With the visually spectacular and entertaining Anastasia, Fox declared
itself a worthy contender to Disney's feature animation throne. Now comes
the Warner Bros. stab at animation riches, Quest for Camelot, and if this
shoddy enterprise is what it considers topline animated entertainment, the
studio is a mere pretender to the Mouse's throne.
As is the case with most underwhelming live action films, one of the roots
of Quest's mediocrity is the script, written by Kirk DeMicco, William
Schifrin, Jacqueline Feather, and David Seidler from Vera Chapman's novel
The King's Damosel. The story is just about nonexistent, boiling down to
an extended, uninteresting search for a sword. Dastardly former knight
Ruber (voice of Gary Oldman) steals King Arthur's (Pierce Brosnan) magic
sword Excalibur, only to lose it in the forest. Ruber and his crew of
baddies search for it, as does the courageous daughter of deceased knight
Lionel (Gabriel Byrne), Kayley (Jessalyn Gilsig), who is joined in her
quest by the blind loner Garrett (Cary Elwes) and the two-headed
(conjoined?) dragon(s) Devon (Eric Idle) and Cornwall (Don Rickles).
Anastasia set the bar for non-Disney animation high with its opening
glimpse of a stunningly realistic, computer-animated music box. Quest
counters with a shot has become cliche in live action features: the trusty
camera-travelling-over-water shot. But this is a minor quibble in a film
teeming with visual problems. The art is strictly Saturday morning-level,
a point which is underscored further a scene where Kayley and Garrett face
a computer-generated giant ogre; unlike in Anastasia or any given Disney
effort, the CGI and the traditional cel animation do not mesh convincingly
at all. The ogre, as impressive as it looks, looks completely out of
place, appearing to have wandered in from a better, bigger-budgeted film.
The worst visual sin committed by director Frederik DuChau and the
animation crew is the sloppy lipsynching, especially during the musical
numbers, where the voices often do not match the characters' mouth movements.
Even more distracting is the noticeable difference between the characters'
singing and speaking voices. In Disney features (or, for that matter,
Anastasia), the singing and speaking voices can plausibly originate from
the same set of vocal cords. Although there are a couple of
exceptions--Gilsig and Andrea Corr sound remarkably similar as Kayley; and
the Jane Seymour/Celine Dion teamup for Kayley's mother, Lady Juliana,
works surprisingly well--too often the voices are wildly dissimilar. When
Garrett breaks into song, Elwes's soft, Brit-accented tones suddenly change
into those of raspy Yank country-western singer Bryan White. The biggest
stretch of all is the tandem for King Arthur: current 007 Brosnan and...
former Journey frontman Steve Perry?! The stretch casting would be
forgivable if David Foster and Carole Bayer Sager's songs were the least
bit memorable. Suffice it to say, they aren't.
Quest for Camelot follows the tried-and-true Disney formula fairly
closely--"I Want" song, villainous scheme number, love duet, final
confrontation--but DuChau fails to realize that the key to Disney's success
in animation is not necessarily the formula but a generous helping of
imagination and magic to go with it. While their Anastasia was not a
complete triumph, directors Don Bluth and Gary Goldman were able to create
some superb, haunting moments that rank with, if not surpass, some of
Disney's. If Quest is any indication, Warner Bros. Feature Animation,
which enjoyed a successful launch with 1996's Space Jam, is severely out of