Dec 15, 2014

Review: The Swan Princess (1994)

I'm sorry, but I never heard of The Swan Princess when I was younger. It was however one of the larger profile animated releases that wasn't under the Disney banner at the time besides what Don Bluth was putting out. With a lot of budget sunk into high quality traditional hand-painted cel animation, you got to give ex-Disney director Richard Rich credit for trying to compete with the giant that Disney was at the time though. From 1989-1999, this was Disney's Renaissance and a period of time where they could do no wrong.

It's a true David vs. Goliath story and one that didn't end well for David. It was competing with a lot of big movies at the box office as well as what some see as an act of sabotage by Disney. A re-issue of The Lion King was released at the same time, leaving The Swan Princess without much of a fighting chance to capture the family market. With only a little under $10 million earned domestically, The Swan Princess transitioned into nothing more than a cheap direct-to-video series.


Genre: animation, comedy, family
Directed by: Richard Rich
Produced by: Richard Rich, Jared F. Brown, Seldon Young, etc.
Written by: Brian Nissen
Music by: Lex de Azevedo
Running time: 86 minutes
Production company: Nest Family Entertainment, Rich Animation Studios
Distributed by: New Line Cinema, Alliance, Columbia TriStar Films AB, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $35,000,000
Box office: $9,771,658 (North America)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Michelle Nicastro, Howard McGillin, Sandy Duncan, Jack Palance, John Cleese, Steven Wright, Steve Vinovich, Liz Callaway, Adrian Zahiri, Larisa Oleynik, Adam Wylie, J.D. Daniels, Lex de Azevedo, David Zippel, Jonathan Hadary, Dakin Matthews, Mark Harelik, Joel McKinnon Miller


Two widowed monarchs try to bring their two kingdoms together through the marriage of their children. King William (voice: Dakin Matthews) and Queen Uberta (voice: Sandy Duncan) do their best to make their respective children fall in love with each other, but success is far from assured. Only in adulthood do Princess Odette (voice: Michelle Nicastro) and Prince Derek (voice: Howard McGillin) finally fall in love. However, things come to a screeching halt when banished sorcerer Lord Rothbart (voice: Jack Palance) kidnaps Princess Odette and turns her into a swan.


The story which is supposed to be based on the ballet Swan Lake doesn't seem all that different from the kind of thing you'd see in an older Disney movie. While I began to feel like this would come off as a completely outdated story for a movie in this day and age, there's a healthy dose of modernism that's put in. Once Prince Derek realizes that he's in love with Princess Odette, all he can say is that she's beautiful which isn't enough for her and she leaves him hanging. That's a nice touch if you ask me because I was beginning to think that The Swan Princess was going too far with the arranged marriage thing.

There's also a healthy dose of humour that's put in, but I'd term it more as "too healthy a dose." There are a couple of funny moments in TSP but most of it falls flat on its face. I'm not sure if it's simply a matter of having aged badly, but Brian Nissen's script definitely struck me as one that was trying a bit too hard to be funny and memorable. A bunch of silly talking animals with accents as well as many examples of characters bumbling around isn't really all that effective.

The animation is definitely better than I was expecting though. While it isn't the finest work I've ever seen and it has its fair share of jittery moments during faster paced scenes, I enjoyed it overall. Some of the locations are more than easy on the eyes and it's a movie that's very rich in colour.

The songs however are a major weakness if you compare them to what Disney puts out and that's an unavoidable comparison. The transition into songs are at times very weak and the lyrics also leave quite a bit to be desired. There's maybe one or two songs that are actually decent, but every other song is completely forgettable. Clearly Disney had the best of the best for songwriters at the time, leaving everyone else with very little to work with.

There are however some surprisingly tense and dramatic moments in The Swan Princess. (Spoilers) Derek mistaking Odette in her swan form as a monster and trying to hunt her down with a bow and arrow is definitely one of those moments. Same thing goes for Odette's desperate attempts at getting Derek's attention while he's about to pledge his love to the wrong person. (End Spoilers) Unfortunately there isn't really enough to escape the overall flatness that The Swan Princess really is.

While I was expecting maybe a bit worse, The Swan Princess isn't all that spectacular, comes off as slightly derivative and in quite a few ways, dull. Songs feel like a waste of time and the humour doesn't lighten the load in any way either. A shame that John Cleese decided to voice a frog with a French accent because he could've had the Zazu role in The Lion King instead. It's kind of offensive in fact no? It's not a big deal I guess, but I think Richard Rich should know better than having a French frog character.



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