Friday, March 19, 1999

Terrible reign

Movie: The King and I

Posted on Fri, Mar 19, 1999 at 4:00 AM

*
Our Rating: 1.00

So Bugs finally realized that Mickey is on to something and convinced the brothers Warner to come up with an animated film that follows the same tricks and conceits that Disney has been employing successfully for the past several decades. The destructive result is "The King and I," a film that the entire family can mutually despise.

Adapted liberally from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, but retaining the same songs, "The King and I" represents a bizarre and harebrained effort to emulate the Disney magic. The film, which feels even more dated than the 1956 live-action musical, opens with a boring display of credits, and as it slowly creaks into gear, it's easy to spot the attempts at Disneyfication. The most obvious being that the only "bad guy" in the original musical is the crusty King of Siam, so this mutated copy converts a minor character, the Kralahome, into the fey and devious villain "type" that has worked so well for Disney. It is a totally unnecessary rewrite.

Even more unnecessary is the introduction of a new character, Master Little. Drawn as a pudgy and toothy Asian, Master Little is supposed to be the equivalent of the hip Genie from "Aladdin." Voiced by "Saturday Night Live's" Darrell Hammond, Master Little is one of the most offensive Asian characters since Mickey Rooney's turn as Mr. Yunioshi in "Breakfast at Tiffany's."

Even more ridiculous is the attempt to make young Louis (voiced by Adam Wylie) appealing to a younger audience by making the lad's favorite catch phrase "cool." The film is set 100 years ago, remember?

Loveable animals, which Disney uses to extreme, are also thrown into the mix. Louis adopts a pet monkey and there's a tusk-impaired baby elephant. Can you say "Dumbo"?

You would think that given the great Rodgers and Hammerstein score, the creative team would leave well enough alone. But no. The opening song, "I Whistle a Happy Tune," sung as the evil Kralahome sends fiery dragons to attack the approaching seafaring vessel carrying the schoolteacher Anna to Siam, is presented in a preposterous minor mode, totally misrepresenting the song.

The only sure thing about this fiasco is that children will fidget and adults will be outraged at the bastardization of a musical classic.

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