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'King and I': Royally Insulting

By Stephen Hunter
Washington Post Staff Writer
Friday, March 19, 1999

  Movie Critic


The King and I
This version of "The King and I" surpasses the quality of a Saturday morning cartoon show. (Morgan Creek)

Director:
Richard Rich
Voices:
Miranda Richardson;
Martin Vidnovic;
Armi Arabe;
David Burnham;
Alan Hong;
Christiane Noll;
Ian Richardson;
Adam Wylie;
Tracy Warren
Running Time:
1 hour, 30 minutes
G
Has offensive stereotyping
Early in the animated version of "The King and I" a roly-poly Asian guy chortles hysterically through his buckteeth and says, "I know torture."

Boy, does he ever. An animated "King and I"? Now there's torture, especially in this wretched, lurid, absurd concoction which seems to have been conceived to annoy adults and bore children.

It's "based" on the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical, in the way that Hun culture was "based" on Roman culture. It's actually looted from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical by abstracting a few of its songs and inserting them into inappropriate circumstances ("I Whistle a Happy Tune" plays during a sea monster attack!). At the same time, it largely abandons the plot for something cheesy, melodramatic and preposterous. Hmm, the hot-air balloon rescue of the servant girl by the king as she goes over the waterfall. Now there's something Oscar and Dick never thought of. Seems like it would be hard to get it onstage at the Broadhurst.

I don't make the charge lightly or with much pleasure, but "The King and I" is so racist it steams my glasses. Unlike the recent Bernadette Peters stage vehicle "Annie Get Your Gun," which was tarted up for modern standards of political correctness (the Indians were all millionaires), the arrogant core of this '50s musical has been left with that benighted age's worst stereotypes, from cunning, scheming Asians to noble, heroic Westerners. Worst of all, it presumes the innate moral superiority of the fabulous British (who, after all, invented imperialism and the heroin trade) and depicts their Asian wards as hopeless children desperately in need of guidance. If only the pathetic Thais could be made more like the British, it suggests, then they too could have invented wool and Scotch and kidney pudding.

Cultural woes aside, this "The King and I" is simply bad animated filmmaking. The character's faces have no suppleness or subtlety; their eyes are blackened BBs without expression; their profiles are kitschy stereotyping (Master Little, the bucktoothed Asian whose teeth keep falling out, is the worst). The director, Richard Rich, also has no feel for staging. He seems not to understand that the pleasure of animation is its freedom from the dictates of physics and gravity; their action is portrayed awkwardly without any of the grace that takes advantage of the form's fluidity.

But worst of all are the colors. From tactical nuke airburst yellow to rotted-corpse puce to violent violet, the colors are assaults on the cathedral of the pupil. They run the gamut from Excedrin Headaches Nos. 361 to 562.

   
© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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