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KING AND I, THE (anim, 1998)

Loosely based on the musical play, the film still tells of English schoolteacher Anna (Miranda Richardson) arriving in 19th-century Siam to educate the children of the King (Martin Vidnovic). The relationship between Anna and her employer takes a backseat to the machinations of prime minister Kralahome (Ian Richardson). He's been transformed into a psychopath intent on overthrowing the King with the help of a Buddha-shaped accomplice who keeps losing teeth and getting into coconut fights with a monkey. And in a somewhat less contrived use of artistic licence, the King's slave girl Tuptim now has the hots for the prince (instead of the original's Burmese paramour), a forbidden affair that forces the King to re-evaluate his traditional ways.

"The story of Anna Leonowens and her experiences as governess to the King of Siam have been filmed twice before - in 1946 as Anna and the King of Siam with Rex Harrison and Irene Dunne and (most notably) 10 years later in The King and I starring Yul Brynner and Deborah Kerr. Very soon, the number of film versions will double with the upcoming Jodie Foster/Chow Yun Fat adaptation and this animated feature. While the film takes Walter Langís musical version with its songs by Rodgers and Hammerstein as its starting point, director Richard Rich makes no bones about his film being aimed squarely at children. Heís quoted as saying 'While families are already familiar with the story, we wanted to bring it to them in a way that would preserve the classic songs but would be completely accessible to young children.' This is achieved by the addition of several familiar Disney-style devices - a bumbling sidekick, cute animal characters and a swashbuckling finale. From a puristís point of view, these are distractions; but it must be said the young audience at the preview I attended lapped it up. Thankfully, most of the Rodgers and Hammerstein music is preserved, and (sung by a cast of experienced Broadway performers) and those musical moments are highlights. The King and I is a worthwhile introduction for children to the magic of the earlier movies (my 4 year old said it was "fantastic"); but for all you "old timers" out there - go rent the video of the 1956 film."
David Edwards

"What a wonderful idea it must have been to transform a classic stage musical into an animated film. The film's one plus is reminding us of how glorious the Rogers and Hammerstein score is. When the film manages to occasionally stick to the play, it's charmingly affable, but mostly it drifts excessively and becomes a stupid film about an evil prime minister and his toothless sidekick, which bows to the pressure of appealing shamelessly to children. Yet these sequences are bland and uninteresting, and we've seen this before. In addition, given how far animation has come, this film is amateurish on a technical level. Clearly rushed, King and I is poorly drawn, with one-dimensional background images looking as if they'd been painted by high school students. Characterisation is thin, vocal talents under-utilised. Only the music keeps one vaguely in tune with this otherwise obtuse and underwhelming work. My advice is to close your eyes, enjoy the music and whistle a happy tune without suffering the narrative."
Paul Fischer

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VOICES: Miranda Richardson, Martin Vidnovic, Christiane Noll, Ian Richardson, and Darryl Hammond

DIRECTOR: Richard Rich

PRODUCERS: Peter Bakalian, Robert Mandel, Arthur Rankin Jr., James G. Robinson

SCRIPT: Richard Rodgers, Oscar Hammerstein II, Arthur Rankin, (adaptation)

Peter Bakalian and Jacqueline Feather, David Seidler; Brian Nissan (additional dialogue)

SUPERVISING ANIMATOR: Colm Duggan, Patrick Gleeson

EDITOR: James Koford

MUSIC: Richard Rodgers

RUNNING TIME: 87 minutes


AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: June 17, 1999 Brisbane;

June 24 Melbourne;

July 1 Sydney, Adelaide, Perth

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