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Recently, it seems like I have discovered a subsection of animated films that all have one thing in common, they were all in distribution limbo. This means that they originally had a plan or even a distributor to bring over to the states, but something kept them from coming out until much later. This might be a distributor going bankrupt, a controversy giving the film in question a toxic vibe, or the film couldn’t find a distributor. It happens all of the time, and for the sake of this review, I’m talking about newer films that are in this category. Seriously, Animal Crackers, Duck Duck Goose, Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarves, Charming, Gnome Alone, and you get the idea. Sadly, while I do support the idea that every film should get a chance to be seen, I think some sit in limbo for a reason. For example, let’s talk about what can be considered Vanguard Animation’s “best” film, Charming.
Directed by Ross Venokur, produced by John H. Williams, and finally brought to the states by Netflix, the film was produced by Vanguard Animation, Cinesite, and 3QU Media. It was supposed to be released back in 2017, but came out in 2018 in Spain, Europe, and Africa. Finally, on January 8th, 2021, the film came onto the Netflix service with very little fanfare. Sadly, that is the fate of many of these films outside of Animal Crackers, which had much more success. It doesn’t help either that a lot of this film’s marketing was relying on the fact that the producer worked on Shrek, a franchise that stopped being a thing back in 2011. After a while, you wonder why other films try to be like Shrek when everything was at peak form with Shrek 2 back in 2004. Anyway, what does Charming have to offer for a fantasy comedy? Well, let’s dive right in.
The plot of this film is as such. Prince Charming, voiced by Wilmer Valderrama, has been cursed, where women keep falling for him but he feels hollow and in no way shares the same feelings back for every woman. He has until his 21st birthday to break the curse by finding a woman who is his one true love. He is sent on a journey to conquer the curse by his father, King Charming, voiced by Jim Cummings. To help him on this journey, Charming runs into a thief named Lenore, voiced by Demi Lovato, who agrees to help him on this journey, but is contracted by an outside force to do so. Can the two break the curse and also avoid the grasp of the evil queen Nemeny Neverwish, voiced by Nia Vardalos?
So, this film’s entire gimmick is that since Prince Charming is a character in multiple fairy tale stories, what if he was all one person? Well, with that kind of gimmick, you could see a lot of potential with a satisfying story and great jokes. Sort of like last year’s Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarves, it feels like a fantasy comedy that’s almost there, but the overall experience is still undercooked. The jokes are there, the sequences are there, but it doesn’t go as far as something like Shrek 2, and even if I wasn’t constantly thinking about a classic fantasy comedy, Charming still feels underdeveloped for that genre. Some characters could have been easy points for comedy. For example, the fairy godmother is voiced by John Cleese, who is nowadays not the greatest person because of his offensive opinions. So, do they do something funny? Well, they have him speak in a faux female voice. That’s not funny. They could have easily let him talk in his normal speaking voice and it would have been funnier than what we got. Granted, any potential of enjoyment of seeing him is gone due to the goodwill he lost, but still. It would have been something. Another example is the equally problematic giant cannibals that the leads run into. Cultural appropriation aside, which is its distinct problem, they have a character who’s a prophet with one blind eye, so her prophecies are only true half of the time. Well, sadly, we have another case of the prophet being played by Sia. Outside of Sia’s recent pushback for her awful comments, her character is only half-realized. They make the prophet quirky, but not much else. Again, there are a few funny lines, but that’s not enough. We also have a villain who isn’t interesting or compelling. She does nothing, and leaves no real lasting impression.
It’s frustrating because there are some decent moments and elements of the film. The character chemistry between Charming and Lenore is solid, the animation, for Vanguard’s standards, is probably their best looking visually, and the song Trophy Boy, by Patrick Stump is a real bop of a song, and as I said, the music is solid. The comedy is the strongest element of the film, and while it feels like there are so many missed opportunities with this film, I still found myself laughing a couple of times. Not as much as Red Shoes and the Seven Dwarves, but still more so than most mediocre animated comedies. However, that is the biggest problem. Even when the film is at its best, it falls short.
The animation might be better than most Vanguard Animation films, but it still looks cheap with weird physics and movements. It’s a film that doesn’t hide its small budget well. The character designs aren’t all that appealing, and the, well, charming chemistry between the two leads is still undone by terrible and tired tropes that we have seen so many times before. The voice acting is decent, but outside of some of the voice actors attached to this film, the celebrities didn’t do much for me. The jokes might hit a couple of times, but they still fall flat most of the time. I might like the song Trophy Boy, but every other song? I don’t remember the other ones.
The overall foundation of the film is not solid enough to hold an entire story, and the writing, animation, and comedy aren’t strong enough to make this a wholly satisfying experience. It’s more frustrating than bad. I can tell by the time this year is done, this won’t be my choice for the worst animated film of 2021 though. I wish it was better because if it had a more cohesive base for jokes and comedy, we could have had a hidden gem. I can see this film may be getting a small cult following, but otherwise, there are better fantasy comedies out there. You could watch Sleepy Princess in the Demon Castle or Heaven’s Design Team, and the instant classic, Shrek 2. Oh well, next time, we will be talking about the newest film from an acclaimed studio, and I can’t tell you what it is. Oh well, you will have to find out what it is when it comes out.
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