The Great 90’s Animated Film Project: “Quest for Camelot” (1998)

The Swan Princess,
The Hunchback of Notre Dame,
The Prince of Egypt,

When the film Quest for Camelot starts out, you think that it will be a great, exciting film with knights, lots of Celtic music, and a girl whose father dies early in the film. Quest for Camelot is a film with knights, lots of Celtic music, and a girl whose father dies early in the film, but it is rather dull.

Quest for Camelot is a Warner Brothers’ film directed by Frederick Du Chau that was released after their success with Space Jam, which is a really fun, clever film. This film is very loosely based off of the novel The King’s Damosel and features such changes as the protagonist being named Kayley instead of Lynette, the protagonist having a seemingly perfect childhood (although the thing that would make it imperfect would have definitely resulted in it not getting a G rating), two characters being combined into one, and the addition of the characters of Ruber, Bladebeak, and Devon and Cornwall.

Kayley (Sarah Freeman) has a perfect life with her mother, Juliana (Jane Seymour), and father, Sir Lionel (Gabriel Byrne), a Knight of the Round Table. But one day, while Lionel is at Camelot, he is killed by Ruber (Gary Oldman), another knight, who is trying to attack King Arthur. Kayley is saddened and ten years later has grown up, taking care of the farm with her mother.

It’s a lovely day in Camelot until a griffin (Bronson Pinchot) steals Excalibur. Back at the ranch, Ruber comes and he’s hot for Juliana and wants Camelot, nay, he wants it all. He has an entire song about how he wants it all. But wanting it all starts with getting Camelot, so he kidnaps Juliana while Kayley (Jessalyn Gilsig) escapes. Ruber then causes his minions to fuse with their weapons and one of Juliana and Kayely’s chickens to fuse with an axe, creating Bladebeak (Jaleel White). Kayley decides that while fleeing Ruber she will retrieve Excalibur and go to Camelot. While in the Forbidden Forest, she meets the blind hermit Garrett (Cary Elwes), who does an excellent job fighting bad guys. (Like Toph Bei Fong, but without the awesome earthbending) Her and Garrett then end up in Dragon Country, where they meet the two-headed/conjoined dragons Devon (Eric Idle) and Cornwall (Don Rickles), who bicker and cannot fly or breathe fire. The three/four then leave the Dragon Country and go towards a rock ogre that had Excalibur. They retrieve it and head towards Camelot, but Garrett leaves because he feels as though he doesn’t belong there. But then Ruber catches up with them and he wants it all.

This really does feel like a well intentioned film that was meant to steal Disney’s thunder. (A film released later that year by Dreamworks, actually succeeded.) But the characters lack dimension and the fight scenes aren’t thrilling to watch. Kayley is a spunky heroine and that’s it. And the dialogue in the screenplay by Du Chau, Kirk De Micco, William Schifrin, Jacqueline Feather, and David Seidler? Terrible. The film features such lines as “What is a damsel?” and “I stand alone too!”, which is said after the one memorable song in the film “I Stand Alone.” Although, Eric Idle gets the best line in the film when, while explaining why Devon and Cornwall are conjoined, says “Frankly, we’re the reason cousins shouldn’t marry.” But by the end of the film, it starts to rely on anachronisms in the form of pop culture references, such as Bladebeak referencing Dirty Harry, airline references, and Devon and Cornwall saying, “Houston, we have a problem.” It feels like the writers got lazy.

And with the characters not having much depth, that’s a huge problem with Ruber being a menacing or even mildly terrifying villain. Sure, he looks scary and has chipped fingernails, but he just wants it all. That character even has a song just about how he wants it all. He’s not a corrupt human or a villainous sorcerer; he’s a caricature that Oldman tries hard to make him seem terrifying. Except I kept thinking “It’s Joe Orton!” and that helps nothing.

This might also be the only film that has a completely interesting score and uninteresting music. Even Tarzan has one memorable song. Patrick Doyle’s score utilizes traditional Celtic music to set the tone and setting for the film, except that the anachronisms at the end that make it feel more like a lot of animated films churned out now. Carole Bayer Sager and David Foster’s songs are rather unmemorable, just because they’re furthering the plot, but its nothing I will be humming later. I also have to note that the film used bands and celebrities for the singing voices of the characters, such as Celine Dion being the singing voice of Juliana and Bryan White doing the singing voice of Garrett. However, when Garrett has a song, it is painfully obvious that Bryan White sounds nothing like (Cary Elwes). Bryan White has one of the better songs in the film, but he starts singing and all I could think of was, “It’s country musician Bryan White!”

And the main Cute Little Animal Character(s) are Devon and Cornwall, whom the film could function quite well without. In fact, it feels like a waste of Eric Idle and in a film where every character speaks with a British accent, Don Rickles speaking with an American Accent doesn’t make much sense. It feels very much that Devon and Cornwall are put in to satisfy the “formula” of adapting some novel or legend, adding in musical numbers, and having a Cute Little Animal Character that cracks jokes.

But Quest for Camelot does have good animation. It’s not breathtaking animation, but it’s good quality animation, even if the characters aren’t that expressive.

Quest for Camelot is definitely a film that could have possibly been good. But it’s not interesting and lacks action, considering its about King Arthur and the Knights of the Round Table. It’s clear that there were a lot of resources put into this film, it just doesn’t show until you get to the credits.


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