then it just literally stops, as if even the movie is sick of itself.

For more in this series, click this link or the "Random 90's Animation Month" tag below.

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Sketch of the Day!  Have a random, half-Azhdarchid, half-"Dark Crystal" Landstrider creature designs.

7.25.13 Sketchbook Page

I should probably mention that prior commitments are keeping me away from Boston Comicon this year, but I hope to enjoy the show vicariously through the internet!

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