I was always rooting for another studio to have the success Disney did with animation. As much as I loved Disney, the formula was so predictable it seemed shocking no one else could duplicate it. A social outcast leaves home to find a surrogate family and return to take their rightful place. That’s The Lion King, Little Mermaid, Mulan and many more.
I liked Fox’s Anastasia, but they still closed up shop so I was hopeful WB could become a reliable animation house. Quest for Camelot certainly followed the formula to a T but I enjoyed it. Unfortunately, its failure caused problems for the far superior and more original Iron Giant, and after the half live-action Osmosis Jones, Warner Animation has been predominantly straight to video.
Kaylee (Jessalyn Gilsig) is a headstrong woman (like Belle) out of place in Arthurian time. Her father died (like every Disney movie) protecting King Arthur (Pierce Brosnan) in a coup attempt by the evil Ruber (Gary Oldman because of course). 10 years later, Kaylee wants to become a knight and recover the stolen Excalibur. She doesn’t even know what a damsel is so how can she be one? When Ruber builds an army of sentient medieval weapons (long story), even Kayley’s mom (Jane Seymour) agrees she should warn Arthur. But Kayley’s gonna beat Ruben to Excalibur.
Along the way she meets Garrett (Cary Elwes), a blind hermit who can fight like Rutger Hauer in Blind Fury. Kaylee annoys Garrett at first so you know where this is going. What is a familiar cliche to adults though is a positive message for kids. Don’t judge people on first impressions. You may actually like them if you get to know them.
Really, a 2D toon didn’t have a chance in 1998. This was the year computer animation proved itself. If Toy Story may have been just a fluke, the fall’s Antz and Bug’s Life would prove it was not. Disney still scored that summer with Mulan but it was no time for a newbie.
The music wasn’t bad. It’s no “Circle of Life” or “Be Our Guest” but I’d put it over Hercules or Tarzan. “My Father’s Wings” is Kayley’s I Want song with rousing power chords. It’s a pretty admirable way to spin tragedy as positive motivation to honor his legacy. “I Stand Alone” is another rousing anthem to the empowerment of independence. Of course, Garrett will learn there are advantages to letting people in.
Ruber screams his villain song trying to put Jeremy Irons Jeremy Irons. The two headed dragon (Erik Idle and Don Rickles) sing the comic relief song “If I Didn’t Have You” in the vein of “Hakuna Matata” (it’s even got a Lion King shot) and “Friend Like Me.” Even Ceine Dion fresh off Titanic couldn’t sell this. Most Disney movies only have five songs. This has seven.
I can certainly see the animation isn’t as smooth as Disney. For a movie based on the action packed knights of Camelot, everyone moves a little bit too slow and unsure. A computer generated ogre is jarring against the 2D style, mainly because it looks like unrendered CG. It’s still a noticeable improvement over weekday TV animation of the ‘90s. It’s entirely watchable for a fun musical adventure, with bright, colorful backdrops and characters.
It’s really positive on many levels. It empowers both its female and blind heroes. The conjoined dragon learns to use their powers together. It makes me sad that Quest for Camelot was rejected, but now kids flock to see Minions babble, or animals sing pop songs.
Quest for Camelot became the first dvd I ever owned because it was released right when I got my first player in December of 1998. My sister bought it for me actually.
After the ‘90s, Dreamworks would become the only real competitor to Disney. Movies like Antz, Shrek, Shark Tale, Madagascar and more followed the Disney formula, in some cases in the same milieu (bugs, underwater, even monsters to some degree).
Honestly, even without the unjust dumping of Iron Giant the following year, would it have been so bad to have an annual B animation offering? I know people like Illumination but certainly Quest for Camelot is better than The Nut Job and Free Birds. And they would have gotten better with more movies to practice. But they gave up after Quest bombed so we’ll never know what 18 animated movies we could have seen in the past two decades.