Dec 19, 2014

Review: The Swan Princess: Escape from Castle Mountain (1997)

I would really like to know who made the decision to release The Swan Princess: Escape from Castle Mountain theatrically. The first movie was a pretty big bomb with less than $10 million at the box office on a $35 million budget. Maybe TSP:EfCM didn't have a very wide release, but it predictably failed to make much of an impact and was released on video only two months afterwards. The numbers just weren't there to begin with and I don't know who could've thought a second try was warranted.

The Swan Princess: Escape from Castle Mountain was the absolute perfect movie to be released direct-to-video.You know, the kind that would've been found in plentiful quantities in video rental stores in the kid section? Michelle Nicastro was the only voice actor to return which I suppose is pretty nice since she has the titular role. Oh, there's Steve Vinovich as Puffin as well. The fact that no one else returned is a pretty bad sign though. The animation also suffered very visably from some downgrading and the movie is barely over an hour long. All the ingredients were there for that perfect direct-to-video release.

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Genre: animation, family, fantasy
Directed by: Richard Rich
Produced by: Richard Rich, Jared F. Brown, K. Douglas Martin, etc.
Written by: Brian Nissen
Music by: Lex de Azevedo
Running time: 71 minutes
Production company: Nest Family Entertainment, Rich Animation Studios, Swan II LLC
Distributed by: Legacy Releasing Corporation, Columbia TriStar Film, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment, etc.
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: N/A
Box office: $273,644 (North America)

IMDb entry
Rotten Tomatoes entry

Starring: Michelle Nicastro, Douglas Sills, Jake Williamson, Christy Landers, Donald Sage Mackay, Doug Stone, Steve Vinovich, Joseph Medrano, James Arrington, Joey Camen, Owen Miller, Rosie Mann

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Synopsis


One year after the marriage of Princess Odette (voice: Michelle Nicastro) and Prince Derek (voice: Douglas Sills), the castle of Swan Lake has become their home. Their anniversary is interrupted by a fire in a nearby farm field which drives Derek into a frenzy trying to figure out who is responsible. As a result, he spends less and less time with Odette which saddens her a great deal. It turns out that Clavius, an old ally of Rothbart (the antagonist from The Swan Princess), is behind the attack and has many more evil plans up his sleeve to take over the kingdom.

Review


The thing that becomes achingly clear about The Swan Princess: Escape from Castle Mountain is just how much the animation has been downgraded. What still looks pretty good are the general environments and background elements like tress for example. Pretty much anything else that moves looks completely lifeless. Facial expressions also look totally exaggerated and I just really don't know how anyone could think that this movie could pass for a theatrical release.

Voice acting wasn't even much of a strength for The Swan Princess and it's even worse here. I'm sure that part of the problem here is Richard Rich's direction because it's unbelievable how pretty much every single character besides Odette and Derek is annoyingly over the top. That even goes for the villain Clavius, who makes Rothbart look and sound as good as Darth Vader because of his complete inability to be menacing in any sense. 

There are also way too many side characters who are pretty much only there are comedic diversions. There's lots of clumsiness and falling about that I'm sure kids will like, but it leaves a lot to be desired for anyone looking for some actual laughs. Bridget (Rosie Mann), Knuckles (Joey Camen) and Jean-Bob (Donald Sage Mackay) are the guiltiest of being those type of characters and their acts get tiring real fast.

The comedy is such an issue in TSP:EfCM that it makes the movie feel way longer than its 71 minute run time which is quite a feat. I haven't gotten to the songs yet which somehow are even worse than the ones in The Swan Princess. Lyrics are lazily written and if the songs aren't forgettable, they're annoyingly and memorably bad. The song No Fear is the one I'm referring to in this case and I'm struggling to get it out of my head.

I will say though that Lex de Azevedo actually does an OK job with the soundtrack of TSP:EfCM. I'm a fan of his use of synthesizers which makes the movie sound like it came out in 1987 and not 1997. It looks the part too anyway.

Last thing I want to mention before I bring this review to a close is the change in how animal and human characters interact. In the original Swan Princess, Odette is turned into a swan and she is incapable of talking to her hero Derek. In fact none of the animals can speak to humans, only to each other which makes sense. Did Brian Nissen and Richard Rich forget that? Why can Jean-Bob talk to Derek now? Why can any animal be understood at all by humans? I know that family fantasy movies aren't supposed to be models of logic, but where's the continuity?

The Swan Princess: Escape from Castle Mountain is pretty much as mediocre as you can expect from a not so good first movie. Richard Rich might have had grand ideas of taking over the territory that Disney occupied in the late 90's, but that's not going to happen with subpar movies like this. TSP:EfCM is a step down in every single regard pretty much and is an absolute chore to get through despite its shortness. If you're a big fan of The Swan Princess for whatever reason, I'd stay away from this one.

Rating


4/10