Rated G - Running time: 1:27 - Released 3/19/99

I have no idea what inspired Warner Brothers to undertake a cartoon version of The King And I, but it seems to have been an ill-advised venture from the start. Adapted from Walter Lang’s Oscar-winning 1956 musical, the story barely resembles its predecessor, seeming more like a second-rate version of Disney’s Aladdin with the famous Rogers & Hammerstein score tacked on.

This film was directed by Richard Rich (creator of the Swan Princess series) and written by a host of generally undistinguished cartoon writers after an adaptation by actor Arthur Rankin, who died in 1947. Perhaps Rankin’s son, Arthur Rankin Jr. of Rankin/Bass (one of the film’s production companies), found the dusty manuscript among his dad’s possessions and decided to add another quick credit to his resume. But this was a script that Rankin Sr. had the good sense not to produce.

The story is thus: In the mid 19th century, a British teacher named Anna Leonowens (voice of Miranda Richardson, sung by Christiane Noll) travels to the country of Siam (now Thailand) to teach the king’s children about Western culture. King Mongkut (Martin Vidnovic) is a proud, scientific-minded ruler, but one bound by the traditions of his dynasty. He is happy to expose his children to such enlightenment, but insists that certain rules be obeyed: Visitors must cowtow to him, no one’s head may be held higher than his, his children must marry whomever he chooses, etc. Anna, equally strong-willed, insists that she be afforded the respect she is due, even by the king, or she will return to England. The two begin to butt heads soon after Anna arrives, but eventually come to a mutually respectful agreement.

Meanwhile, an evil advisor to the king, the Kralahome (Ian Richardson) and his fat, clumsy sidekick, Master Little (Darrell Hammond), plan to convince Anna that the king is a barbarian so that England will choose to overthrow him and the Kralahome will be named provisional ruler. Finally, in the necessary romantic subplot, the king’s son, Prince Chululongkorn (Allen D. Hong, sung by David Burnham) falls in love with a servant girl named Tuptim (Armi Arabe, sung by Tracy Venner Warren), and must appeal to his father to forego the tradition that royalty and commoners mustn't marry.

Besides the fact that this is not a very appealing subject matter for its target audience (in other words, it’s just plain boring), the production quality is awful. The backgrounds are beautiful, but the character animation looks like something you’d see on Saturday morning TV. There is no depth to the graphics; the character drawings are downright crude, and very little attempt at visual characterization is made. Add to this the fact that the songs seem to have been improperly mixed, so that one can hardly hear Hammerstein’s famous words over the orchestra. Why this was not fixed in post-production is beyond me, but it could be to mask the fact that the singers' voices don't match those of the actors portraying the speaking parts. You know it's a low-budget film when it's cheaper to hire two performers for the same part than to get someone who can sing and speak. The movement is choppy and background colors are often ill-matched with those of the motion animation.

I would think that in the wake of such animated cartoon masterpieces as The Prince Of Egypt and the two recent insect-related features, that the producers of this dog would save themselves some embarassment and send it directly to video. It lacks style, it lacks quality, and it lacks appeal.

Copyright 1999 by John R. McEwen and The Republican

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