'Princess': Look what cats dragged in

June 08, 1994|By Stephen Hunter | Stephen Hunter,Sun Film Critic

The first problem with "The Princess and the Goblin" is that it has too many cats in it. Now I happen to like cats, and I'm not about to suggest to the world's animators that they informally reach an agreement not to show cats, but . . . if you do show a child a cat, the child will go "meeow." Always, every time, all of them. It just happens. It's a law of the universe as binding as the third law of thermodynamics. So what's the matter with that? OK, you sit in a movie theater full of meowing children.

That nerve-racking reality aside, the second problem with "The Princess and the Goblin" is that it's not particularly good. A British attempt to crack the "classic" animation racket presided over by the Disney mob, it features wispy, impressive background paintings, poorly animated foreground characters, very bad music and a story that just doesn't have the drive or resonance of the stuff the Mouse factory geniuses provide. It also must be old, as at least two of the actors doing the voice-over -- Joss Ackland and Roy Kinnear -- are dead.

Set in some fanciful Mitteleuropean fantasyland just to the left of Snow White's neighborhood and equally to the south of Sleeping Beauty's castle, it follows as Princess Irene learns that spooks and ghouls of the Goblin kingdom are about to come out of the earth and attack her father's peaceable kingdom.

With the help of stalwart peasant boy Kurdy, she manages to weaken the Goblin offensive such that when it comes, it is survivable. Alas, none of this is compelling, because as characters the two heroes are insufferably bland. They have those even-featured, button-nosed, blue-eyed faces found on Kewpie Dolls and no other place in nature. When they move, it's like spaghetti undulating off your fork into your lap with a plop. (In Disney, the movements, by contrast, are always spontaneous and naturalistic.)

The Disney animators have generally delighted in creating truly menacing villains, usually crazed mother types. But the various goblins in "The Princess and the Goblins" appear to have stepped out of nowhere. They don't have the vibration of the disturbed, but are instead characterized -- what does this reveal about the English character? -- as grotesque Cockneys. Wonderful: the "sun people" all speak with cultivated accents and are little dolls of bland perfection while the army of goblins is a crew of warty, green, stinking lower-class cretins and zombies. Class warfare made cute! Not only is "The Princess and the Goblin" lame, it's arrogant. Great combination. Meow.

MOVIE REVIEW

"The Princess and the Goblin"

Animated feature

Directed by Jozsef Gemes

Released by Hemdale

PG-rated

... **

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