This movie is one of the ultimate “what could have been” movies. Like. After a gigantic exposition dump, this is the first real part:
Great, right? I mean, they’d have to build on that a little because the “why” in why they’re suddenly in love needs some plumping up, but otherwise this a great start. Especially because this came out in 1994, the same year as The Lion King, just as chemistry between romantic animated couples was becoming important.
But after this, Derek decides they’re getting married, Odette asks why, he says because she’s beautiful, she asks if that’s all he cares about, and he says, “What else is there?”
And then she gets attacked by the nonsensical villain, turned into a swan for half the day until she agrees to marry the nonsensical villain, and Derek spends his time practicing killing various animals because “the great animal” that attacked Odette and her father that day could absolutely have been… a bunny.
And then plot happens, they find each other, lose each other, Odette Disney dies, Derek kills the villain, Odette comes back to life, they get married because in the ensuing time Derek has apparently learned that there are other valuable things about people besides their looks. K.
The movie is certainly competent. Sure, the first song is the best part, but the animation is nice, the character design is decent without being derivative of Disney, the other songs are OK… but we can’t help imagining better movies than this one when we’re watching it. Here’s why.
Villain looks at images in cauldron steam. Calm down, Ursula.
Intense parental pressure to marry, which is made fun of without ever explicitly being unpacked.
These two guys are sort of like a conglomeration of that ever-suffering Grand Duke. These dudes’ entire jobs are about dealing with their sovereigns’ never-ending struggle to force their children to breed.
The villain going on about how marriage will most certainly mean an end to her servitude.
Not to mention the brief moment when the heroine pretends to go for the idea in order to deceive the villain.
This reminds us of something…
To say nothing of the villain turning into a winged demon thing.
OK, fine. Swan Princess at least has that the romantic leads know each other for a long time before randomly deciding that getting married to one another is the most important thing of life after spending like twenty minutes together, unlike Sleeping Beauty.
The movie seems not so much a rip off of Disney, but rather an homage. Which is nice, we suppose, and made watching it to point out similarities, intended or otherwise pretty fun. But that opening song.
Imagine if the whole movie had just been that opening song expanded to feature film length. Or if they hadn’t ended up together in the end. What if Odette was cursed to turn into a swan not because there’s some random guy who swore revenge for no intelligent reason, but instead because the villain was a bit more like Ursula – spiteful and with a sense of irony, who had seen Derek declare that he doesn’t know of anything besides looks that could possibly recommend him to someone else, and had decided to grab power but be kind of funny about it by changing the princess who’d just been publicly declared worthless apart from her beauty into a swan for 12 hours a day. Themes and things.
We needed more Odette and Derek together, so that he could actually learn (onscreen) that there’s more to her than her looks. Or, if they had to be kept apart, we needed more time with Derek alone not shooting at his unhappy staff dressed as cute animals, but instead regretting his insensitivity and trying to become a better person.
The movie could have borrowed more from Disney!
Derek could feed orphan kids bread!
He could rescue dogs from burning ships!
He could feed the birds, tuppence a bag!
He could help the local bullied kids get their dolls back!
He could battle terrifying lionesses to save his insectivore friends!
The point is, the movie could have spent Derek’s allotted screen time much better than it did. His character would have benefited from it, the romance would have benefited from it, maybe we would get a wistful song out of it that wasn’t just a weirdly and cloying love song about eternal love – when the last time the characters saw each other he was devaluing her and she was walking out on him.
It’s a shame, really. There’s a lot to like here, and the movie it could have been is so close we can almost taste it.