JUSTIN AND THE KNIGHTS OF VALOURDirector: Manuel Sicilia
Cast: Antonio Banderas, Freddie Highmore, Saoirse Ronan, Mark Strong, Olivia Williams, Rupert Everett, Julie Walters, Alfred Molina, Charles Dance, Michael Culkin, James Cosmo, Barry Humphries, David Walliams
Run Time: 90 mins
Opens: 14 November 2013
Being the knight in shining armour who will fight for the fair maiden’s honour before taking her to a “castle far away” was cheesy when Peter Cetera sang about it in 1986, and it’s only cheesier now. Soft, sanitized and romanticised medieval fantasy has since been usurped by the likes of Game of Thrones, or has had the mickey taken out of it with comedies like The Princess Bride. Spanish animated film Justin and the Knights of Valour does nothing to make old-timey fantasy adventure cool again.
Justin (Highmore) dreams of taking up the sword as a knight like his grandfather, the legendary Sir Roland. Of course, Justin’s father Reginald (Molina), chief lawmaker of the land, is adamant that Justin go to law school instead. Encouraged by his kindly grandmother (Walters), Justin heads off to an abbey to train under elderly warrior-monks Blucher (Cosmo), Legantir (Dance) and Braulio (Humphries). He intends on winning the hand of the vapid Princess Lara (Egerton), but is eventually drawn to feisty barmaid Talia (Ronan) of the Broken Eagle Inn. The treacherous disgraced knight Heraclio (Strong) plans to usurp the throne, with flamboyant right-hand man Sota (Everett) by his side. The charlatan Sir Clorex (Banderas), a self-absorbed palace cleaner who poses as a knight, gets mixed up in all this too.
Justin and the Knights of Valour feels like a third-rate knock-off animated flick that would have been released in the mid to late 90s in order to ride on the Disney renaissance wave and is reminiscent of Quest for Camelot, The Swan Princess and its ilk. If it were any more formulaic, you could bottle it, slap a label on it and put it on a supermarket shelf. The young protagonist who goes against the desires of his parental unit to forge his own path and come of age, the figure from his family past that he has to confront, the wise and somewhat crusty old mentors who take him under their wing, the spirited lass who’s a better companion for him than the spoilt princess….check, check, check and – yawn – check.
Animation is a medium where it’s particularly obvious when something isn’t of a high level of quality, since every last thing on screen has to be drawn or otherwise animated from the ground up. You can’t go film in the historic train station to add production value with a cartoon. This reviewer will admit that the animation in Justin and the Knights of Valour isn’t quite as bad as he expected – there’s some decent fluid simulation going on – but it’s still bad. We understand it isn’t quite fair to stack Kandor Graphics against, say, Pixar, but there’s such an obvious gap in quality that it’s almost embarrassing.
There are many poorly-made animated films that somehow rack up an impressive cast, and this film is an example of that to a degree. The voice mix seems to lack a refinement and sticks out more than it should. Freddie Highmore sleep-talks his way through the film, audibly disinterested in the material. Mark Strong’s talents are entirely wasted as an unmemorable villain and Rupert Everett’s performance is so limp-wristed and camp, tents almost sprout up around his character. Antonio Banderas (who also produced this) was far better as Puss in Boots than as the Gaston-esque Clorex. David Walliams is amusing but borders on unbearable as the manic comic relief medium with a split personality. At least Saoirse Ronan and her wonderful Irish brogue seem to be having fun.
“It’s a kids’ film” is not an excuse for bad filmmaking. Justin and the Knights of Valour regurgitates a bog-standard “hero’s journey” plot, combines it with obvious, pratfall-heavy gag-based humour and unengaging animation for a wholly mediocre end result. Alright, the crocodile with the mechanical wings that the monks try and pass for a dragon is funny.
SUMMARY: Persistently uninspired and will be a chore for any parent to sit through. Our sympathies.
RATING: 2 out of 5 Stars