There’s no denying that the #MeToo movement has made female victimization profitable — well, at least in Hollywood. All one needs to do is look at the slew of female-centric pictures post #TimesUp, with more major studios greenlighting stories of strong women fighting to create change for themselves and others like them, minorities. Using this empowerment through empathy approach, Charming — the latest CG-feature from studio Cinesite, The Star (2017), and Vanguard Animation, Gnome Alone (2017) — turns to the classic fairytale template, making everyone’s favorite golden boy, Prince Charming, a victim, too.
We’ve all heard the stories of Cinderella, Snow White and Sleeping Beauty, each ending with a dashing, debonair champion, often described as Prince Charming, coming to rescue the damsel (by means of a kiss or a Glass Slipper), the pair, then, running off to live ‘Happily Ever After.’ But if you really stop to think about it, how can this one Casanova marry all three princesses? And that’s the footing of Charming’s premise.
Prince Philippe Charming (Wilmer Valderrama), you see, isn’t to blame for all his philandering; he’s not a womanizer or a lady-killer, he’s just cursed with too much ‘charm,’ bewitched as an infant by his father’s former flame Nemeny Neverwish (Nia Vardalos), a malevolent sorcerer jealous of the love she never acquired. Entrancing every maiden in the land, though angering every male as a result, Philippe has until his 21st birthday, which happens to be a few short days away, to break the spell before all the love in the realm disappears forever.
With three fiancées fighting for his affection — Cinderella (Ashley Tisdale), Snow White (Avril Lavigne) and Sleeping Beauty (G.E.M.), all unknowingly engaged to the same Don Juan — the flippant Philippe is kicked out of the castle by his exasperated father, King Charming (Jim Cummings), and forced to find ‘True Love’ by embarking on a near-impossible quest to Fire Mountain, even if the poor dude has no idea what real love actually is. To make it through the gauntlet alive, Philippe enlists the aid of a cynical Lara Croft-type jewel thief named Lenore Quinonez (Demi Lovato), who disguises herself as a mustached man-for-hire called Lenny, agreeing to assist because a) she’s arrested and is given no other choice, and b) she happens to be the only lady in the kingdom immune to Charming’s dapper good looks.
Written and directed by Ross Venokur — who’s other animated title, A.C.O.R.N.S.: Operation Crackdown (2015), is a film I’ve never heard of — Charming, just like 2001’s Shrek before it, pokes fun at the fairytale formula, flipping the script by having a brave, idealistic shero save the empty-headed prince. Unlike the aforementioned, though, Charming quickly turns to the very clichés and foreseeable storybook tropes it so desperately tries to subvert. Sigh! Granted, the iconic princesses, who ceaselessly ridicule their respective traits and trademarks, are always amusing — Sleeping Beauty, for instance, who’s been asleep for a hundred years, is constantly dozing off, while Snow White is frightfully fearful of strangers.
Predictability aside, it’d help if the animation were of the same standard as that coming out of leading CG-family-film heavyweights Pixar, Blue Sky or Illumination Entertainment, but the work on Charming is staggeringly subpar, despite some inspired artwork and designs; the animation is stiff and rigid, and some of the lip-syncing pretty drab, too. It’s the kinda stuff you’d expect from those straight-to-DVD cartoons and not nearly worth paying top dollar for — which would probably explain its lack of release in the United States, the film postponed several times since its completion in December of 2017.
With that said, Charming is, first and foremost, a musical, and the songs are admittedly catchy. Rounding up big-name divas Avril Lavigne and Sia, along with Cantopop sensation G.E.M., its selection of tunes are what really stick out; ‘Balladino,’ written and performed by Sia, who’s playing a mountainous man-eating witch doctor named Half-Oracle, is both bizarre and hypnotic, while the bubbly opening track ‘Trophy Boy,’ written by Fall Out Boy’s Patrick Stump and sung by Ashley Tisdale, Avril Lavigne, and G.E.M., is a bouncy way to get things rolling. Sure, some will whinge and whine about the music’s auto-tune-y nature, but this didn’t bother me!
The voice-work is passable at best. Out of the run-after talent, singer-songwriter Demi Lovato — whose big break was playing Mitchie Torres on Disney Channel’s telly film Camp Rock (2008) — seems to be the only person trying to give a layered turn, portraying emotionally dethatched heroine Lenore, the rest cruising on autopilot. Funnyman John Cleese, Shrek 2 (2004), pops up to voice a couple of bit players, Fairy Godmother and Executioner, the latter having a handful of semi-amusing lines also.
While a bit too scary for preschoolers — the flick featuring a clan of tall, toothy cannibalistic tribal women, and a public execution via noose — this animated musical comedy passes the time just fine; it’s probably not the worst way to spend 90 or so minutes with the fam. Be that as it may, Charming lacks the refinement or ingenuity of most other kid-friendly films being dropped into theatres these days — think Pixar’s Incredibles 2 (2018) or Illumination’s soon-to-be-released The Grinch (2018). Irrespective of its neat little concept and delightful musical ditties, this one’s, um, perhaps not as charming as it thinks.
2.5 / 5 – Alright
Reviewed by S-Littner
Charming is released through Roadshow Entertainment Australia