On a sunny day in the San Fernando Valley a nervous 14-year-old, Calvin Fuller (Thomas Ian Nicholas), steps up to bat and strikes out. Suddenly, an earthquake hits and a fissure opens up in the ground, with Calvin falling into the void only to plop down in a 12th-Century English countryside.
No, it's not the San Andreas Fault acting up, but rather Merlin the Magician (Ron Moody), sending out a call for a hero to rescue an aging King Arthur (Joss Ackland) from the evil clutches of the ambitious Lord Belasco (Art Malik). It seems both the Valley kid and the monarch are suffering from a lack of confidence, but you can be certain that they will have recovered triumphantly by the time Disney's fine family comedy-adventure "A Kid in King Arthur's Court" is over.
This lively time-travel fantasy is the clear result of imagination and reflection on the part of writers Michael Part and Robert L. Levy and director Michael Gottlieb and their colleagues, who possess a crucial light touch. Shot extensively--and most handsomely--in Czechoslovakia using a number of real castles, "A Kid in King Arthur's Court" strikes just the right balance in its conception and design. In conversation the citizens of Camelot use "thee" and "thou" but speak in a natural manner, and the look of the film is neither grotty nor overly glamorous. The film, in short, evokes the Middle Ages effectively, creating an aura of authenticity without going overboard about it.
Understandably, Calvin is not just a little confused by what's happened to him, but he's more resilient than he could have ever imagined. True, it doesn't hurt that he quickly becomes a friend of Arthur's younger daughter, Princess Katey (Paloma Baeza), re-creating for her a Big Mac and keeping the village smithy busy--and confounded--by showing how to forge such items as roller-blades and a bicycle. Still, things really are rotten in Camelot. Grieving the loss of his queen, Guinevere, Arthur has lost touch with his people, who have begun to turn against him, thanks to the chicanery of Belasco, who intends to gain the throne via marriage to Arthur's elder daughter (Kate Winslet) upon her impending 18th birthday.
"A Kid in King Arthur's Court," which has a zesty, lilting score by J.A.C. Redford, is enlivened by solid portrayals all around, headed by the likable Nicholas and the veteran Ackland, whose imposing presence and majestic voice make both a credible yet wistful and vulnerable Arthur.
* MPAA rating: PG , for mild adventure and language. Times guidelines: The film is appropriate for all ages.
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'A Kid in King Arthur's Court'
Thomas Ian Nicholas: Calvin Fuller
Joss Ackland: King Arthur
Art Malik: Lord Belasco
Paloma Baeza: Princess Katey
A Buena Vista release of a Walt Disney Pictures of a Tapestry Films & Trimark Pictures production. Director Michael Gottlieb. Producers Robert L. Levy, Peter Abrams & J.P. Guerin. Executive producer Mark Amin. Screenplay by Michael Part & Robert L. Levy. Cinematographer Elemer Ragalyi. Editor Michael Ripps. Costumes Maria Hruby. Music J.A.C. Radford. Production designer Laszlo Gardonyi. Art director Beata Vaurinecz. Set decorator Istvan Toth. Running time: 1 hour, 35 minutes.
* In general release throughout Southern California.