Adapting the stories of King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table is nothing new to the people at Disney, as they already gave us the animated classic The Sword and the Stone, yet with A Kid in King Arthur’s Court, we not only get another King Arthur movie from Disney, but also their second adaptation of Mark Twain’s novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court — the previous incarnation being the goofy sci-fi fantasy movie Unidentified Flying Oddball back in 1978. Unfortunately, this swing of the bat is a clear miss.
If possible, A Kid in King Arthur’s Court is an even looser adaptation of Mark Twain’s novel than the Unidentified Flying Oddball was and being that film involved a space shuttle and robots, that is saying something. This ’90s take on the story is more a case of “Rookie of the Year meets Medieval Times.” The protagonist of this story is one Calvin Fuller (Thomas Ian Nicholas), a Little League baseball player so bad at the game that he’s too terrified to even swing at the ball. After another pathetic strike-out at bat, Calvin finds himself thrown back in time — due to an earthquake opening a rift that plunges him back into the Dark Ages — where his impromptu arrival lands him on the head of the Black Knight, causing him to accidentally save the Crown Jewels of Camelot in the process.
Calvin quickly finds himself mixed up in court intrigue as this particular King Arthur (Joss Ackland) is a doddering ruler and Guinevere is long dead as is the wizard, Merlin, while the evil Lord Belasco (Art Malik) has been robbing the citizens’ blind in the name of the king. For some reason, Belasco considers Calvin a threat, accuses him of being a spy, and challenges him to Trial by Combat, but as Calvin is the one being challenged, he has the choice of weapons so he chooses “Combat Rock” and proceeds to attach his Sony Discman to a couple of drinking horns. The Rock and Roll cacophony that follows shocks the court and drives Belasco from the room; it’s this scene that pretty much sets the tone for the rest of the film. Throughout the movie, Calvin will use various modern objects, whether found in his knapsack or redesigned by the local blacksmith, to thwart the evil machinations of Lord Belasco.
As the goal with most Arthurian villains, Belasco wants the throne for himself, but as the King’s eldest daughter, Princess Sarah (Kate Winslet), has refused to marry any of her suitors — she’s hung up on the whole “marry for love” thing — whom she marries will now be settled at the upcoming tournament, something Belasco would rather avoid. Meanwhile, Calvin starts to fall in love with the King’s youngest daughter, Princess Katey (Paloma Baeza), and much of the film’s run-time is spent with him teaching her about rollerblading, bicycling, and eating Big Macs. The fish out of water element of this story is quite downplayed and instead, it focuses more on Calvin developing a backbone and learning to fight. He is introduced to the castle’s swordmaster Kane (Daniel Craig), who tries to teach him swordplay and jousting, but Kane’s real purpose in the plot of this movie is his being the secret lover of Princess Sarah.
Now, to call what follows a “plot” is using the term rather loosely as A Kid in King Arthur’s Court isn’t all that concerned with story structure or even making a lick of sense. We get Calvin communicating with the spirit of Merlin (Ron Moody) through a magic well — Merlin’s terrible spellcasting from beyond the grave being responsible for Calvin’s arrival in Camelot — and Lord Belasco’s moronic plot to seize the throne (a plot that involves kidnapping Princess Kate so as to force Princess Sarah to marry him, “If you do not consent then Princess Katherine will die”). That he then accuses Calvin of murdering Princess Kate and orders him arrested is not only moronic but makes no sense as there is nobody to prove a murder took place. Also, if Katey were actually dead, he’d lose his hold on Princess Sarah. The problem here is that Belasco’s power behind the throne is never made clear. Is King Arthur simply a puppet and all the knights and nobles secretly support Lord Belasco? If so, why not simply seize the throne? If Belasco doesn’t have the military support needed to overthrow Arthur once his plot is exposed, which is exactly what would happen once Sarah was either returned or confirmed as being murdered, nothing would stop either Sarah or the King from ordering his execution. This entire film hinges on the audience not giving anything we hear or see a second thought.
• Ron Moody seems to be reprising his role as Merlin from Unidentified Flying Oddball.
• I’m not sure “Combat Rock” could be considered a form of weaponry. I was kind of hoping he’d challenge Belasco to a Battle of the Bands.
• No matter how talented a 6th-century blacksmith was, he would not be able to build functional rollerblades with the tools and materials of the time.
• Calvin uses Krazy Glue to stick his hands to the lance as well as his butt to the saddle, but when he is unhorsed, saddle and all, his hands and butt are miraculously freed.
• Belasco’s plans at first seem to be derived from him not wanting to participate in the tournament (him being a weaselly court flunky this would be understandable), but then he turns out to be very good at jousting and he takes out several knights. So what’s his deal?
• King Arthur announces that all freedmen can enter the tournament, which would allow Master Kay to compete and win the hand of Princess Sarah, but why couldn’t he simply grant knighthood to Kay in the first place?
The only interesting element of A Kid in King Arthur’s Court is the reveal that the shadowy Black Knight was not actually a villain at all — he’s seen by Calvin and Katey giving food to the starving populace of Camelot and even gives aid to Calvin and Arthur — but the even bigger reveal is that the Black Knight is none other than Princess Sarah herself, who wins the tournament and her right to choose her own husband. If this film had ditched the whole Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court aspect and just made a movie about Kate Winslet the badass princess, with Daniel Craig as her love interest, we’d have had a much better movie. Instead, what we are left with is a lame comedy and plot that couldn’t withstand the scrutiny of a ten-year-old. A Kid in King Arthur’s Court is a film to be avoided, but if you’d like to watch a fun Disney take on the Mark Twain story, then do check out 1978’s Unidentified Flying Oddball; it’s a lot more fun.
A Kid in King Arthur’s Court (1995)
Movie Rank - 3.5/10
I didn’t go into a viewing of A Kid in King Arthur’s Court with much in the way of high expectations but even by light children’s fare, this thing was a huge miss fire. The only reason to check out this film would be to see the early works of Kate Winslet and Daniel Craig, but it’s hardly worth it.