Justin (Freddie Highmore) lives in a society dominated by lawyers and is due to start law school to become one of them, just like his father (Alfred Molina). But what he really wants is to take after his dead grandfather, and become a knight, defending the kingdom from threats such as bitter ex-knight Heraclio (Mark Strong). But knights have been outlawed, and Justin must sneak away to find his grandfather’s old comrades if he too wants to join their ranks. Does he have what it takes to become a real knight, and rescue the kingdom?
Freddie Highmore (Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Finding Neverland)
Saoirse Ronan (Atonement, Hanna)
Antonio Banderas (Shrek 2, Desperado)
James Cosmo (Trainspotting, Troy)
Directed by: Manuel Sicilia (The Missing Lynx)
Written By: Manuel Sicilia (The Missing Lynx), Matthew Jacobs (Emperor’s New Groove)
The first thing you’ll notice about Justin and the Knights of Valour is that it’s not slick. The animation and the dialogue just isn’t what you’d get in a Pixar film. Take Justin’s hair for example – it sits solidly on his head like a helmet and doesn’t move. And the voice talent is very British/European (Julie Walters, David Walliams, Alfred Molina) rather than American, which adds to the unpolished feel. But that’s OK. It’s a simple tale of a simple boy on a simple quest. With a complicated love-life, just to keep things interesting. There’s the obviously pretty, superficial love interest and then the not-quite-so-obviously pretty, quirky love interest. Oh hang on, that sounds pretty simple too, doesn’t it?
What does complicate it are the sheer number of characters. There’s Justin and his family, the two love interests, the family and work colleagues of the love interests, the baddie, the three sons of the baddie, the fake knight, the queen, the old three knights and, as if that wasn’t enough, a soothsayer who has multiple personality disorder. When these characters are all being introduced at the beginning, it’s a bit overwhelming. I found myself having to think about who everyone was, and thinking isn’t something I expect to do in a kids’ film.
So, multiple characters aside it’s a straightforward, pleasant film. Freddie highmore is a nicely naïve Justin, pottering about and trying not to break too many things. Thalia’s accent hurt my brain for a while, but apparently she is Irish so I guess that’s just her natural voice. Antonio Banderas clearly relished his role as the lady-charming fake knight – it wasn’t a million miles away from his Puss in Boots character, in a way not at all dissimilar to that of Shrek.
There were some good touches – the opening sequence, where you see the way the lawyers are running the kingdom won’t be unfamiliar to anyone living in 21st century Britain. The tapestry segment as they recounted the back story was nicely animated, and there’s a classic misunderstanding sequence between Justin and love interest#1 that’s quite amusing. I also loved the training montage. In this kind of film, there has to be a training montage and there were actually two, with a heartfelt scene in between. But I, and most of the other 30-something parents in the audience, appreciated the first one, which was soundtracked with “Kung Fu” by Ash. I can’t have been the only one singing along.
A word of warning. – it is a PG, not a U. I’m not the kind of parent who pre-watches things…in fact, I’m kinda slack when it comes to what my children’s delicate eyes may see. But I might have been a bit cautious about taking a 4-year-old and a 1-year-old to a PG if I’d realised beforehand what it was. There was quite a lot of violence (not graphic violence, but it might frighten sensitive children) and one moment where it seems like the baddie has stabbed someone in cold blood – he actually stabs him through the gourd, and the only fluid he loses is wine. But it’s still slightly shocking. And you see the death of the old King on screen too, albeit in tapestry form. The 1-year-old slept all the way through. The 4-year-old was a bit freaked out by one of the fights at the end, but later said it was his favourite bit.
But be assured, good triumphs. All is well with the kingdom at the end and it could not be more set up for a sequel. There is some peril, but Justin’s never going to get really hurt, is he? Younger children will enjoy the crocodile that they’ve rigged up to be a training dragon, and adult will appreciate the beauty of some of the scenery, particularly the Tower of Wisdom. Well worth seeing, but nothing outstandingly special.
Watch if: You like simple battles of good vs evil.
Don’t watch if: You have very nervous kids
Overall rating: 7/10
Kate Milner – @LondonWAToddler