The second E.B. White children’s classic to reach theaters in recent years, and the third overall (after “Stuart Little” and “Charlotte’s Web”), “The Trumpet of the Swan” is undoubtedly the weakest. Its story of a mute trumpeter swan who learns to read, write and play the trumpet in order to express his feelings has delighted readers since its 1970 publication, but bland animated musical offers little to charm adults with fond memories of the book, and even tykes are likely to become bored by the halfway point. This “Swan” is unlikely to ruffle any box office feathers.
Co-director Richard Rich and his producing team should know a few things about swans; they were responsible for the animated “Swan Princess” trilogy several years ago. One might have hoped the magical ingredient missing from those efforts would have been supplied here by E.B. White. Unfortunately, even a solid cast and a mostly intact plotline can’t supply it.
The birth of cygnet Louie (“Louis” in the book) without a voice dismays his proud father (Jason Alexander) and leads to cruel teasing from the rest of the flock. Yearning to fit in and to communicate his love to the beautiful Serena (Reese Witherspoon), Louie (Dee Baker) flies away and learns to read and write, courtesy of human friend Sam (Sam Gifaldi) and Sam’s schoolteacher (Carol Burnett). Returning triumphantly to his lake, however, Louie finds the written word’s no good with other swans, and he’s back to square one.
Only after his father presents him with a stolen trumpet is Louie finally able to find a voice. It comes at a price, though, as the father is racked with guilt over the theft. Determined to restore his dad’s honor, Louie wings to Boston and becomes a hit jazz musician, returning home just in time to stop Serena’s wedding to rival swan Boyd (Seth Green) and to repay his father’s debt.
Pic is as by-the-numbers as the synopsis makes it sound, and its episodic nature makes it feel unfocused — not a good idea when aiming at 5-year-olds. Vocal cast is OK, though Alexander hams it up a little too much as the father swan with a very strong sense of self.
Animation is lacking in rich detail, looking not much more imaginative than standard TV fare.
Element that most inexcusably misses the mark is the soundtrack. Louie’s jazz riffs on the trumpet are generally well devised and well played, but rest of score sorely lacks an emotional focus that could have played a key role in the storytelling. As it is, score mixes many musical styles and themes, some of them maddeningly bland. Songs, too, are unmemorable, even one called “Louie Louie Louie” that is performed by Little Richard.