Apr 20, 2004
Quest for Camelot (1998) (part 2 of 7)
Back in the present, Kayley is greatly enjoying the story. Sir Lionel closes with the explanation of the markings on his shield—those three united circles, which relate to the vow he’s taken as a knight to protect king and kingdom.
His fellow knights arrive, and together they ride on. Sir Lionel bids wife and daughter adieu; the gathering at Camelot is only for the knights. Kayley wants to go, but he promises that he’ll take her there someday, when she’s older. Of course. It’s always “when you’re older”, isn’t it?
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Cue opening credits, as the knights ride on towards Camelot. Another sign of pinched resources is here—most of the journey is conveyed via still background paintings, and only a few shots of the knights riding along. Here’s a close-up of the sign in one painting (from later in the film, when it becomes important!).
With the end of the credits, the knights arrive at Camelot, and here comes the first song, “United We Stand”. The song is a chivalry-themed, Celtic knockoff of “The Circle of Life” (The Lion King‘s famous opening number), and I had to turn on the subtitles because I could hardly hear the chorus of singers under the orchestra.
The knights get a warm welcome from the townsfolk—one stable boy is particularly awed—and they enter a castle, where Arthur and Merlin greet them. Arthur takes up the song’s lyric, which exposits that the knights have gathered to arrange for proper division of the kingdom’s lands amongst their people. Also, it’s been ten years since he first pulled Excalibur from the stone.
As the knights proceed to the Round Table, one literally emerges from the shadows. This is Lord Ruber, and he’s so clearly the odd one out—a brutish hulk amongst his clean-looking fellow knights—that I’m amazed he was even in the running to be a knight at all. I’m not one to the judge by appearances, mind you, but it’s obvious this surly guy is bad news.
The song closes with a ceremony around the Round Table itself, as each knight lifts up his shield, reflecting the sunshine streaming in through the room’s skylight (just like Tom Cruise and the gang in Legend). They sing about their aims of truth, honor, loyalty, being-an-all-round-nice-chap, and so forth.
The knights continue yelling out virtues (“Goodness!” “Trust!” etc.) as they seat themselves in a similarly organized manner. But the song is interrupted by Ruber, who slams his fist down on the table and shouts “Me!” This reveals Ruber is voiced by the now Three Strikes Repeat Offender Gary Oldman, who was also in Lost in Space and had a cameo in Godzilla. Wow, somebody’s 1998 sure did suck!
Ruber wants to know the terms of the land division, and Arthur chides him for his selfishness. And this reveals that Arthur is being voiced by yet another Repeat Offender, Pierce Brosnan, former James Bond and star of Die Another Day. Arthur explains that the land will be divided according to the needs of the people.
“Then I need more than everyone,” Ruber says, adding that he wouldn’t have supported Arthur all this time if he had known he was “running a charity.”
But it’s pointed out that Arthur is the king and his word is law, so Ruber throws down the gauntlet and says he should be king. Of course, no one else likes that idea—Sir Lionel sums it up with “I will not serve a false king!”—so Ruber decides to use force to achieve this goal.
Jumping up on the table, mace in hand, Ruber begins attacking the other knights, and eventually sets his sights on Arthur. But Arthur has the upper hand. He reaches for a sheath on the back of his chair, and pulls out Excalibur. As it turns out, in this telling Excalibur is more than a mere sword: it glows brightly and discharges energy that knocks the villain back.
Ruber retreats, vowing that one day the sword will be his, “And all will be mine!” He closes the door behind him as he flees, and puts in place a wooden beam that blocks the knights from pursuing him. Yes, the door to this room, where the king and his men meet, locks on the outside. It’s good to know Camelot is designed about as well as Degrassi Junior High.
The knights then realize that one of them suffered a fatal blow in the skirmish. And as the old saying goes, you get three guesses who, but you only need one.
With that, we go to the farm where Sir Lionel’s family lives, which is now covered in snow. But it seemed to be spring or summer at the latest when they separated. How far away is Camelot from this farm? Later events will indicate that it’s a three day trip, at most.
It’s dusk, and Kayley is practicing her jousting with a helpless snowman as her opponent. She sees a group of knights riding up. In a mildly affecting moment, she runs up to the procession and is dismayed by her father’s absence—then heartbroken to realize, as a cart with a shrouded body appears, that this is his funeral procession.
At a cliffside, Lionel is laid to rest in a stone tomb. It’s marked with, yes, the three circles. Heck, there’s even a Stonehenge-like set of pillars behind the tomb. Boy, people were able to build things a lot faster in the old days. (Insert your own joke about unions here.)
Arthur himself has come to eulogize the man who helped save Camelot. Exactly how? He tried to protect the king, but so did the others, and I don’t see them getting special attention. In the end, Arthur saved himself with Excalibur.
Arthur gives a Stirring Speech about nobility and unity, which is undermined by the fantastically poor (and probably rotoscoped) animation here. He says that the doors of Camelot will always be open to Juliana as Lionel’s widow. And more than anything else, poor King Arthur is this movie’s Basil Exposition.
Kayley wanders off, staring into a puddle of melting snow, and so begins another song, “My Father’s Wings”.
She stares at her reflection. A tear falls from her eye, causing a ripple in the water. Several more ripples follow, and with each ripple, we move forward in time and Kayley gets older.
The resulting production number for the now-young adult Kayley—who looks pretty much like a tomboy version of Belle—has her dancing around the farm, and incorporating knight-practice into the chores. She sings about following in dear departed dad’s footsteps, and hopefully finding adventure and honor.
This is known as an “I Want” song—a number that comes early in a musical, in which the hero(ine) expresses his/her hopes and dreams, so that we in the audience understand those dreams, and get more involved in his/her quest to achieve them.
The problem with this kind of song is that there are only so many ways a hero can express what he/she wants, especially if (as in this case) they’re not terribly specific. Considering how many Disney musicals used “I Want” songs in the ’90s alone, there isn’t much new to bring to the table.
The visuals don’t help, either: the whole on-the-farm setting might as well be the one from Beauty and the Beast. At one point, Kayley stands on a rock in the water as waves splash around her, and the camera does a full circular pan in a semi-steal from Little Mermaid. And at the end, she stands atop a cliff, gazing into the sky with Purpose, just like Pocahontas or Simba.
The sequence ends with a would-be comic bit involving a scrawny rooster, who took a lot of slapstick abuse during the song. He’s trying to woo some hens, but the bossy mother hen puts him in his place. You’ll see why I bothered mentioning this shortly. Oddly, the sequence ends with an abrupt fade-out, suggesting they ran out of footage.
Night falls on Camelot. A close-up on the Stone and its three still-shimmering circles adds weight to a clichéd speech Arthur is currently delivering at the Round Table. He talks about the success of Camelot, and how Excalibur has helped keep order. He also establishes that it’s been ten years since Sir Lionel died, which would make Kayley 20.
The animators attempt a bit of razzle-dazzle here, by panning around the clearly computer-generated Round Table as he speaks. The problem is, the “camera” is at tabletop level, which is an odd angle, and the moment is of no importance anyway.
Arthur’s speech is halted by a huge monster that crashes into the room through the skylight, and lands atop the table. This causes all the torches in the room to go out, casting a blue pall on the proceedings.
Yes, along with the door that locks on the outside, the all-important Room of the Round Table has a skylight, rather than a proper ceiling. Even with Excalibur, one wonders how a castle this ineptly designed kept away the bad guys for ten years.
One of the knights identifies the monster as a griffin, and it’s rather imposing, especially with its glowing green eyes. It sizes the king up. Arthur slowly reaches behind his chair for his sword, but it’s too late—the beast lunges for him. Arthur escapes death, but the griffin bites the back of the chair off, and captures Excalibur in the process. Though Arthur is wounded, he tells his men to focus on saving the sword, and to get Merlin’s help.
The griffin crashes through a wall to escape, while an alert is sounded on horns. The men attempt to bring the griffin down with flaming arrows, but it doesn’t work, and the griffin continues to fly off into the distance. As knights ride off in pursuit, Merlin emerges on a balcony and—rather than, say, casting a spell or something—calls out, “Silverwings, protect the sword!”
The soaring griffin approaches a huge forest. Suddenly, something knocks the sword from its claws. It turns out to be one of the aforementioned Silverwings, which is a falcon named for, well, its shiny wings. As Excalibur plummets, the Silverwing keeps the griffin from grabbing it again. The sword disappears beneath a thicket of thorny trees.
The griffin dives down to capture the sword, only to find the thicket has its own defenses: Long, black, thorny hands emerge from the thicket and fight the griffin. Pamela Isley would be so proud.
Unable to retrieve the sword, the monster flies off. The Silverwing watches it go, then swoops down into the forest without incident. In a comparable Disney movie, this would be a mere buildup to a better scene, and I’m sure it was intended as such here, but as it so happens…