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Quest for Camelot (1998): Poorly-timed Comedy over All Else

As a friend has said many times, kids are dumb. They find themselves liking stuff that isn’t actually that good. It varies wildly with every kid, sometimes a book, a game, or a film. Sometimes it's Swan Princess, other times it’s one of the many Barbie or Bratz films, it can even be a random superhero film. For me, it is Quest for Camelot.

Back in the 1990s, Disney was on top of the world. Well, even now they still are on top but that’s beside the point. Disney was in the middle of its renaissance, releasing some of its best work. Warner Bros. wanted to get some of the money and fame that the films were getting, so they made an animated division and got to work. Unfortunately, the executives had no idea what they were doing and the film suffered a troubled production with the initial director being fired and many other staff leaving soon after. After a six month delay, the film was released to mixed reviews and a poor box office showing. So 24 years later, how is it now?

‘We’re the knights of round table, we dance when ere we’re able…’

Kayley (Jessalyn Gilsig) is the daughter of a fallen knight of the Round Table, having grown up desiring to be a knight herself. Her father’s killer, the evil Ruber (Gary Oldman), hatches a plan to take control of Camelot by stealing Excalibur and attacking Camelot in a sneak attack. However, when the sword is lost in the Forbidden Forest, Kayley chooses to go after it. Aided by Garrett (Cary Elwes), a blind hermit, a Falcon named Ayden (Frank Welker) and followed by a two-headed dragon named Devon and Cornwall (Eric Idle and Don Rickles), the group rushes to find the sword before Ruber and his minions in order to save Camelot.

First off, the animation is decent. While it isn’t top quality, it’s still serviceable. The character designs are also good, even if Kayley resembles Belle from Beauty and the Beast. However the animation uses CGI for some parts that really didn’t age well. Some of the shots look awkward, while others are just blatantly noticeable. Perhaps the biggest offender is the CGI ogre, which not only looks horrible, but fails to mesh with anything else in the film, especially the characters.

Introducing the lovechild of Rockbiter and The Incredible Bulk!

Character-wise, our protagonists have arcs that fail to fully land due to a lack of proper development. Kaylee seems to have an arc of becoming skilled enough to handle herself, but this growth is barely in the film and she feels the same from the start of the film to the end. It also doesn’t help that one of the only moments in this arc is her learning to be quieter after getting Garrett injured. Devon and Cornwall have an arc, but it is mostly an afterthought and is not given focus despite their screen time. Garrett’s arc of learning to trust others again is more noticeable, but lacks the proper development to satisfy the audience. This especially sucks for Garrett because he is the most interesting character in the film, being a blind yet very skilled man with dreams of knighthood and is someone I would be happy to root for as a character.

Then we have the villain, Ruber. First he is a contender for most obviously evil dude in an animated film along with winning the award for villain most in need of a manicure. Second, he is at least a physical threat who literally defeats a dragon the heroes were running from bare handed. He is also very over the top in his performance and presentation, because being subdued with his looks is just completely pointless. However he is the butt of one too many jokes which hurts his credibility as a villain. In particular, the scene with the ogre just misuses him severely adding to the scene’s problems with bad comedy. His minions have the same issue of being jokes one too many times to be threatening, which is worse for them due to their designs and overall concept of metal weapons merged with people to create genuinely powerful foes.

He's such a rube

The music in the film is largely a highlight, but has some major caveats. Most of the soundtrack is pretty good, with The Prayer even getting an Oscar nomination. However, it can be noticed that none of the songs are sung by the characters’ voice actors, which could cause some issues. The only one that was sung by a character’s voice actor, Ruber, is by far the worst song in the entire film! When you can’t tell when the song is supposed to start in a Disney-styled musical, that’s the first sign that you know you’re in for a rough time. Half the song sounds like Gary Oldman is talking rather than singing, while the other half, you wish he had a sense of rhythm as he is both off key and off beat. He honestly sounds like he is making up the song on the spot which leaves us with this awkward song which can only be enjoyed for how bad it is.

So what is the major caveat with the music? The Prayer for example is a slow emotional song. So when do they play it? During a chase scene. The placement story-wise seems fine but the context of the scene, being the protagonist running for her life, just doesn’t fit. In general, the music as a whole has this issue of something else occurring during the song that hinders its delivery. From the story and comedic interruptions in Ruber, to the comedy interruptions of both On My Father’s Wings and Looking Through Your Eyes, the latter song being the love ballad of the film. Due to these interruptions, the songs are barely given space to properly breathe. The only real exceptions are the opening song United We Stand and Garrett’s song I Stand Alone, the latter of which has the issue of feeling superfluous.

An important character-building scene…let’s intersperse comedy into it

The biggest issue with the film is without a doubt the comedy, with only a few good jokes sprinkled in. But the fact that one of the comedic relief characters, Bladebeak makes an unfunny reference to Dirty Harry isn’t the real problem. The real issue is the film overuses the comedy to a degree that is genuinely frustrating. For example, while the love ballad plays, a moment that should be a wellspring of emotion, instead has our dragons messing around while the lovers have their moment. It is like if A Whole New World had the Genie do slapstick during the number. The reason why the characters don’t get the proper development is because those key scenes for character development were interrupted by the comedy! A third of the movie could be cut out for being comedically-unrelated to the main characters or plot.

Quest for Camelot is an example of a ‘meh’ film. While the animation is decent and the music is mostly good, the characters lack proper development and the poorly-timed humor overpowers every other aspect of the film to its detriment. If they had more restraint on the humor and added more character development scenes, then the film might have actually been good. As it is though, the film is woefully underdeveloped and is just a shell of what it could have been.

On second thought, let’s not go to Camelot. It’s a silly place.

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