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DVD REVIEW: Justin and the Knights of Valor

DVD REVIEW: Justin and the Knights of Valor

strange happens when watching this film. For the first sixteen minutes, there
are uncomfortable limitations in the animation that only its spectacular art
direction and the detailed textures make it possible to overlook. Too much
story information is setting itself up. Far too many characters are introduced.
It’s tricky to keep track of who is who. The character’s names, most of them
long and complex, are not repeated enough to learn.

Giving the artists
the benefit of the doubt, the plasticity of the character renderings is
balanced by the expressive nature of the poses, likely a result of very strong
storyboards. But relative “weights” of characters and objects don’t always ring
true. The story teeters between “been there, done that” and “should I care,
since I’m lost anyway.”

But then, 16
minutes and 45 seconds into the film, Justin
and the Knights of Valor
 (available on DVD and blu ray on July 22nd via Arc Entertainment) really begins where it should have. Young Justin
(voice of Freddie Highmore) starts on his way to the training grounds, first
stopping at a pub housing the film’s most interesting characters—Talia, a
likable barmaid (Saoirse Ronan), and Melquaides or “Mel” (Little Britain’s
David Walliams), a “mystic” with two personalities.

Mel is the
most amusing character in the movie. He talks to his “other self “ like Gollum
in the Lord of the Rings films, but
he can move so fast from one place to another, he often is seen literally as
two people. It’s a pure animation conceit, and very clever.

When Justin
leaves the pub and resumes his journey, this is where film’s title should come
onto the screen. Next, we meet Justin’s trainers, another set of
better-realized characters (voiced by James Cosmo, Charles Dance and Barry
“Dame Edna” Humphries). Though we’ve been here before in Kung Fu Panda, How to Train Your Dragon and The Karate Kid, the sequence still works, with amusing side gags
including a room sized miniature chess-like tableaux that is constantly in
danger of being destroyed.

There is no
denying that this film feels derivative of How
to Train Your Dragon
, but it has no genuine magicians, fairies or dragons
(except for a ridiculous makeshift fire-breather). Justin must accomplish his
quest on his own. The story puts one more in the mind of The Sword in the Stone (T.H. White’s, not Disney’s).

Here is a an exclusive clip from the film.

The film’s
“presenter,” Antonio Banderas, gives a fine comic performance in the role of
charlatan Sir Clorex, the type of macho buffoon that Patrick Warburton
practically patented. But with a few exceptions, the film tends to lean toward
characters who are act silly but aren’t largely funny. Considering that this was
made in today’s more sensitive age, it’s disconcerting there is such a
stereotypical character in Sota (Rupert Everett). Did Everett know that his
character would be animated in such a mincing, Monty Python way? Sota continues
to be a broad caricature in the second half of the film, but his flouncing
isn’t as pronounced.

No kidding,
you could cut out the first 16 minutes and 45 seconds and have a very
entertaining motion picture in which most of its shortcomings are less
pronounced. All the plot points are repeated and clarified, including a very
nice two-dimensional retelling of the story of Justin’s grandfather. Characters
come along when they should, in due time—and their names are given more
frequently as the film progresses.

climactic battle is inevitable and predictable, but nevertheless exciting and
suspenseful. Because Justin has to train and learn rather than get assistance
from magic or sidekicks, the movie sends a strong message to kids about seeking
goals with hard work and no shortcuts.

Eskeri’s score is suitably sweeping to buoy the action and breathtaking visuals;
a handful of contemporary tunes recall the tunes in Treasure Planet. While incongruous to the storybook setting, the
songs are not intrusive. Had this film begun at 16:45, one ballad that provides
a “heart moment” would not slow the film at all, but would only make the viewer
more invested in Justin’s situation.

Watch Justin and the Knights of Valor from the
beginning and it’s a passable diversion with technical issues that are hard to
ignore. But watch it from 16:45 and it becomes a more solid film in which its
shortcomings are overshadowed by the brisk pace, nicely balanced character
interaction, and—while still not an A-lister by any stretch—a handsome and
engaging entertainment.

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