This follow-up to the 1994 original "The Swan Princess" is a tepid animated musical that will prove only a passable time-killer for even the smallest fry. OK from a pictorial point of view, very short feature lacks the creative spark in any other department to give it any distinction.

This follow-up to the 1994 original “The Swan Princess” is a tepid animated musical that will prove only a passable time-killer for even the smallest fry. OK from a pictorial point of view, very short feature lacks the creative spark in any other department to give it any distinction. The original, which was released by New Line, grossed only $9.8 million despite significant marketing and product tie-ins, and sequel will do a mere fraction of that in mostly matinee-only engagements on its quick trip to video.

Most of the behind-the-scenes talents from the initial outing, including director Richard Rich, writer Brian Nissen and composer Lex de Azevedo, are back on board here, as are vocal actors Michelle Nicastro as Princess Odette and Steve Vinovich as a supposedly comical bird. But while the original benefited from well-known thesps, including Jack Palance, John Cleese, Steven Wright and Sandy Duncan, voicing some of the key supporting roles, the decision seems to have been made to save coin this time out by recruiting no-name replacements to handle their roles.

At the outset, Odette and handsome Prince Derek are about to celebrate their first wedding anniversary when he is distracted by some field fires set by Knuckles, the cretinous henchman of Clavius, who aspires to conquer (what else?) the world; Clavius’ late partner Rothbart was the chief baddie last time out.

The key to Clavius’ plot lies in capturing a globe-size orb that contains the powers of the Forbidden Arts. First however, he kidnaps Queen Uberta, who drives him crazy with her incessant chattering, which lures Derek out on a mission (and largely out of the picture) to rescue her.

In the meantime, altogether too much time is given over to the relatively mirthless antics of the kingdom’s small menagerie, which most prominently includes the bird, a poky turtle and his constant companion, a frog named Jean-Bob. Latter character, previously voiced by Cleese, is supposed to be the comic headliner but instead is just the most annoying of the bunch, especially given his accent that is theoretically French but wanders all over the mid-Atlantic map.

Turning herself into a swan in attempt to save Derek, Odette is destined to remain in a feathered state unless the orb can be plucked from the clutches of Clavius, who is unimaginatively conceived as a gnarled villain of the old school. Preordained conclusion arrives none-too-soon even given the mini running time.

The five undistinguished songs dapple in different styles, including rock and even rap (“No Fear,” the second tune to run under the end credits). Pic is easy enough on the eyes, but individual elements all are highly formulaic and the attempts at humor in the dialogue are sadly strained.

The Swan Princess: Escape From Castle Mountain

Production

A Legacy release of a Nest Entertainment/Seldon O. Young/Jared F. Brown/K. Douglas Martin presentation of a Rich Animation Studios production. Produced by Richard Rich, Brown. Executive producers, Young, Brown, Martin. Co-producers, Terry L. Noss, Thomas J. Tobin. Directed by Richard Rich. Screenplay, Brian Nissen, story by Rich, Nissen.

Crew

(CFI color); Supervising editor, James D. Koford; music, Lex de Azevedo; songs, de Azevedo, Clive Romney; character design, Steven E. Gordon; (Dolby sound). Reviewed at Beverly Cineplex, L.A., July 21, 1997. MPAA Rating: G. Running time: 71 min.

With

Voices: Michelle Nicastro (Odette), Douglas Sills (Derek), Jake Williamson (Clavius), Christy Landers (Uberta), Donald Sage MacKay (Jean-Bob), Doug Stone (Speed), Steve Vinovich (Puffin), Joey Camen (Knuckles).
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