The Kid Who Would Be King
Arthurian legends are hard to translate to screen, but that has never stopped filmmakers from trying. Though Joe Cornish’s The Kid Who Would Be King looks to be just another take on Mark Twain’s A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court it’s funny, sweet, and the rare movie for kids that adults can get a kick out of as well.
The animated opening credit sequence explains everything the audience needs to know about the legend of King Arthur to be able to follow this particular film. Sure, there is Excalibur in the stone and the Round Table, but there’s also an emphasis on Arthur’s arch enemy and half-sister Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson). In this version of the tale, Morgana has been held under England in a cave, waiting for society to devolve enough into evil for her to make her return to the surface and retake the throne. Given the current political and social climates, 2019 seems like an appropriate low in human history for her to make her move.
On the surface, we follow a good schoolboy named Alex (Andy Serkis’ son, Louis Ashbourne Serkis). He’s mostly a typical kid, but when we see him stand up to a pair of bullies to protect his friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo), we’re clued into the fact that he might be a little special. One night, as Alex is fleeing the bullies, he comes across a sword in a stone, pulls it out with ease, and his status as chosen king is decided.
Setting the Arthurian tale in the modern, boring suburb only works here because the kids are written with such honesty. Bedders and Alex, as well as their designated bullies, are never treated as unaware children or naïve, but they all do have a lot to learn about the world as they’re working to save it. This growth process throughout The Kid Who Would Be King somehow manages to not feel forced or artificial, but a lot of work from some dedicated but ultimately honorable kids.
This isn’t just any hero’s journey or quest. Alex has magic on his side, and who better to help him with his royal training duties than Merlin himself? Though Patrick Stewart shows up occasionally to show Merlin in his older form, the majority of the wizard’s screen time is played by Angus Imrie, and I must say that he steals every single moment he has on screen from his co-stars. He’s quirky and engaging, and his method of sorcery is both visual and under-explained to the point of maintaining some mystery in his character.
This lack of explanation is one of the bigger strengths of The Kid Who Would Be King. The film does a good job of showing us what we need to know, but letting viewers put together the clues and follow along on our own. It assumes the best out of the characters on screen as well as the audience, and never talks down to either group. This level of respect for kids and viewers is refreshing and avoids the typical pitfalls of long exposition pieces or supposedly smart characters doing fairly dumb things.
The Kid Who Would Be King is charming, playful, and the exact kind of movie that both kids and adults can appreciate equally.