The King and I

The Boston Phoenix

DIRECTED BY: Richard Rich

REVIEWED: 03-29-99

I saw Yul Brynner as the King of Siam back in the '50s. I made it through Rudolf Nureyev's portrayal at the Wang Center in the '80s. I watched Hayley Mills's Anna flounce about in her (Victorian) underwear in the '90s. So I didn't think anything about Morgan Creek's new animated version of Rodgers & Hammerstein's 1951 Broadway musical could surprise me -- but I wasn't prepared for all the things R&H "forgot" to put in. Like the Kralahome (voice of Ian Richardson), an evil royal adviser/magician who wants arriving British schoolteacher Anna (Miranda Richardson) to report the King of Siam (Martin Vidnovic) as a "barbarian" so the Brits will kick him out and the Kralahome can step in. Or the cute animals: a mischievous monkey, a regal black panther, and a pair of adorable rare white elephants.

Morgan Creek has also come up with a few plot "improvements." The Crown Prince (Allen Hong) is now an adolescent, and it's he who falls in forbidden love with Burmese slave Tuptim (Armi Abalos Arabe). After they run away, the King sees the error of his ways, and, when Tuptim falls into a raging river thanks to the Kralahome's black magic, he comes to the rescue in his own invention, a hot-air balloon.

This is all entertaining and lots of fun but doesn't have much to do with the original poignant story. The animation is Saturday-morning quality (the figures keep "ghosting," and the facial expressions are not exactly Disney-sophisticated); the renditions of R&H's music are only so-so. Worse, "We Kiss in the Shadows" is relegated to the end credits, and "Something Wonderful," Lady Thiang, and the entire "Uncle Tom's Cabin" sequence are conspicuous by their absence. For kids, three stars; for adults, just one.

--Jeffrey Gantz

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