The Princess and the Goblin

The Princess and the Goblin ★½

Animation Challenge 2018! Week 4 - An animated fantasy film!

As mentioned last week, even though I like Disney's product, I'm not too big on their corporate practices. Any attempt at all to challenge their complete domination of the children's animation industry is welcome, even if the challengers tend to directly copy their style more often than not. That there's a whole host of Disney-influenced fantasy films with little cult followings of adults who grew up on them, especially during their period of financial dominance in the 1990s, at least indicates someone other than the Mouse is capable of capturing that special childhood magic, and I very much welcome any studio capable of worming its way into the hearts of the masses if it means letting literally anyone else occupy that space.

All of which is a nice way of stepping around the issue that childhood attachments are often formed for surface level reasons, and renewed adult fondness can come about through sheer force of will to deny something you loved as a kid isn't all that great. Or, more bluntly, The Princess and the Goblin kinda sucks.

It's a real shame Disney's competitors usually don't have the budget or talent necessary to equal their quality standard. There's some potential for beautiful visuals in The Princess and the Goblin, with the backgrounds possessing this rather appealing sketched out look reminiscent of a more detailed Disney bronze age setting. Plunk down some decent character designs in the middle of it and make sure you keep a consistent sense of space and scale, and you might have a cheap but decent looking animated fi - oh never mind, turns out they didn't. Sorry everyone, the character models look weird, with rather crude animation at times, and the backgrounds shift around in weird ways between shots, killing any potential they had to carry the film. Sorry, I know the lighting looks good in one or two scenes, it's just not enough to carry a film that looks rather unpleasant most of the time.

I'd rag on the story here, but since we're in fairytale adaptation territory and the original book seems rather beloved, I think the execution deserves more bagging. Far too much of the film is made up of expository dialogue, and scenes intended to evoke magical wonderment or adventurous excitement are marred by weirdly sluggish animation and completely blank faces. If the characters look and sound completely detached from the goings on of this minor goblin invasion, I don't see any reason to get invested. Had the voice acting been delivered better or the writing not so terribly on the nose (everything involving the princess involves dredging up ridiculously simple thoughts about morality, even for a fairy tale, and having her speak directly to the camera about her latest revelations), they might've pulled off something interesting, but what a production might've done is only of interest for those who watch behind the scenes featureless for EVERY movie.

Y'know, maybe if the goblins were appealing to some degree, I could put aside the film's other failings and just try to enjoy them. Problem is, while I'm always down for a good ol' gruff Cockney gobbo-boy, their designs are rather bland and uninteresting. I can't find anything to obsess over in these monsters, and their tendency towards spluttering and spitting every line gets grating after a while. Slobbery monsters are OK in my book, but keeping the slobbering confined to humanly-possible sputtering and sucking is more gross than engrossing. And the purple punk-rock hair... I don't know what they were doing there, at all.

Like I said up top, challengers to Disney's throne are always welcome, even if their attempts at playing in Disney's stylistic ballpark fall well short of their potential. I won't really begrudge anyone who loves The Princess and the Goblin from watching it as a child, because pieces of entertainment have a lot of deep, meaningful connections to the environment and crowds you absorb them through that just isn't as powerful for adult experiences. A deep-seated affection for anything you loved as a child is perfectly fine, and I'm not just saying that to cover my continuing unironic enjoyment of early Fairly OddParents. Even bearing this in mind, it can't excuse the lack of quality and general tediousness pervading tonight's film, and if I ever have kids of my own, I'd hope the films I share with them during their developmental years are better than this.

(Quote of the night: "We can't waste our time with invisible grandmothers!")