Justin and the Knights of Valour (2013)
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Critic Reviews for Justin and the Knights of Valour
This disappointing CG animation fails to capture the sense of fairytale wonder that its narrative requires.
Seeking to match the comic pizzazz of Shrek, Puss in Boots and Brave, Spanish-made animated adventure Justin and the Knights of Valour falls disappointingly short, despite the best efforts of a very game, mostly British voice cast.
A strong cast on paper, but you wonder if this is a collective sales pitch to make up for the lack of energy on the screen.
Audience Reviews for Justin and the Knights of Valour
Minor effort about a kid, who's granddad was a big deal of a knight in shining armor, aspiring to be the same. As with many animated works before, its all looks but precious little scripting and you'll be checking for possible dirt under your fingernails before the end of it.
It's hard to look at this film an not think of "Jason and the Argonauts"... or "Josie and the Pussycats". Yeah, it's even harder to look at an animated family film that's about warriors of an ancient time and features Antonio Banderas and not think about Puss in Boots, and it doesn't help that Banderas is so passionate about this project that most of the marketers precede this film's title with "Antonio Banderas Presents" on the promotional material, even though Banderas is only one of four producers, and only in a supporting role. Man, he just has to be more involved than that in this project, because they've just gone ahead and called this a Spanish film, even though, in so many ways, it's so British that it stars Freddie Highmore and Saoirse Ronan. Yes, of course I know that Ronan is Irish, but as eager as she is to do any accent except her own, she may as well be deemed so big of a traitor that she is an honorary Brit. The ironic part is that this is actually the first feature film in which she uses her original Irish accent, but hey, forget it, for we shouldn't be talking about the Brits, we should be talking about that Spanish... apparently. Well, I suppose this project is adequately armed with Spanish filmmakers, or at least not as British as I make it sound, because, really, how ye olde English can this film be when its lead is named Justin? I don't know, I always felt that Jason was a little too modern of a name for "Jason and the Argonauts", and that name is actually Greek legend, but hey, it made for a decent legend, as surely as Justin makes for a decent film, even if a slightly anachronistic-seeming name for its lead is the least of its worries.
Even in concept, there's only so much to this film, whose story is kind of kiddy, with a limited sense of consequence that is, of course, further watered down by its being just so familiar. Thematically and narratively formulaic, with hardly anything refreshing in characterization and other aspects of storytelling, this film is consistently generic, and, to tell you the truth, it's sometimes trite in its shamelessly retreading familiar territory. Quite frankly, as energetically told as this story is, there is a certain laziness in this pratfall-rich interpretation of a kiddy tale which is made all the more glaring by a tendency to devolve into particularly shameless approaches to conventional kiddy humor. Now, when I said that the genericisms sometimes get to be downright trite-feeling, that boast particularly applies to the humor, for although lowlights in generally decent humor rarely, if ever prove to be grating, they're often a little too lacking in subtlety for comfort, not unlike other elements in storytelling. The film isn't quite as cloying as I feared it would be, possibly because its story is too thin to bloat all that overtly, but cheesy sentimental moments and bluntly thin characterization reflect an unsubtle overambition to engage that, as irony would have it, primarily shines a light on shortcomings, particularly the natural ones behind this thin concept. Yes, I've already touched upon how thin this narrative is in its bite, but it really does all come down to natural shortcomings, and it probably shouldn't, as there is a potential and a heart to this project that, when backed by a certain inspiration, is enough to make an endearing final product, but not enough to challenge the familiarity, cheesiness, overambition and, most of all, natural narrative limitations which challenge this effort's memorability. Of course, while it has your attention, the final product keeps you going enough to be reasonably fun, at least on a visual level.
Well, in all honesty, this low-profile family flick's animations are improvable, sometimes considerably so, with stiff, almost amateur areas, but not enough for the animation to be terribly underwhelming on the whole, for limitations in life are adequately compensated for by color, dynamicity and overall energy within the designs, as well as life within the voice acting. Certainly, there's not a whole lot for this decent cast to work with, and when there is material, some of it is admittedly obnoxious in its energy, yet just about everyone's charm is distinguished, molding a fair deal of memorability to the characters, even if the film itself isn't all that memorable. The technical value and performances most consistently impress, and even then, it's not like they stand out all that much, yet they add to the color which is initially established through genuine, if less recurring highlights in storytelling. Again, conventions and cheesiness within Matthew Jacobs's and Manuel Sicilia's script sometimes bond to establish a near-trite feel, but the strengths are ultimately more predominant, particularly within the generally quite amusing, if familiar humor, which is often enhanced by lively set pieces which are themselves sold by equally lively direction, courtesy of Sicilia. There's a touch too much of a sense of ambition to Sicilia's often unsubtle direction, to be sure, but it's often met pretty comfortably by inspiration, which sustains enough momentum through atmospheric energy to entertain consistently, and not without the help of heart. While reflective of areas in which the fulfillment of potential falls short, the palpable sense of ambition to Sicilia's colorful storytelling has a heart to it that endears, which is good, as there's only so much to praise in this film, no matter how charming. Don't get me wrong, the decent writing and voice acting behind highlights in animation and direction certainly help in getting the film by as decent, but at the end of the day, the sheer heart put into this project endears as an instrumental attribute of the entertainment value that is in turn an instrumental attribute in getting the final product by, even if it carries things only so far.
Overall, a thin narrative's limitations to engagement value are stressed enough by clichés, cheesy subtlety lapses in humor and storytelling, and a sense of overambition for the final product to go threatened by mediocrity, ultimately overpowered by the energetic, if improvable animations, colorful voice acting and writing, lively direction and charm that make "Justin and the Knights of Valour" a fun, if forgettable, low-profile family flick.
2.5/5 - Fair
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