Published May 1, 1998
It used to be that Warner Brothers cartoons were an antidote to the unbearable sugary fakery of Disney and his horrible Mickey Mouse. No longer. The Disney monster is reaching out its tentacles to take over everything, apparently. Or so we might think to watch Warner’s clone of a Disney feature cartoon in The Quest for Camelot.
The style is of moderate feminism superimposed upon a formulaic adventure involving a young person of either sex pitted against an evil sorcerer — one whose evil is always just for evil’s sake and who is capable of anything. The quest is often to save or avenge a parent or a weakened and defeated authority figure, and the hero or heroine is befriended by one or two cute monsters who are supposed to be comically incompetent, but who come through for him/her in the end. The child and the fool together defeat the evil sorcerer, who can make nature itself obey his commands, by some pathetically obvious strategem.
Here the gal hero, Kayley (voice of Jessalyn Gilsig) and her blind boyfriend, Garrett (Cary Elwes) take on and defeat the evil Ruber (Gary Oldman) and his giant Griffin (Bronson Pinchot) and all their forces when all the knights of King Arthur (Pierce Brosnan) are unable to do so. For some reason Ruber’s sinister magic — here as usual represented by lightning flashes — is powerless against them. The sidekick is a two-headed dragon whose two heads are always arguing and fighting and insulting one another. They are called Devon (Eric Idle) and Cornwall (Don Rickles), and they describe themselves as “the reason cousins shouldn’t marry.” They sing a song whose refrain goes, “Oh what I’d do if I didn’t have you,” which culminates in an Elvis impersonation by both heads simultaneously. It is a very Disney thing to do.
This perfunctory tale is enlivened — if, unlike this reviewer, you find such things lively — by magic trees and magic potions and a magic hawk and magic healing. In fact, everything is magic at the point where magic is required, which is to my mind the very definition of a boring movie. And a fake one. But Warner for want of anything better to do has got into a race with Disney for the crown of fakery — the Fake Stakes. And, as with Disney, part of the fakery is the feminist propaganda. Kayley wants to be a knight, and no one even tries to explain to her why she can’t. She imagines doing knightly things, including “saving damsels in distress” — then she turns to her mother, Lady Juliana (voice of Jane Seymour) and asks “What is a damsel anyway?” She is not told. When Mom tells her to stay home and help with the farm after her father (voice of Gabriel Byrne) is killed by Ruber, she moans, “How am I ever to do great things if I’m stuck here with these silly chickens.”
I suppose you could argue that, as everything else in the movie from the two-headed friendly dragon to the magic forest to Camelot itself is unreal, it would be, well, unrealistic to expect the evil sorcerers who made this witches brew of a movie to make a little girl who looks real. But even children long inured to Disney propaganda should not have to endure these tuneless songs and badly written lyrics:
Years from now no one will bother
To recall your good King Arthur.
No, no. It won’t do. It won’t do at all. Where is Bugs Bunny when you need him?