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Pet Sins March 2001

Quest for Camelot

This 1998 animated feature released by Warner Brothers is based on a novel The King's Damosel. Kayley, the daughter of Sir Lionel, aspires to be a knight herself. Her father, a knight loyal to King Arthur, was killed by evil Sir Ruber when Kayley was a child. Now a young woman, Kayley finds herself confronting the evil forces of Sir Ruber to save her mother and the king.

A great-sounding premise for a children's movie. Now young boys and girls can learn the old feminist message: "boys and girls have equal capabilities and deserve the same opportunities."

Unfortunately, Quest for Camelot proves to be a letdown. Like Disney's Mulan, Kayley is portrayed as naive and inexperienced. After Kayley and her mother are captured by Sir Ruber as bait for King Arthur, she escapes into the enchanted forest. There, she meets the resident hermit Garrett. Garrett is a blind youth who was trained by Kayley's father in his childhood. Kayley puts Garrett through quite a lot of trouble by stepping on all the wrong things. Garrett has to clean up after her.

Garett quickly becomes a teacher to Kayley. He teaches her to fight with a staff, amongst other things. She gets knocked out a few times before she learns. Through flashbacks, we get the idea that Garrett was a lanky mid-teenager while Kayley was still a pre-teen. Here the male character is placed in the "typical" role of being older, more experienced, and wiser than the female character. Kayley is a novice in all the things that matter in the movie. Hardly a new, empowering view of women. So she's a fast learner, but that alone is not enough to impress female audiences in the same manner that Xena the Warrior Princess has.

Also remember that Garrett is blind while Kayley has sight in both eyes. What's the message here?

  1. Physically handicapped individuals can achieve as much as, and even more than, unhandicapped individuals.
  2. A blind boy is still more effective than a seeing girl.

I certainly hope the audience walks away with the first impression.

Physical dexterity is one asset the Kayley does have. The movie opens with her swinging through her farm yard like a gymnast. Later, Kayley's gymnastic abilities come in handy when she and Garrett try to stop Sir Ruber from hacking King Arthur to bits. Still, she is no Xena when it comes to feats of skill and strength. She finally defeats Sir Ruber with a "smart trick" -- a typical plot element in "girl" movies. This recalls Mulan's final duel with Shan Yu in Disney's 'Mulan'. Two possible interpretations come to mind for such fight scenes:

  1. Fighters of smaller stature can equalize the odds by using their brains.
  2. Yes, you girls are weak and pathetic. You can't fight well. But we'll throw you a consolation prize of defeating the bad guy with a combination of brains and luck. (Certainly not with strength or fighting skill)

Most animated features shy away from having female characters play a central role in prolonged fight scenes. (An exception is Disney's The Hunchback of Notre Dame) Very few female cartoon characters throw a barrage of more than 5 strikes against any opponent. Shedding blood is also out of the question. Well, the guys certainly get to do a lot more than that.

There is no reason why female cartoon characters cannot utilize both brawn and brain techniques in fights. Warrior Princess Xena has both in her arsenal. She fights giants and gods with tricks and weapons; she headbutts men and smashes their skulls against walls. This formula has been a hit with audiences. If the makers of Quest for Camelot has given Kayley a more physically aggressive role without sacrificing her use of wit, they could have hit a winning formula. Instead, Quest for Camelot's heroine comes off as flat and uninteresting. What was meant to be an empowering movie for little girls feels like a betrayal.