I have to push the pram a lot.
To help out on the reviewing duties for this ambitious but uninspiring early ’90s animated series, we’ve brought in a special guest reviewer: the rarely-seen and practically nonexistent knight of King Arthur’s roundtable, Sir Rudolpho.
DVD Verdict: Thanks for joining us today, Sir Rudolpho.
Sir Rudolpho: Zounds, man! There be lights coming from thine ceiling! And in this box upon thy wall, the pictures are moving!
(We pause here to give Sir Rudolpho a crash course in modern-day electronics, including televisions and DVD players.)
Rudolpho: Truly, thou livest in an age of wonders.
Verdict: By the time this second volume of The Legend of Prince Valiant begins, Valiant (Robby Benson, Beauty and the Beast) has succeeded in his quest to find Camelot and he has become a knight. Now, he and his pals Arn (Michael Horton, Star Trek: Insurrection) and Roanne (Noelle North, The Smurfs) act as sort of an Arthurian police force, riding around the country solving problems and helping people. Valiant falls in love with a Viking princess, and eventually uncovers a conspiracy that threatens the fall of Arthur and the end of the noble ideals of Camelot.
Rudolpho: Viking women? Bah! They doth not shave their legs.
Verdict: This series was made with some pretty lofty goals in mind. Airing on prime time, it was intended to be a truly all-ages show, with swordplay and action aimed for the kids, and dramatic serialized plotlines for the adults. Unfortunately, the animation never reaches the same level of “big and operatic” that the writers intended. The designs are nice, but the characters’ movements and expressions often seem flat and lifeless.
Rudolpho: Zounds, never didst I think the tales of Arthur and his knights would lull me to sleep, but nay, I was lulled so.
Verdict: Valiant goes through quite the journey throughout this series, starting alone in wilderness in the first few episodes, and ultimately winding up as a major player in Camelot’s court in the final story arc. And yet, there’s no sense that he ever changes during any of this. He’s the same wide-eyed, idealistic kid that he was when all this began.
Rudolpho: Why doth Valiant speak all his lines in that soft, whispery voice? ‘Tis not the voice of a knight. It doth not strike fear into the hearts of thine enemies. Forsooth, it maketh him sound like a wimp.
Verdict: This second volume delves deeper into the political machinations of Camelot, so we get a lot more screen time for King Arthur (Efrem Zimbalist Jr., Babylon 5) and Merlin (Alan Oppenheimer, Skeletor from He-Man). Queen Guinevere (Samantha Eggar, The Phantom) even gets in on the action.
Rudolpho: By my halidom, that Guinevere is one hot mama.
Verdict: Careful there. That kind of thinking is only going to get you into trouble. Anyway, each story arc here has its own villain, but the action usually comes around to the old standbys, Mordred and Lady Morgana, who become Valiant’s chief nemeses.
Rudolpho: How doth Mordred speak with that metal thingie on his face? Shouldn’t he talketh out the side of his mouth like a drunken Visigoth or an ale-drenched Etruscan?
Verdict: I don’t know either. Still, the big good-versus-evil conflict ends up being a lot of talking with only sporadic action at best. When the fate of Camelot is at stake, we don’t really feel the weight of the crisis like we should.
Rudolpho: Never hast I seen so many warriors in the heat of battle swinging their swords around without ever once harming their opponents. Zounds, do they not knowest how sharp a sword be?
Verdict: You keep saying that word, “zounds.” What does that mean exactly?
Rudolpho: ‘Tis short for “God’s wounds.”
Verdict: So it’s blasphemy?
Verdict: Moving on, this five-disc set contains the show’s final 32 episodes. The picture quality is at times rough, but with bright colors nonetheless. The stereo sound is not as rich as it could be, but shows few flaws. In the interviews and commentaries, the creators and voice actors express how proud they are of their work in the series. There’s a slideshow and still galleries of original art from animators, and, for some reason, photos of the voice actors. Finally, there’s a bonus episode of Defenders of the Earth, in which the retro-heroes of that series do some time-traveling and team up with Prince Valiant. All this does is remind viewers of how that show was so much more fun and exciting than Prince Valiant.
Rudolpho: If this “Phantom” be a jungle man, why doth he wear purple tights?
Verdict: I doubt even Merlin could answer that question. Say, Sir Rudolpho, your flagon of mead looks like it’s getting empty. Why don’t you head off to the kitchen for a refill?
Rudolpho: If any dragons arise upon my journey to thine refrigerator, they shall be slain, for the glory of Camelot!
(He draws his sword and races out of the room.)
OK, now that he’s gone, let’s talk seriously for a moment. Writers and filmmakers like to whine about critics, and not without good reason. They work hard on their art, and along comes a critic who writes numerous negative things about it, going so far as to sarcastically create a fictional character to make a review even snarkier than usual. But all jokes aside, I don’t necessarily enjoy pointing out the many flaws in The Legend of Prince Valiant. I actually admire the creators for being ambitious, and I applaud them for trying something smarter and more adult within the medium of animation. The finished product, though, just doesn’t live up to their intentions. If you’re looking for some retro animated adventures, I’m afraid your dollar is best spent elsewhere.