I am watching A Kid in King Arthur’s Court for the first time, since in 1995 when this movie was released, I was probably watching another Thomas Ian Nicholas classic, Rookie of the Year, ad infinitum. As far as kids’ flicks go, I think I made the better choice. This film plays with the idea of time travel and sends a cowering teen back to the Middle Ages where he must help King Arthur (Joss Ackland) preserve the crown from the scheming Lord Belasco. While the movie markets itself as a reimagining of Mark Twain’s novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court, it bears almost none of the satire or social criticism of the original.
This is an adaptation in the vaguest sense with a few episodes from the novel merely hinted at. Where Twain struck out at any number of things – medieval superstition, extreme poverty and social inequality, slavery, the monarchy, the ultimate failure of technology, this movie is content to earn its place as as a bland feel-good film about having faith in oneself. That’s certainly not a bad message and allows Kid to fit snuggly in the Disney oeuvre.
Like many a maligned hero, Calvin Fuller (Nicholas) of Reseda, California is bullied for just about everything. He’s getting battered for a miserable at bat during a little league game when an earthquake strikes, sucking him into 6th century England. Despite a run-in with the black knight, he soon finds favor in King Arthur’s (Joss Ackland) court and befriends Princess Katey (Paloma Baeza). His odd speech and way of dress draw interest, but it’s his magical abilities that really convince the king that Calvin has been sent by Merlin to save the kingdom.
The magic, it turns out, is nothing more than a CD player. The movie is fueled by fish out of water gags, and besides introducing the nobles to rock and roll, Calvin also amazes them with his Swiss army knife and by fashioning a pair of rollerblades (this was made in the ‘90s). For all his futuristic technology, however, he is unable to handle himself on a field of battle. Cue James Bond. Yes, it’s up to a floppy haired Daniel Craig playing the filthy commoner Master Kane to teach the young Californian the ways of the medieval world. With his newly acquired riding and jousting skills, Calvin hopes to defeat Lord Belasco’s (Art Malik) advance.
The movie toys with a few Arthurian tropes. Grieved by the death of his beloved Guinevere, the king has no confidence in his ability to rule the kingdom, thus having to depend on a boy to restore his legitimacy and recalling his own humble beginnings. The notion of a damsel in distress also gets knocked around as does the idea of noble birth, this time thanks to another actress who outgrew her early work, a very fresh Kate Winslet. She plays the headstrong Princess Sarah who rejects the idea of knights-errant doing battle to win her hand in marriage.
In the end, it might be the appearance of Craig and Winslet that bump this movie up to footnote status. The younger crowd won’t care though; it’s harmless and entertaining if you’re 10, and aren’t into social criticism.
“Let’s go, lover boy. Still gotta win this turkey,” Calvin says to Master Kane, aka Daniel Craig.
Prod: Peter Abrams, J.P. Guerin, Robert L. Levy
Dir: Michael Gottlieb
Writer: Michael Part, Robert L. Levy
Cast: Thomas Ian Nicholas, Joss Ackland, Art Malik, Paloma Baeza, Daniel Craig, Kate Winslet, Ron Moody
Time: 89 min
Country: United States