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'The King and I': Why, Oh Why?

By Michael O'Sullivan
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)

Richard Rich
Miranda Richardson;
Martin Vidnovic;
Armi Arabe;
David Burnham;
Alan Hong;
Christiane Noll;
Ian Richardson;
Adam Wylie;
Tracy Warren
Running Time:
1 hour, 30 minutes
Contains offensive ethnic stereotyping
How – or why, for that matter – would you take a perfectly good Rodgers and Hammerstein musical and turn it into animated pabulum?

First of all, if you are producer Arthur Rankin, you make the mistake of assuming that the only thing worth retaining about the original stage and movie version of "The King and I" is the music. That will free up your unscrupulous writers (Peter Bakalian, Jacqueline Feather and David Seidler) to bowdlerize the story of a romance between a 19th-century English schoolteacher and the polygamous King of Siam to suit their tender and impressionable audience of toddlers. At least great songs like "I Whistle a Happy Tune," "Getting to Know You" and "Shall We Dance?" do survive the translation.

Out the window go all but one barely noticeable reference to multiple wives, not to mention all sexual tension between the widow Anna Leonowens (the voice of Miranda Richardson) and His Very Married Highness (Martin Vidnovic). Here, the king's dozens of children become a more palatable . . . eight. In comes a forced happy ending, three cuddly, merchandise-tie-in-ready animals, a villainous villain with magical powers in the form of the Kralahome (Ian Richardson) and a comic sidekick whose only purpose is to be the butt of fat jokes and have mangoes thrown at him.

(Correction: In the role of rotund, buck-toothed and imbecilic Master Little, Darrell Hammond's real purpose seems be to single-handedly set back Asian-American race relations 50 years.)

Even the Richard Rich-directed animation – except for some nice but gratuitous computer-generated walking statues and dramatic ocean waves – is not appreciably better than Saturday morning cartoons. And did I mention such pandering anachronisms in the dialogue as "cool" and "ready to rumble"?

Keep in mind, though, that this new and improved "The King and I" is not just for kids. Mommy and daddy can use an hour and a half nap from time to time too.

© Copyright 1999 The Washington Post Company

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