The King And I

The King And I (1999)
Warner Home Video
Extras: Theatrical Trailer, Documentary, Sizzle Reel, Karaoke, Sing-Along

Once again we have an example here how stunning animated films can look on DVD when they are done right. Warner Home Video has released "The King And I", an animated film, based on one of Broadway’s most successful musicals. I had talked with the film’s musical executive producer Mark Berger some time ago and was very eager to see the film’s incarnation on DVD and especially some of the bonus materials he had told me about. Now I have finally had the chance to give this disc a look, and boy, what a great disc it turned out to be.

Anna Leonowens and hear 10-year old son are travelling to Siam, which by the way is the former name of today’s Thailand, to take on a new position as a teacher at the royal court. Little does she know that Kralahome, Siam’s primeminister has sinister plans to overthrow the throne and make her part of it. Upon her arrival at the court he tries to plant pictures of the barbaric regency of the King of Siam in her mind, but soon enough she sees the King’s honest and righteous, though traditionally rooted – true self. Desperate for the throne Kralahome and his inept helper Master Little set up another plan, sending word to Britain that Miss Anna would be held captive by the barbaric King Of Siam. Indeed, the British immediately set sail for the oriental country to replace the king with their own governer. To prove the British wrong, Anna and the King prepare a banquet for the newly arrived guests, eager to impress the guests and rid them of their preconceptions. Unfortunately during the banquet Kralahome makes it known to the King that his eldest son is in love with one of the court’s servant, a sin that would force the King to kill the girl by tradition. What follows is a roller-coaster with fiery white waters, hot air balloons, fireworks and an evil guy with a seemingly endless arrays of evil tricks up his sleeve.

Apart from the engrossing story, the single-most important aspect of "The King And I" are the classic songs and the music by Rodgers and Hammerstein of course, which have been masterfully adapted for this film by William Kidd. Using an incredible cast of voice talent, "The King And I" manages to resurrect some classic tunes and make them fresh and attractive once again. You will have trouble getting "I Whistle A Happy Tune" or "Shall We Dance" out of your head after watching this DVD, so much is sure.

Technically "The King And I" is a great film, using some of the latest in computer technology to bring the world of Siam to life. There is one thing however that I am having problems with in a number of recent animated films – the mix of the stylized cartoon images with highly detailed and shaded 3D renderings. In this film the Stone Warriors in the temple that are conjured up by Kralahome to stalk the King are such an example. It is a noticeable stylistic break in the film’s continuity and cohesiveness, and only makes people aware of the fact that yes, animated films are not the hand-crafted masterpieces they used to be.

One other thing you will certainly notice when watching the film is its speed. Before you even know it, it is over. While this is usually a very good thing, in the case of "The King And I" the story is almost a little too tight. Characters are not really established and every single scene in the film serves the definite purpose to directly advance the plot. There’s no breather, no backstory, and no room to establish Anna as the teacher or the children as her friends. There’s not even room to really develop the romance between Anna and the King. They’re just in love all of a sudden. It’s not necessarily a bad thing because it keeps moving the film along at an uninterrupted pace, but I found it noteworthy nevertheless.

Warner Home Video’s release of "The King And I" is presented in a stunning <$PS,letterboxed> version that is rich in color and paints the most vibrant hues on your screen. They are strong and impressively rendered, making it virtually impossible to notice that the disc’s black level is slightly offset. Because they are extremely powerful, the colors are almost overpowering the picture sometimes, especially when viewed through a standard AV connection. Fed to the screen through component signals however the definition of the image is simply spectacular. According to Mark Berger a rather high average bitrate was used for the compression of the film and it is clearly noticeable for the well-defined picture you get to see on this release. The overall quality and impression of the disc is absolutely stunning.

The same is true for the bonus materials found on the disc. Based on a Rodgers and Hammerstein original the focus on the extras is understandably centered around the musical elements of the film. The featurette on the release covers who plans were made to create an animated version of the classic material and how certain people were picked for the project to ensure its quality. It gives us some great insight into the workings of an animated film in general. There are sing-along and Karaoke tracks on the disc as well, which should be fun for the entire family. The true gems of the disc can be found in the "Sizzle Reel" section however. Accessed through the disc’s fabulous main menu, which has a very playful and whimsical feel to it, almost reminiscent of screens for video games, you will enter an area where you can truly experience the vocal talents behind "The King And I". Using the angle feature of DVD, these segments allow you to see scenes and songs from the film in different development stages. The first angle shows you the voice talent in the studio, recording the audio track, the next angle shows us the draft animation. Step ahead one angle and you will see the clean-up animation and on the fourth angle you will find the final version from the film. The same approach has been taken for the audio track. On the first audio track you will hear the dry recording of the voice, with a temporary piano track respectively, and on the second track you will find the final audio, as it is used in the film. Apart from giving viewers a good idea how things evolve, it is a great example how postproduction can and does enhance the overall experience. The voices in their dry recording are good and nice, but once they went through the sound-engineer’s black boxes, vitalizers and equalizers, all of a sudden they take on a dimension, larger than the original.

Which brings us to the disc’s audio department. Presented in a rich <$5.1,5.1 channel> <$DD,Dolby Digital> soundtrack on this DVD, The soundtrack has a very natural balance throughout, but does not make excessive use of the low end of the spectrum. The spatial integration of the soundtrack is very good and makes generous use of the split surrounds. Dialogues are very well produced and come across clear and understandably at any time. The orchestral score is crystal clear and so are the voices, bringing the classics many of us grew up on to new glory. There is a transparency to the soundtrack that is simply amazing and very hard to describe.

"The King And I" is great family entertainment, although the film seems to be geared more towards adults than real children due to the subject matter and the lack of character development. Children might find the obvious comical elements like Master Little’s attitude and inept behavior funny, but much of the actual story will surely go right over their heads.

I doubt however that children would dislike the film for that and as such it certainly serves the purpose of entertaining the whole family. As a matter of fact, I had the chance to screen this disc with some friends and their children and as expected, the children loved the film, immediately picking up the tunes, humming them long after the film was finished. It is what this kind movie is ultimately about. Warner’s release of this film on DVD is one of the finest discs in the market and it features supplements that are innovative and informative at the same time, while always maintaining a good entertainment value.