Never did I think I'd say that supervillain Gary Oldman gives a lacklustre performance in Warner Bros' hopeful Disney-strangler, The Magic Sword. As the voice of the evil Ruber (who looks like James Woods on steroids), he's about as lively and surefooted as a dead tightrope walker. That an actor as talented as Oldman sleepwalks through his role is a reflection of how uninspiring The Magic Sword is.
Francois Truffaut once said that Hitchcock's best films are the ones that have the best villains. This observation rings just as true in animated movies - think The Lion King's Scar (oozing menace from Jeremy Irons), or Hercules' bad god Hades (voiced by James Woods). And Ruber's weakness is one of the fatal flaws in the DOA The Magic Sword.
If any studio could challenge Disney's total control of mass market animation, it should have been Warner Bros, fabled home of Bugs Bunny, Yosemite Sam and the Road Runner. This movie offers one clever allusion to the great Warners' 'toons of old: when Ruber uses a magic potion to transform his soldiers into vicious mutant monsters, a close-up shot reveals the mystery liquid is from the same Acme company that supplied everything for the studio's traditional animated gang.
But aside from this inside joke, The Magic Sword (just like Fox's ever so-slightly superior Anastasia) attempts to emulate Disney's style and singalongs, instead of going for a real alternative, such as Buster Keaton-style lunacy to Disney's Chaplinesque sentimentality. It fails miserably. Potentially, locations such as Camelot and the Forbidden Forest offer an open field for the imagination: but here they are infected with the flatness and jarring turquoise colouring of cheap picture postcards. And except for an entertainingly clueless rooster in a supporting role, all of the characters are as bland and lifeless as the toys being sold off the back of them.
The movie's main problem is both the stilted animation, the voice-overs and the lifeless tunes. Though the film boasts a pedigree cast, including Gabriel Byrne and John Gielgud, they all sounded as bored as I was. Some are gravely mismatched with their animated character. This is most apparent with Garrett, who is suitably bland as long as he talks with the voice of Cary Elwes. But then he starts to sing with a distinctive crackle that clearly belongs to somebody else (one Bryan White). Eric Idle and Don Rickles fare a little better as the two-headed dragon, partly because they have the best lines. But if I see one more impression of "Are you talkin' to me?", I'm going to give up on the movies.