½*/**** Image C Sound C Extras C
starring Jason Alexander, Mary Steenburgen, Reese Witherspoon, Seth Green
screenplay by Judy Rothman Rofe, based on the book by E.B. White
directed by Richard Rich, Terry L. Noss
by Walter Chaw Gracelessly-animated, unevenly voice-acted, and so carelessly told that it's often unintentionally disturbing (our human hero fries eggs for breakfast when he meets our swan hero), Rich-Crest Animation's The Trumpet of the Swan is an embarrassing cut-rate cartoon based on E.B. White's melancholy 1970 novel. It strips White's wonderful prose to its base essentials, inserts vulgar slapstick involving a skunk, a jive-turkey squirrel, and an aborted Graduate intrigue, and opens with an off-putting and borderline tasteless Lamaze egg-birthing prologue. Its catalogue of atrocity is so variegated and pungent that to list them all would be more effort than has in fact gone into the film's production. Absolutely the only saving grace for this slack entertainment is its modest length--which, at a brisk 75 minutes, still plays like a film twice as long.
Following the travails of mute trumpeter swan Louie (voice of Dee Baker) as he learns to play trumpet like his Satchmo namesake (it's "Louis" in the book) and read and write in a human school, The Trumpet of the Swan dutifully softens the ferociously romantic elements of White's classic fable en route to squeezing out a sickly-sweet series of small trials and simplistic resolutions. It lacks depth, focus, and emotion while insulting all but the most immature audiences with its rote dedication to exhausted conventions. The Trumpet of the Swan is so feeble that it's not even capable of following through on its own tired plot points: When Louie inevitably breaks up the bad marriage of his beloved Serena (Reese Witherspoon), there is a missing corresponding scene of Louie and Serena getting married, making their inevitable offspring a sticky and unintentional moral dilemma of the film.
Jason Alexander's bombastic voice work is interesting only as a distracting reminder of his brilliant work on the late, lamented USA Network weekly "Duckman", and those hoping that not having to look at Mary Steenburgen's mealy facial gesticulations would aid immeasurably in appreciating the actress's mealy vocal simpering will be deeply disappointed. Worst of all, in a film preaching the importance of finding an individual voice while accepting the vocal peculiarities of others, a throwaway line involving how French bellhops "talk funny" is unwelcome and maddening, if true. While the best moment of the film comes when Louie, in Vonnegut fashion, flips through White's Stuart Little, the bird is flipping through it backwards, thus betraying the Korean heritage of The Trumpet of the Swan's doubtlessly overworked and embittered crew of animators.
Overlooking an evil storekeeper who has a Hitler moustache when he's being evil and a normal moustache when he's being contrite, The Trumpet of the Swan trundles out such hambone has-beens as Carol Burnett and Joe Mantegna to lend overwrought, desperate vocal performances that would be awful even if the mouth-movements of their alter-egos ever once matched the words they were saying. It's a jaw-droppingly repugnant display of incompetence and a cynical statement of the widely-held belief that children's entertainment can be any kind of innocuous tripe no matter how hypocritical or feckless. The same parents who would never settle for third-rate toys or unsafe vintage car seats blithely accept entertainments that will make their child as pliant and daft as bags of hair. Rather than succumbing to the pathetic urge to excuse The Trumpet of the Swan as "for kids," shouldn't it be held to a higher standard for that very reason?
Columbia TriStar's DVD of The Trumpet of the Swan comes in both an anamorphic widescreen and fullscreen. Though the transfer is adequate, the animation is so poor that it wouldn't matter if you could download it synaptically into your vision centres--it would still look like garbage. At the least, there are no signs of print damage (probably because any print of it was played for but a few days before being sent back) and no digital artifacts or speckling. The Dolby 5.1 audio is fine, but as the two front channels are the only ones ever utilized, it's hard to justify the juice it takes to run the six-speaker home theatre during a screening. The movie acts like a mass-produced Saturday morning Svengali filler, and would probably sound as good on television speakers as it does on a Dolby system. I'm loathe, however, to give it another run-through to test that theory.
A "Guess the Sound" game expects the only age group young enough to actually want to try it out to either be bored (trumpet noise, flute noise, violin noise) or asked to attempt the nigh-impossible challenge of matching an orchestra flourish with a drawing of sheet music. Three degrees and seven years of higher learning led me to be gently chastised no less than twice for guessing wrong. The horror. A DVD-ROM function features a vaguely more interesting "Who Is Unique?" game along with interactive finger-puppets and colouring-book pages primed and ready for ink-jet processing. The disc is rounded out with two abominable trailers for this film and equally abominable trailers for Stuart Little, Buddy, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, The Adventures of Milo and Otis, and Thomas and the Magic Railroad.
75 minutes; 1.78:1 (16x9-enhanced)/1.33:1; English DD 5.1, English Dolby Surround, French DD 2.0 (Mono), Spanish DD 2.0 (Mono); CC; English, French, Spanish subtitles; DVD-9; Region One; Columbia TriStar