The apple don’t fall far from the tree as 14-year-old Louis Ashbourne Serkis makes his big screen debut as the lead in a movie that looks uniquely Disney, but is 20th Century Fox. Does his name sound familiar? It should. That’s because his dad is actor, director, and mo-cap master, Andy “my precious” Serkis of LOTR fame.
Spinning tales of King Arthur wrapped inside Harry Potter, Shrek, LOTR, and other fanciful tales, sees British 12-year-old, Alex Elliot (Serkis), trying to manage a day at school where his BFF, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) is being tortured by two bullies: self-centered jerk Lance (Tom Taylor) and his female cronie, Kaye (Rhianna Doris). Naturally, they attack Alex after school, but the plucky kid slips away into an abandoned construction site and boom! He finds, sticking out of a concrete slab, a sword. But it’s not just any sword, mind you, it’s Excalibur, the magical sword of King Arthur!
Things gets crazy after Alex yanks the sword out, ’cause that sets off a chain of events, like the imprisoned Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) deep in the bowels of the Earth coming back to life after being banished by King Arthur and Merlin. And speaking of Merlin, he appears once again to help out this young would-be king. Merlin, as both a young 16-year-old (Angus Imrie) and a crotchety old man (Patrick Stewart), can open portals to other places by way of Stonehenge, create duplicate metals, bend the will of others, and can change into an owl with a sneeze!
After being attacked by one of Morgana’s evil flaming skeletal horsemen minions, Alex is on the hook to find knights to vanquish the scheming sorceress and recruits not only cowardly Bedders, but his enemies, Lance and Kaye. If you know anything about the Arthurian legend, this all makes sense later. Soon they set off on a quest to find the Holy Grail… um, sorry, I mean, to find Morgana’s hiding place. But first they must put aside their differences and learn friendship, patience, and abide by the Knights Code of Honor.
There’s adventure, danger, attacks galore by armies of sword-wielding fiery skeleton knights, and even callbacks to the 1981 movie, Excalibur, where the Lady of the Lake delivers Excalibur in a greenish glow. Very cool. Director & writer Joe Cornish, who gave us the terrific screenplays, Ant-Man and The Adventures of Tin-tin, really knocks this one out of the park again, with not only writing a terrific script, but directing as well.
He doesn’t pander or dumb-down the script, like many other children’s movies, but goes right for the throat like the later Harry Potter movies or Percy Jackson and The Lightning Thief, something you don’t see everyday in children’s movies. Sure, there are bits of humor spread throughout, but NO fart or butt jokes, which seems to be the cornerstone of so many kids flicks these days. The action moves quickly with a surprising amount of frightening images for little kids, like Morgana as a winged serpent/dragon and those pesky skeletal knights. Cornish ups his game from his past movies (Attack the Block) and delivers a juicy little story worthy of J.K. herself.
The acting is top-notch all the way around, especially with the four leads, who aren’t your typical starry-eyed, Disney over-acting brats that you can’t stand for more than ten minutes on the screen. Serkis, like I said, takes after his father and proves his meddle as a first-rate actor, along with newbie Chaumoo, who is like a young Rupert Grint, hungry for the screen. But it’s Imrie, as young Merlin, who really shines and steals the movie with his impish antics and wide-eyed attitude. These kids are real, fun, and know how to act. A refreshing change of pace for what’s been thrown at us lately.
And, let’s face it, anytime you get a chance to see Patrick Stewart spouting Arthurian prose and wearing a Led Zeppelin T-shirt is okay in my book. I highly recommend this movie to not only the kiddies, but for adults as well. It has enough action, adventure, pathos, satire, and humor to cover all the bases for the entire family. Don’t miss out on this one!
A Kid in King Arthur’s Court (1995)
What happens when you combine Disney with Mark Twain? You get this hokey over-the-top kid-friendly movie about a rambunctious tween who gets zapped back into Medieval Times (and I’m not talkin’ about the interactive restaurant in Anaheim, ’cause that would have been more fun) and causes mayhem. Oy! What a mess!
In Reseda, CA (my old hometown!), Calvin Fuller (Thomas Ian Nichols, who looks like a young Matthew Broderick) is a young, nerdy, unsure baseball player who sucks at the game. He’s up at bat for his team, the Knights (get it?), and strikes out, but that hardly matters as an huge earthquake opens up a chasm and, as the others run for safety, Calvin falls through the opening! Yikes! Falling, he lands on the Black Knight in the 6th Century, thus foiling the robbery of some jewels of old King Arthur (Joss Ackland). Intrigued by his miraculous appearance, not to mention his odd baseball outfit and 20th Century jargon, the elderly king accepts him into his castle and court. Awww, isn’t that nice?
Right after Calvin gets the hots for tween Princess Katey (Paloma Baeza), he discovers that a reflection of Merlin (Ron Moody) brought him there to save Camelot and the King from some kind of evil doings. Oops! I think he got the wrong kid. Anyway, determined NOT to be the loser that he is, Calvin embarks in a training montage (sword fighting, archery, etc) and fails miserably at each. But what, you may ask, IS that evil? Why, it’s none other than King Arthur’s trusted man, Lord Belasco (Art Malik) a guy who practically oozes villainy. In the meantime, Calvin “invents” such things as medieval-style Big Mac’s, roller blades, and a mountain bike.
Ah, but what’s a kids film without a nice kidnapping, right? Staging a coup, Belasco grabs Princess Katey while Calvin and the King secretly go to Belasco’s castle to free her. . . which is totally ludicrous; why can’t the King just ORDER the capture of Belasco? I mean, he IS the King, right?? But, nooooooo! The girl is saved, Belasco is let loose to enter some pointless jousting tournament (where they openly steal a gag from The Court Jester), and Daniel Craig and Kate Winslett are free to marry each other. Oh, yeah, they’re in this movie, too.
With all that ends well, Calvin returns home via Merlin and, at his baseball game, meets (WTH??) a father & daughter that may or may not be King Arthur and Katey in regular street clothes. Huh?? This juvenile and made-for-kids-only screenplay by Michael Part (Jake & the Fatman TV series) and Robert L. Levy (Smokey & the Bandit) really dumbed-it-down to the point of making adults want to hurl. It’s lazy writing is only matched by the terrible direction of Michael Gottlieb (Mr. Nanny, Mannequin).
The only enjoyable thing about it is watching young Daniel Craig and Kate Winslett. Otherwise, this is one of those movies you stream (or rent) for the kiddies just to shut them up for a few hours. It’s mindless, stupid, has no redeeming qualities whatsoever, and has some really awful acting by a cast that just wanted a paycheck to get that Disneyland year-round passport. Nichols (who went on to do the American Pie franchise) is annoying and needs Adderall, while Baeza is practically comatose. The only one’s having a bit of fun here is veteran actor Ackland and Malik, who seems to have a career of being the bad guy.