Quest For Camelot
by Michelle Erica Green

The Mists of Avalon

Less than three weeks after Merlin enthralled television audiences, Quest For Camelot arrives to introduce a new generation to Arthurian legend. A romantic comedy with music, fantasy, and quite a bit of action, the new animated film is set during the early years of King Arthur's reign, when a fiesty girl and a blind boy work together to save Camelot from an evil knight who is trying to steal King Arthur's magical sword Excalibur, and with it the kingdom.

Kayley (Jessalyn Gilsig) also must rescue her kidnapped mother (Jane Seymour) after the murder of her father, Sir Lionel (Gabriel Byrne), thus proving that a girl can have the heart of a knight. Garrett (Carey Elwes) believed his dreams of becoming a knight were destroyed along with his sight after an accident, but learns from Merlin (Sir John Gielgud) that he has something valuable to contribute. The evil Ruber (Gary Oldman) tries to stop them, along with frightening Griffin (Bronson Pinchot), but they also meet a comical two-headed dragon (Don Rickles and Eric Idle), a transformed chicken (Jaleel White), and ultimately King Arthur himself (Pierce Brosnan).

Despite the absence of traditional female icons like Guinevere and Morgan Le Fey, novelist Vera Chapman created a story centering around a strong female role model - a bright, strong-willed girl who knows how to use weapons and isn't afraid of haunted forests. In the screenplay adapted by Kirk Di Micco and William Schifrin, Kayley follows her dream of becoming a knight despite both philosophical and physical obstacles.

Popular songwriters Carole Bayer Sager and David Foster created the music for Quest For Camelot, sung in part by Andrea Corr as Kayley and Bryan White as Garrett. Explains director Frederik Du Chau, "Our songs are not staged like musical theater - we've got some great song and dance numbers, but thanks to the choreography of Kenny Ortega and the insight of our creative consultant, Broadway's Mike Ockrent, they bring this world to life. They keep moving; they don't stop the story." The director also credits the voices of the speaking actors with creating vivid characters.

"We were very fortunate to get Gary Oldman as the voice of Ruber - he brings tremendous drama and humor to the role," Du Chau noted. The two-headed dragon, voiced by Eric Idle and Don Rickles, contrasts the Monty Python fixture's snobbish, cultivated humor against Rickles' New York-accented crude physical insults. Because they spend so much time sparring, the dragon cannot experience such traditional dragon perks as breathing fire and flying, and is treated as the outcast of dragon society.

While Kayley was raised as the child of a knight, with a strong sense of honor and adventure, Garrett hid in the Forbidden Forest with only a falcon for company, surviving by his wits. These two untraditional heroes are joined by a comical chicken that has been magically merged with an axe - a typical animal sidekick with a mythological twist. Bladebeak has a good heart but the soul of a chicken, so he reluctantly works to support Kayley.

An international crew of animators brought the story to life, using both classic animation techniques and CGI. The crew developed Devon & Cornwall, whose two heads have different appearances and personalities, as well as the enormous, cunning Griffin and the villain. "Ruber is almost literally deformed by his own wickedness," says Du Chau. "Animation allows you to visually express so much emotion in your characters - Ruber [is] someone who's genuinely evil, and completely nuts!"

For Griffin, the artists came up with a huge beast that incorporates elements of an eagle, a lion, and a snake - very much in line with the classical mythology of gryphons. The animators working on the scenery were actually taken to England to visit Celtic archaeological sites. This research allowed them to incorporate images from the ancient stone carvings into the film. Max Howard, President of Warner Brothers Feature Animation, said that this level of attention to detail was necessary to enhance the studio's solid legacy of animation as it broadens its focus to feature films, seeking innovative techniques for enthralling audiences.

"We've enjoyed a reputation for pioneering work and a tradition of making the greatest animated shorts," he points out. "There was an irreverence in them. Now our goal is to bring that irreverence to our filmmaking, to try new things in storytelling as well as in graphic arts, and to share the world we've created in our minds - the world of enchantment and challenging adventure in Camelot."

So the story combines the humor and pathos of Kayley and Garrett's story against a lush visual background filled with adventure and music. "Camelot in this [film] is simply a metaphor for striving for excellence and moral goodness," explains Pinchot. "It's much more like The Wizard of Oz in structure in the sense that it's not really about the Emerald City, it's about getting to the Emerald City. It made a huge impression on me when I saw it."

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