Friday March 19, 1999
animation must, for its competitors, seem like one of those stains on the rug that just won't come off, no matter how much industrial-strength chemistry is applied.
So why shouldn't Warner Bros. come up with the notion of using a Broadway musical as the basis for a full-length cartoon? Instead of paying for derivative music by hacks, they can use songs already written by masters like Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. And who knows, they might, in the process, introduce kids and parents to a classic theatrical work.
But sadly the music is the only thing worthwhile about this animated version of "The King and I," transformed by ex-Disney hand Richard Rich ("The Fox and the Hound") into a dismal pastiche of threadbare plot devices and not-so-comic interludes.
There may have been sound marketing reasons for pushing to the background the relationship between Anna (Miranda Richardson), the English governess, and Siam's mule-headed but ultimately good-hearted king (Martin Vidnovic). Making the Crown Prince (Adam Hong) into a buff kick-boxer and giving the king a hot-air balloon to stage a hoked-up rescue mission typify the nitwit pandering to young audiences.
There may even have been legitimate reasons for cluttering the landscape with funny animals and villains that come across as road-show rejects from Disney's "Aladdin." The addition of an evil sorcerer (Ian Richardson) with a magic gong (!) is bad enough. But the sin is compounded by saddling him with a sidekick named Master Little ("Saturday Night Live's" Darrell Hammond), who's more goofy than funny--and more racial stereotype than not.
All these extras are brash, noisy distractions for smaller children. But there's little reason to think that kids of all ages won't feel as if they've seen all this schlock before. Curiously, and not surprisingly, it's when the animators stick closely to the original (as in the march of the king's children and the climactic waltz between Anna and the king) that it looks fresh.
If they didn't have the confidence to go all the way with the original, why'd they bother at all?
The King and I, 1999. G. James G. Robinson presents a Morgan Creek production in association with Rankin/Bass Productions. Directed by Richard Rich. Produced by James G. Robinson, Arthur Rankin and Peter Makalian. Screenplay by Peter Bakalian and Jacqueline Feather & David Seidler. Conceived and adapted for animation by Arthur Rankin. Executive producer Robert Mandell. Arranged, orchestrated, conducted by William Kidd. Adapted from "The King and I" by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II. Running time: 1 hour, 28 minutes. Miranda Richardson, Christiane Noll as Anna. Martin Vidnovic as The King. David Burnham, Alan Hong as Crown Prince. Ian Richardson as Sorcerer.