The King and I (1999)

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Released 10-Sep-2002

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Details At A Glance

General Extras
Category Animation Main Menu Audio
Featurette-Scoring The Music
Theatrical Trailer
Rating Rated G
Year Of Production 1999
Running Time 85:07
RSDL / Flipper Dual Sided Cast & Crew
Start Up Menu
Region Coding 2,4 Directed By Richard Rich
Studio
Distributor

Warner Home Video
Starring Miranda Richardson
Christiane Noll
Martin Vidnovic
Ian Richardson
Darrell Hammond
Allen D. Hong
David Burnham
Armi Arabe
Tracy Venner Warren
Adam Wylie
Sean Smith
Case Amaray-Transparent-Secure Clip
RPI $29.95 Music Richard Rodgers
Oscar Hammerstein II


Video Audio
Pan & Scan/Full Frame None English Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
French Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Dutch Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Spanish Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
German Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Italian Dolby Digital 5.1 (384Kb/s)
Widescreen Aspect Ratio 1.85:1
16x9 Enhancement
16x9 Enhanced
Video Format 576i (PAL)
Original Aspect Ratio 1.85:1 Miscellaneous
Jacket Pictures No
Subtitles English
Dutch
French
German
Italian
Spanish
English for the Hearing Impaired
German for the Hearing Impaired
Italian for the Hearing Impaired
Smoking No
Annoying Product Placement Yes, Lots of obnoxious pets advertising merchandising
Action In or After Credits No

NOTE: The Profanity Filter is ON. Turn it off here.

Plot Synopsis

    I have actually sat down and re-written this synopsis completely from beginning to end several times now and it is proving to be quite difficult; as there is a very strong tendency to continuously compare this animated version with the classic 1956 musical and even the more recent 1999 version Anna and the King. These comparisons are fraught with danger, as the review ends up being a continuous bash against this particular adaptation for all of its failings and shortcomings. And this is before we even look at the authenticity of the actual story in the first place. So I will settle for a new approach; first I will introduce you to the real story of King Mongkut (King Rama IV) and his relationship with an English teacher Anna (Anna Leon Owens), then I will contain my comparisons and criticisms to a single paragraph and finally I will provide a succinct synopsis, untainted by comparisons, of this version of The King and I (animated).

    The history behind all of these movies is almost an epic saga in and of itself. Anna was in fact a real person who did find herself teaching the children of King Mongkut in Siam during the 1860s, but she was never afforded the position of Governess as is commonly thought today. During her time there she recorded two journals which were later published when she returned to England. These two books, The English Governess at the Court of Siam and Romance of the Harem were used as the basis of a third book Anna and the King of Siam which was penned by Margaret Landon. Unfortunately the source materials that Margaret used contained vast amounts of fabrication intermixed with reality, that painted a much stronger picture of Anna and a more primitive and less regal picture of Siam in the period. It is this third work that was used to create the various screenplays for The King and I that we have available to us today.

    The first screenplay to bring this story to celluloid was Anna and the King of Siam (1946). This was then turned into a compelling musical The King and I (1956) which was based on Rodgers & Hammerstein’s Broadway musical production. The Thai people (or their government at least) were so insulted by the blatant disregard of their history in the portrayal of their monarchy by this film that it was banned. In an effort to correct and modernise the story, Warners decided to produce Anna and the King in 1999, but even this, supposedly more accurate, remake did not meet with the Thai people’s approval. To some extent people simply have to accept that this is Hollywood, and the words “based on a true story” usually mean that buried deep within the script somewhere there remains some shard of truth, just waiting to be rediscovered – in the meantime, whatever works for the box-office is the way it is going to be. Now finally we have an animated version which in the process of adaptation, has so little left of the original story, and none of the original appeal as far as I am concerned, that it is merely a shell of a story with a few familiar names. Out of all the versions that exist this one is surely the most likely to evoke a strong reaction from the Thai government and people, as it is the one that potentially trivialises their monarch the most. In its favour, however, is the idea to re-use the original Rodgers & Hammerstein’s musical score. This  is to be commended, and the orchestra did a wonderful job of bringing to life a modern, high quality recording of these classics. The money spent on this music production was wasted, however, as the rest of this film has very little to offer that could possibly make me recommend this title. Anyway, I’ve had my say – I will now pull back and do my job as a reviewer.

    The King and I (animated) opens with Anna and her young son, Louis, en route to accept a teaching position in the royal palace of Siam. In classic Disney, oops sorry, Warners style (doesn’t have the same ring to it does it?) we are introduced to the first of many infuriatingly unnecessary pets whose only function would appear to be to support external merchandising opportunities (buy your pet monkey here…). We are also quickly introduced to the main protagonist the Kralahome (aka prime minister) who is knee-bent on usurping the King and taking his throne via whatever means possible. Of course it wouldn’t be a Disney, oops again, Warners animation without a trusty and pointless sidekick to support our oh-evil-one, thus we are introduced to Master Little, a short, fat man (hey, those were his own words) who, for reasons unknown, insists on progressively losing his teeth throughout the feature. In keeping with the original story somewhat, Anna is soon introduced to the King, a meeting which does not go down as well as both parties would have preferred. Then departing from the original story the scene is set for the young Prince Chululongkorn and a slave girl, Tuptim, to develop a forbidden love interest against traditions and against the wishes of the King. Meanwhile Anna is considering whether or not she wishes to stay or return to England and so the King proceeds to introduce Anna and her son to his children, the same ones Anna is expected to teach in the ways of the modern world, in a memorable segment that convinces Anna to stay. Interestingly, the next segment is the only truly creative speck, within the entire presentation, where Anna and her son take the King's children out of the palace for the first time to meet the people. This is, of course, accompanied by a marvellous rendition of Getting to Know You.

    In the mean time our evil Kralahome has been sending letters to the British informing them of the need to replace the King who is supposedly a barbarian. In an effort to maintain some additional tension the King and Prince discuss the need for modern change versus ancient traditions, such as allowing the Prince to chose who he marries instead of the King choosing. After a heated debate the King retires to the temple to consider the situation during which the Kralahome decides to make a move on the King directly but is thwarted by the King's pet, a beautiful black panther (available from Toy’s R Us for only… Hmm, maybe not). Meanwhile the King asks Anna to assist him in convincing the British envoy that he is worthy of keeping his Kingdom and is not a barbarian. It is decided to welcome the British with a banquet dinner, during which the Kralahome, of course, triggers a showdown when he makes it known that a relationship has developed between the Prince and a servant girl. This leads to the Prince and Tuptim deciding to run away from the castle and into the jungle with the help of a baby white elephant, (mother elephant sold separately ... slap!) and the mother and Louis, oh, and the monkey. The feature then wraps up with a daring rescue effort which requires the cooperation of the King, Anna and the British envoy. And of course the (SPOILER ALERT: highlight with mouse to read) Kralahome gets it in the end.

    When examined in complete isolation The King and I (animated) is a formulaic adaptation of a complex, involved story into a simplistic, Disney style farce that is sure to entertain but unlikely to achieve much else. Acting in its favour however is an absolutely fantastic musical score, the original work of Rodgers & Hammerstein which is reproduced in splendid glory by William Kidd and the London Philharmonic Orchestra. If you like Disney tales then you will enjoy this presentation and the technical quality is excellent; if on the other hand you would prefer material with a little more value and longevity in it, then might I be so bold as to recommend the original 1956 musical release of The King and I which I personally feel is much more powerful for adults and perfectly suitable for most young children (if a little long).

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Transfer Quality

Video

    The main feature is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.78:1 widescreen and is 16x9 enhanced. Had it not been for the numerous, mostly minor problems, this transfer could have been reference quality.

    The actual transfer was incredibly sharp and often resolved extremely fine details. It was a pity that this was let down several times by a lack of detail in some of the source materials and elements, in particular some of the cel artwork. Contrast, for instance, the lush detail that is present at 59:22 with the simplistic rendering at 6:18 and you will see just how variable this presentation was. There was absolutely no noise and almost no discernible grain present in this feature.

    The black levels were absolutely precise and the transfer exhibited exemplary shadow detail. Likewise, the white levels were effectively perfect. The colours were highly saturated and incredibly vibrant, in short - they were gorgeous. Combined, these elements resulted in the widest colour gamut and contrast range of any transfer I have seen to date. Sounds good? It was, but it wasn’t always consistent. Several times, as in almost every cel based animation I have seen, the light intensity of a scene would momentarily and abruptly change. Examples of this can be seen where it lightens (2:54) and darkens (3:08, 9:34) or in one case bands (14:34). The skin-tones were as good as any hand-painted cel animation skin tone is going to look and there was no evidence of any problems with colour bleeding and cross-colouration.

    MPEG artefacts were generally absent although I did notice some particularly bad macro-blocking at 5:23 mostly affecting the background. The severe posterisation artefacts seen around this same time were not caused by compression errors, rather they were present in the source materials and thus are discussed there. Aliasing was relatively minor and was only really noticeable if you are looking for it. If you are looking, then typical examples can be found at 31:03 (wheelbarrow handles) and at 32:16 (King's collar).

    There were a few, very minor, film artefacts which consisted of the usual hairs (8:05), black spots (8:25, 74:29) and white flecks (32:24) for example. There was also an error in the alignment of one of the cel overlays resulting in some unusual shadow outlining at 8:09 around the Kralahome’s ship. By far the biggest issue however was the severe posterisation effect in the background sky that affected the entire scene of I Whistle a Happy Tune from 4:42 to 7:07. This section stood out so badly that I can only assume that either (a) the production crew ran out of money to finish up some of the finer details or (b) they simply forgot to come back and render the sky properly and left it in draft concept format. Whatever the cause, words cannot easily describe just how incredibly disappointing this section was, but I will give it a try: imagine a cloudy, stormy sky, computer rendered using a plasma fractal effect. Now imagine that only 8 colours were used and the banding was almost 5% of the screen size in width. The result - terrible. Now comes the really amazing bit: the scene immediately following this one shows a highly detailed, computer generated fog effect using a similar plasma model overlaying the animation – how and why they could get the fog right and not the clouds I may never know. If anyone does, please post a comment.

    There were several subtitle languages on this disc. I sampled both the English subtitles and English for the Hearing Impaired subtitles and found them to be extremely accurate.

    This disc is double-sided, single layer. The main feature is wholly contained within the one layer. One side of the disc contains the entire feature with Spanish, German and Italian audio tracks while the other side contains the English, French and Dutch audio tracks. The subtitles and extras were identical on both sides.

Video Ratings Summary
Sharpness
Shadow Detail
Colour
Grain/Pixelization
Film-To-Video Artefacts
Film Artefacts
Overall

Audio

    The main audio track was a Dolby Digital 5.1 effort in English and it was as lush and rich as the colours were. This was mostly due to the spectacular performance and recording of the London Philharmonic Orchestra. The audio was near reference quality. I did not extensively sample the other language tracks.

     I didn’t notice any audio sync problems apart from the usual cel-animation lip sync mismatch, but then what can you expect? The dialogue was clear and distinct at all times.

    The music was truly the shining star in this presentation and this does not come as a surprise. The original score by Rodgers & Hammerstein contributed greatly to the Broadway and 1957 musical version's success and the decision to re-use all the original score was a wise one. William Kidd masterfully leads the London Philharmonic Orchestra through such great classics as Getting to Know You and Shall We Dance? which are so enveloping and luscious in their reproduction that you cannot help but get swept up in emotion of the music. This is a truly superb effort that almost justifies the DVD’s purchase. On this basis I would probably recommend the CD soundtrack as a worthwhile purchase.

    The surround channels were aggressively used for some of the special effects and to increase the sense of envelopment whenever the orchestral music was playing. They never called attention to themselves and are a fine example of how to do surround sound well.

    The subwoofer could have been used a little more than it was without compromising the material, however it was present to add some support.

Audio Ratings Summary
Dialogue
Audio Sync
Clicks/Pops/Dropouts
Surround Channel Use
Subwoofer
Overall

Extras

Main Menu

    The main menu has no animation and is supported by some background music. It is clear and simple to navigate.

Featurette – Scoring the Music

    This takes a look at the production of the music behind the scenes and is presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 full screen and is not 16x9 enhanced. What is amazing is that it only took four days to record all of the music for the entire feature - quite a feat in my books. To quote the conductor “It’s the music that makes the heart feel” and this is certainly true of the music of The King and I. (Duration 4:12).

Theatrical Trailer

    This is the original theatrical trailer shown in an aspect ration of 1.78:1 and it is 16x9 enhanced, the audio is Dolby Surround Encoded. (Duration 2:05).

R4 vs R1

NOTE: To view non-R4 releases, your equipment needs to be multi-zone compatible and usually also NTSC compatible.

    The region 4 release includes many more languages and subtitles than the region 1 release and is presented in the far superior PAL format. "Deeks, we have a winner" and it's R4.

Summary

    The King and I (animated) felt very much like Godzilla to me - technically very good, but one must ask why did they bother?

    The video quality varies from excellent to good.

    The audio quality is almost reference, the orchestra and music is absolutely superb.

    The extras are poor.

Ratings (out of 5)

Video
Audio
Extras
Plot
Overall

© Michael S Cox (to bio, or not to bio?)
Sunday, September 15, 2002
Review Equipment
DVDPioneer DV-S733A, using Component output
DisplayJVC Interiart Flat 68cm Display 16:9. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre. This display device is 16x9 capable.
Audio DecoderBuilt in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with AVIA Guide To Home Theatre.
AmplificationDenon AVR-3802
SpeakersFront LR - NEAR MainMast, Center - NEAR 20M, Surround LR - NEAR Spinnaker DiPoles, Rear LR - NEAR MainMast-II, Subwoofer - NEAR PS-2 DiPole

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