The King and I

* 1/2*

The King and I at first seems like simply an animated adaptation of the Broadway musical. But, upon closer inspection, it is a actually only partially an adaptation, mixing in new "kid-friendly" (and very familiar) characters and subplots. Unfortunately, the two never quite mix, and the resulting movie is too adult for kids, and too childlike for adults.

Those familiar with the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical will recognize the rough outline of the plot. A British schoolteacher, Anna (Miranda Richardson, Christiane Noll singing), travels to Siam to be the tutor to the children of the King (Martin Vidnovic).

Forbidden love is very much the subject of the film, occurring not once, but twice. Anna falls in love with the King, but, more unforgivably, the King's eldest son falls in love with a servant girl.

The cartoon adds another plot, in an attempt to keep the kiddies interested. The King's advisor, The Kralahome (Ian Richardson), is plotting to steal the throne of Siam for himself. He plans to use his wizardly powers of illusion to convince the British to move in and replace the King. To add comic relief, he has a bumbling (and rather stereotypical) sidekick, Master Little (Darrell Hammond).

It is the addition of this secondary plot that leads to many of the problems with The King and I. Children will find the "forbidden love" plot dull and uninteresting, and adults will find the evil wizard plot painful and distracting. Rather than seeming like one film, able to be enjoyed on multiple levels, The King and I feels like two half-completed films, neither of which is satisfactory.

This might be forgivable if both plots could stand by themselves. However, the romantic plot has been gutted to a mere shell of itself. And the scheming-royal-counselor bit was done much better (and with much more humor) inAladdin.

The animation of The King and I is better than your standard direct-to-television fare, but not by much. It certainly doesn't hold a candle to most recent animated feature films.

The film's strongest point is easily its music. Despite all of the nonsensical distractions onscreen (whose idea was it to add a fire breathing dragon to this story?), the tunes still manage to hold their own.

The end result of The King and I is rather pointless. Children who are too young to be entertained by the main plot will find only slight distractions in the questionable comic relief. Older kids would probably enjoy the 1956 musical just as well. It's certainly hard to recommend a film that plays better with your eyes closed.

[G] (WB)


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