“Quest for Camelot” (1998) FILM REVIEW
Written by Jambareeqi
Kayley is the daughter of Sir Lionel, one of the knights of Arthur’s round table. She really idolizes her father’s knighthood, seeing his role as noble and special. Unfortunately, Lionel is killed by the rogue knight Ruber, the latter of which resents Arthur for being King.
Years later, Ruber kidnaps Kayley’s mother Lady Juliana, so that he can use her to enter Arthur’s kingdom of Camelot. Meanwhile, Ruber’s Griffin has been sent off to steal Arthur’s powerful magic sword Excalibur, but fails to follow through and accidentally drops it in “The Forbidden Forest”.
Kayley vows to not only rescue her mother from Ruber, but also retrieve the lost Excalibur for her King. While venturing to the Forbidden Forest, Kayley meets a blind hermit called Garrett, who trained with Sir Lionel to become a knight, but his loss of sight ended his dreams.
After insisting that he fights alone, Garrett reluctantly joins forces with Kayley to save Camelot from Ruber. Along their journey together, the two befriend a two headed dragon called Devon and Cornwall, who can’t breathe fire, fly, or agree on anything.
This film has often been branded as a “Diet Disney” movie, due to how it’s obviously trying to imitate the Disney fairy tale brand – without knowing what makes the House of Mouse formula work. I can’t deny how much Quest for Camelot seems to be replicating the Disney renaissance films, almost like it’s following a set of requirements demanded by the studio.
But it’s easy to simply dismiss a film for copying what’s been done before. I think that this movie deserves praise for a few things it executes decently, in spite of how much it fails to recapture the essence of Disney’s 90’s smash hits.
Kayley herself makes for a good heroine in this story. Sure she has a bad habit of talking too much, but the movie is aware of that flaw, and she accepts the price paid when her yapping puts Garrett in danger. When push comes to shove in dangerous confrontations, Kayley will cleverly utilize her surroundings to physically outwit Ruber’s army. She’s also willing to learn fighting combat techniques from Garrett, by working with hostile plant life as practice opponents, and his lesson is applied later in the finale in a different context.
That’s another compliment I have to give, the relationship between our two leads! Garrett and Kayley maybe confrontational at first, but they connect through a shared admiration for Sir Lionel, and their perceptions of each other change after witnessing what the other can do. Their romance maybe short lived, but it’s a relationship that demonstrates chemistry and equal respect.
I also like how Kayley helps bring confidence to the blind Garrett, who has pushed away his knighthood dreams for a life of solitude. Garrett himself can be a little grumpy at times, but he holds a sincere pride for Camelot. Even though he doesn’t think he can be part of the round table, he does want do what he can to save Excalibur.
It’s rare for children’s films to feature disabled lead heroes, with many movies resigning the blind to being one joke caricatures or fodder for forced comic relief. Garrett is a dignified hero for visually impaired children to aspire to, someone who overcomes his blindness to achieve his goals. With the possible aid of audio descriptive commentary, I can imagine blind kids adoring how Garrett uses sound perception to overcome obstacles or fight enemies.
I do also think that the world building is decently done. I know a lot of people despise how the film doesn’t go into intense detail about the forbidden forest’s lore, but over-explaining would have taken away the charming ambiguity of the fantasy setting (plus could have resulted in excessive exposition dumping). Sometimes asking for more answers can do more harm than good.
The action sequences are pretty okay too. The metallic minions of Ruber make for fun opponents, because their steel bodies and sharp weaponized limbs pose as legit threats. The scene where our heroes have to run away from giant dragons is quite intense, mainly due to how imposing these dragons are compared to Devon and Cornwall. Not to mention, the final conflict against Ruber with Excalibur melded to his arm, inspires creative combat on our heroes’ part, because they have to work around being outmatched.
I’m afraid that’s where my praises stop though. While I will defend these said aspects, I can’t argue that the film didn’t completely deserve to be lynched by critics. It’s desperate need to clone Disney aesthetics is it’s own undoing; especially when it misses the mark for why these tropes worked for the House of Mouse.
The inclusion of Devon and Cornwall is an obvious attempt to recapture Aladdin’s Genie. These two sometimes have a funny line here or there, but they spend a lot of the movie without much of a purpose in the main story, and their constant arguments can become grating. It’s not until much later on that they help out.
Their development doesn’t happen until the climax, when they realise that cooperation triggers their flight and fire, making them suddenly highly valuable to the quest. While I like the idea of fighting sibling characters learning the benefits of teamwork, because it can teach brother and sisters in the audience the same thing, enduring these dragons’ incessant bickering until the third act, is quite a lot to ask of audiences. Simply attaching two talented comedians like Don Rickles and Eric Idle to talking dragons, doesn’t automatically make for endearing memorable characters.
Ruber is a villain with the super basic motive of ruling a kingdom. This would be fine to me, IF there was more to him besides his desire for power. He has his moments of threat: from his twitching insane expressions to how he casually punches a dragon in the face. Plus his plan to use Juliana as a Trojan horse to get into Camelot is deviously clever.
The problem is that he is rubbish at witty deception or cunning charm; hence why he resorts to exploiting Juliana as a decoy. Even the blind Garrett could tell that this guy is a greedy baddie! Which makes me wonder how he even ended up on Arthur’s round table? Gary Oldman’s microphone-chewing voice acting makes this worse, because the character was already too over the top. There’s only so much exaggerated villainy an antagonist can have, before they become too silly to take seriously.
Quest for Camelot is also a musical. You can tell that the songs are mainly here for Disney cloning reasons, because a lot of them are either pointless, a waste of time, end or start abruptly, and could easily be removed without consequences. Some songs carry important development for characters (For example, “I Stand Alone” has meaningful lyrics for reflecting Garrett’s internal conflicts with his blindness), but most of them are way too forgettable, don’t pay off, or intervene with the film’s pacing.
A lot of these songs are also fiercely ruined by comic relief characters’ cartoon antics. It’s hard to get invested in a love ballad or a villain’s sinister number, when a chicken is falling about or the dragons are fighting in the background. Are we supposed to be laughing at the clumsy characters? Or crying at the dramatic song’s narrative meaning? You can’t have your cake and eat it too.
Heck, the dragon brothers’ song is the most pointless and annoying of them all! It tries to imitate Genie’s modern reference humour, but fails to understand WHY Genie could do this, because these two aren’t established as powerful keepers of time and space.
The Animation may LOOK like Disney’s renowned style, but it’s missing the same top tier standards. I’m not saying it looks bad, because that would be unfairly harsh. It’s just that the animation is standard at best. Characters move with fluidity and have varied expressions, but they lack the intellectual pauses or humanistic details that makes Disney animation impressive. I’d say that the animation’s only praiseworthy aspect is it’s special effects; like fire, lava, fantastical plants, magic, etc.
To Conclude, Quest for Camelot has always been one of my guilty pleasure films, but I’d say that a new viewing has made me appreciate what DOES work. If it distanced itself from Disney in a bid to find it’s own identity, and toned down the unnecessarily-intrusive comedy, then maybe it could have been a commercial success? And perhaps be remembered more fondly by mainstream audiences? Because the more you try to make a film imitate a previous success, the more you clearly don’t understand that these hits came from original creative brainstorming.
Posted on April 20, 2020, in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.
My favourite review of this film. Really like how you’re able to find the good aspects in what is generally considered an uninspired knockoff. I’ve yet to watch the film, but I’ll certainly give it a shot if I accidentally come across it.
If I may ask, aside from this, Thumbelina, Anastasia and The Swan Princess, are there any other Disney knockoffs you’re aware of?
Off the top of my head, I’m afraid not.
“Quest” is an intriguing product of a bizarre (if pivotal) period in animation history, partially due to an element your review touches on pretty succinctly and accurately. If you perceive the revitalized Disney as the primary spearhead of the 90s feature animation revival and view the “Disney Renaissance” as a body of work spanning Little Mermaid to Tarzan , a distinct evolution occurs across this stretch. Discounting the anomaly that is “Rescuers Down Under” (more stylistically than due to quality, I should note), the earlier (and more critically and commercially successful, to boot) Renaissance films (Mermaid to Lion King) are noticeably brighter and more vivacious films – generally consisting of extensive ensemble casts, zany comedic interplay and a lesser emphasis on realism (although characters’ mortality nonetheless remains in question) – than the latter Renaissance films, which tend to be (Hercules excepted) more muted and straight-laced takes on a similar mould, with a reduced emphasis on fantastical subject matter in favour of raw scope and specific setting. Compare “Hunchback”, in which the Parisian setting is an integral thematic and aesthetic element, to “Aladdin”, in which the setting is more a purely-aesthetic backdrop or aesthetic complement to the main narrative action, thus detaching the film sufficiently from reality that the Genie’s later anachronistic comedy doesn’t jar with the surrounding narrative reality so much as the gargoyles’ later antics in “Hunchback” do; even the more comedy-drama-flavored “Mulan” heavily hinges on its cultural and temporal backdrop in a way “Aladdin” generally doesn’t. Scanning the score of contemporary “imitators”, they can be broadly classed as following “early-Renaissance” or “late-Renaissance” moulds: Swan Princess is more fantastical in a Little Mermaid or Beauty and the Beast mould, while Anastasia is (somewhat, given that a hammy zombie sorcerer is nonetheless the antagonist) more earthbound and muted (“Prince of Egypt”, of course, operates by cranking its latter-day Renaissance hallmarks to twelve, thus arguably transcending the “imitator” label).
“Quest”, however, seems to strive to exist within both camps; the setting and period are ostensibly established as integral to the narrative in the late-Renaissance mould (complete with human character designs that are largely more realistic than the more caricatured figures than typically populate the secondary casts of early-Renaissance films), yet the film increasingly bloats its cast with comic relief characters who only seldom interact with the more realistically-designed leads and frequently disrupt the film’s tone and dynamics. Most notably, Devon and Cornwall aren’t entirely isolated from Kayley and Garrett, but frequently function inside their own self-contained dynamic which, owing to its emphasis on slapstick and 20th-century cultural references, both jars with the sensibilities of the human leads and renders both dragons largely unable to form consistent dynamics with them (note how Kayley and Garrett remain largely offscreen during the dragons’ musical number, possibly to circumvent the largely-unsolvable question of how a farm girl and blind hermit from the 5th century AD would respond to an Elvis impersonation; note how neither Kayley nor Garrett respond to Devon and Cornwall’s mimicry of flight attendant jargon during the “bodysliding” sequence later in the film, instead simply glossing over them in a bizarrely impersonal way, as if they’re only nominally part of the same reality). The Genie, as you noted, is basically a godlike figure (thus justifying his culturally-anachronistic dialogue more solidly than here; if anything, Devon and Cornwall’s cultural knowledge (assuming it recognizes human culture, a taboo topic in dragon society, at all) should be stranded in the days of the Five Good Emperors, given their age here), but the surrounding film likewise features numerous instances of Aladdin reacting to the Genie’s comedy in ways that feel appropriate (he both initially questions whether he’s hallucinated the being and often facially indicates his bewilderment at the Genie’s allusions in later scenes, whereas Kayley and Garrett are either offscreen for or simply never seem to register Devon and Cornwall’s more idiosyncratic comments, as if the dragons simply haven’t spoken, instead of possessing humanly-unknowable information). Ruber’s slew of henchmen is similarly plagued by this: the first act extensively invests screentime in establishing him as a menacing and imposing force, yet, by the film’s halfway point, his newly-mechanized henchmen are primarily played as goofy incompetents and his gryphon (initially a sinister, voiceless apex predator) is exposed as a quipping bungler with a raspy comic voice (to say nothing of Bladebeak’s bizarre fourth-wall quip around the halfway mark), thus recurrently undercutting Ruber’s credibility as an antagonist and forcing his mannerisms further into excessive aesthetic hamminess (s you indicate) instead of evidence solidifying his menace. Effectively, the film, to me, reads as two differing pictures (a sombre, bombastic knightly epic in the late-Renaissance mould and a goofy Aladdin-style romp in which setting and cultural context are de-emphasized) continuously warring for screentime, with neither ultimately prevailing and thus forging a bizarre (if not necessarily abhorrent) tonal hybrid.