KING AND I, THEG
The King and I, Warner Bros.' latest foray into animated features, didn't seem to impress the young children at the screening this critic attended--there were lots of trips to the bathroom and to the concession stand---although Ian Richardson's delightfully evil Kralahome often drew their rapt attention. Kralahome, in fact, steals the show, and undermines the relationship between Anna (voice of Miranda Richardson) and the King (Martin Vidnovic) which is the centerpiece of the original film and musical. Kralahome is the King's jealous brother, who writes to the British ambassador claiming that the King is a barbarian. This leads to the dinner-party scene in which Anna attempts to save the King from the wrath of the British. However, Tuptim's wonderful play, a memorable part of the dinner party, as well as a dozen songs from the original version, are missing here. Gone, too, is the more believable romance involving Tuptim and one of her countrymen; here, she's in love with the Crown Prince of Siam. With these cuts go the subtle gender and race issues raised in the original film. Some delightful additions include the sequence that accompanies 'Getting to Know You,' in which Anna takes the children off the palace grounds to meet local people, and the charming animal characters, especially Rama, the royal panther, and Moonshee, a devilish monkey.
The archetypal elements of the original are also missing in this adaptation, since the King, although handing over his country to his son, does not die--in the last scene, he and Anna dance to the rousing 'Shall We Dance?' polka. Unlike the original, Anna does not represent the reforming influence which leads to the diminishment of the King's power. The subtext of the story, the sometimes lamentable decline of the old in favor of the new, and the irony of the King's vision of modernization which leads inevitably to his own decline, is essentially stripped from this version. While one could argue that children may not understand these forces, they represent the inspiration for this delightful musical, and are the emotional underpinning of the relationship between Anna and the King. The problem is this screenplay doesn't have any subtext; it's cotton-candy family entertainment--all sugar and no substance.
Unfortunately, the singing voices of Christiane Noll as Anna and Vidnovic as the King sound hollow when compared to Yul Brynner and Marni Nixon, the singing voice of Deborah Kerr in the original screen version. This may not matter to the children, however, only to the adults whose memories will be jogged by these enduring tunes.
The quality of the animation in The King and I is uneven, clever in some sequences and completely off the mark in others. For instance, Anna's strange dance with the ghost of her dead husband is wooden, and looks rather old-fashioned, while action sequences involving Moonshee and Rama are colorful and skillfully designed. With the exception of the slow-moving love scenes involving Tuptim and the Crown Prince, The King and I moves rather quickly. While adults may find themselves making the inevitable and mostly unsatisfying comparisons, children will at least be mildly amused, especially by the scene-stealing Kralahome.