Movie Review: Justin and The Knights of Valour
Pros:It looks great, it features a strong performance from Saoirse Ronan, it has a well-judged ending.
Cons:Its story is consistently unoriginal, its characters are mostly uninteresting, the 3D is treated like an afterthought.
The latest offering from Spanish-based studio Kandor Graphics has the style but not the substance to match the kingpins of the animated world.
Over the past two decades, Pixar has become so synonymous with animated film that it often seems easy to forget there are other studios, who specialise in the genre, that are also occasionally vying for our attention.
And of these studios, the Spanish-based Kandor Graphics is surely one of the most obscure, primarily because it has only made two full-length films to date – in 2008, they were responsible for the relatively small scale Spanish-language feature, The Missing Lynx, and five years later, they are finally ready to release a big-budget English-language follow-up, Justin and The Knights of Valour.
On a visual level at least, the film merits comparison to anything Pixar have done. The computer animation is flawless, as it provides an array of spectacular shots exploring its medieval setting. Moreover, it frequently feels as though you are watching humans rather than animated figures, as a result of the painstaking level of detail and hard work that has ostensibly been put into inflecting characters’ expressions with endless nuances.
However, the film’s plot isn’t quite so inspired. It’s the umpteenth tale that emanates from an overbearing father who thinks he can control his son’s career path, much to the dismay of the latter character. In this case, the controlling parent (Alfred Molina) wants young Justin (Freddie Highmore) to follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer – a plan that conflicts with Justin’s dreams of being a knight – previously, his grandfather’s profession of choice, yet one that has become obsolete in a kingdom that bureaucrats now rule over.
Yet Justin is determined to follow his dream. Despite his somewhat timid-seeming nature and the common consensus being that he lacks the requisite qualities to be a knight, he pursues such a path regardless, thanks partially to the guidance of three monks. And the youngster’s training is ultimately put to the test when Sir Heraclio (Mark Strong) – a knight who had been banished from the kingdom – returns with an army that are intent on wreaking havoc.
Moreover, amid all this hoopla, there is also a love triangle involving Lara – the archetypal damsel in distress voiced by Tamsin Egerton, who Justin lusts after – and Talia, a feisty bartender (Saoirse Ronan), who he appears to be less enamoured with, though she quickly falls for him.
If the story sounds unremarkable, it’s because it is, as even for a kids’ film, Justin and The Knights of Valour feels extremely safe. The narrative is utterly devoid of surprises – every moment is telegraphed, to the point where it seems as if the script were written entirely on auto-pilot with a screenplay manual nearby to wade off any threat of creativity or idiosyncratic thinking. And its overall concept is likewise tired at best. The superhero genre alone has had enough tales focusing on a young hero coming of age and struggling to cope with the burden of his responsibilities, so surely animated movies should seek to avoid this terrain, or at least put a semi-original spin on it.
In addition, the film at times feels like a compilation of elements from Disney films strewn together, only with much poorer execution. Sir Clorex (Antonio Banderas) – the vain and desperately deluded would-be hero is essentially the same character as Gaston from Beauty and The Beast, yet he never comes close to matching the level of audience antipathy that the latter figure inspires. Similarly, Melquiades is just as eccentric and familiar with the magical arts as the Robbin Williams-voiced Genie in Aladdin, but he fails to be anywhere near as witty or lovable as that character.
Nevertheless, there are some bright spots in Justin and The Knights of Valour aside from its supreme visual sense. The cast is strong in general, but Ronan stands out as Talia – she manages to bring a level of gusto to the role that perfectly captures her character’s indefatigable essence. The ending is also heartfelt and well-judged – characteristics that may be enough to belatedly win over the film’s younger viewers. Yet the more discerning audience members will undoubtedly acknowledge that Pixar’s reign at the top does not appear to be under any immediate threat.