Once upon a time, a storyteller decided to make a fantasy tale for the whole family. The storyteller worked hard on their tale, honing it until it was ready for the people. It would have action, well-rounded characters, a fleshed out story world with rules and mechanics, and most importantly, be an original IP. And the people did say “WHAT THE HELL DO YOU MEAN IT’S NOT BASED ON SOME PREEXISTING PROPERTY!” And lo, did the people reject the storyteller’s tale for apparently an original story is anathema these days even though it’s quite a good film that doesn’t talk down to kids or dumb down for adults. Also if it did, I would still recommend The Kid Who Would Be King simply because it’s new and unique. Or at least as unique as a film based on King Arthur can be.
With a stained glass animation intro (which could have easily been the style of the whole film) old Merlin (Patrick Stewart) records the rise of King Arthur and his battle with his sister Morgana le Fay (Rebecca Ferguson) who promises to return and wreak vengeance against her brother’s kingdom. Jumping forward 1500 years we meet Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) and his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), thirteen-year-old social outcasts at school. After standing up to local bullies Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), Alex finds and draws a sword from the stone foundations of a construction site.
You can see where this is going.
Young Merlin (Angus Imrie), ageing backwards as per the legends, arrives to convince Alex that it is up to him and his knights to save Britain from Morgana’s return.
I’m quite pissed off that this film bombed at the box office. Not as much as director Joe Cornish I’d assume but still pretty pissed off it did so poorly. While the story of a young boy standing up to a supernatural villain is so old that it’s being considered as the next host of Strictly, this feels like the first time in a long time it’s been done well. The characters have growth and dimension, goals to achieve and personal drives that help them get there. Alex is not the chosen one because of some prophecy or because he’s born to it. It’s his strength of character, his personal experiences that shape him; which is a far better message to kids that “Only people born as the plot hero can be the hero.” A repeated theme in the film is that the world is a burning bin, but that doesn’t mean you have to accept it because everyone else does. Though following a self-proclaim king kind of widdles on the anti-conformity message somewhat.
There is a subplot running through Kid about Alex’s missing father and Alex’s belief that he is the key to stopping Morgana. It’s not what you think it will be, however, and as part of the lynchpin of Alex’s character arc, it is, and not just for a family movie, handled maturely and honestly.
Stewart and Imrie are having fun with their depiction of Merlin, just slightly off and alien, both formal and relaxed. With both actors playing the same character interchangeably, they bounce off one another, so we have a single role rather than two editions of it. Ferguson’s Morgana is genuinely creepy, even without the need for prosthetics and CGI.
But Kid is not without its problems.
For one thing, while Morgan is menacing and provides the narration, she also flat out tells the audience the characters drives, goals, weaknesses, and how she will exploit them. It’s as far away from ‘show don’t tell’ as humanly possible. And then there are the pop culture references. Oh God, the pop culture references. Look, Tarantino uses them to the same excess amount, but he weaves them into being part of a natural sounding dialogue. In Kid, they will date it quicker than anything. Not might, flat out will.
But these are little grips, and it doesn’t ruin the film. The disc comes with making-of featurettes and deleted scenes.
So do you let this film slip you by the way it did in the cinema or do you go out and watch something new and novel, making it this year’s sleeper hit? It’s not perfect, but what is except Tom Waits?
Dir: Joe Cornish
Scr: Joe Cornish
Cast: Patrick Stewart, Rebecca Ferguson, Louis Ashbourne Serkis, Dean Chaumoo, Tom Taylor, Rhianna Dorris, Angus Imrie
Prd: Tim Bevan, Eric Fellner, Nira Park
DOP: Bill Pope
Music: Electric Wave Bureau
Runtime: 120 minutes
The Kid Who Would Be King is available on Digital, Blu-Ray and DVD now.