There is a growing love for animation set in medieval times, sparked by the likes of Shrek, Brave and How To Train Your Dragon. A film like Manuel Sicilia’s Justin and the Knights of Valour should therefore be an adventure to get excited about but unfortunately an unoriginal storyline, an over-abundance of lame, stereotypical characters and limp jokes make it fall completely flat.
In a medieval kingdom where knights have been outlawed in favour of the rule of law to exaggerated proportions, sweet young lad Justin (Freddie Highmore) dreams of becoming a knight like his grandfather Sir Roland before him. His father (Alfred Molina), chief counsel to the Queen, has other plans for him, insisting that he follow in his footsteps and become a lawyer. However on the advice of his grandmother (Julie Walters) Justin embarks on a quest to be trained as a knight by three former nobles of the realm, the scholar Legantir (Charles Dance), the engineer Braulio (Barry Humphries) and the swashbuckling Blucher (James Cosmo). Along the way Justin meets adorable barmaid Talia (Saoirse Ronan) and eccentric magician Melquiades (David Walliams) who assist him in his quest but will he be successful with an evil band of black knights hot on his heels?
There simply isn’t enough time to list each and every member of the all-star cast who provide character voices for this film and they are all perfectly cast. However, the result is a saturation of oddly placed characters who, perhaps with the small exceptions of Ronan’s Talia and Humphries’ Braulio, are distinctly lacking in charm and originality. With the film trying to re-enact the success of Shrek, stereotypically we have Antonio Banderas attempting some kind of reprisal of his womanising Puss in Boots role and Rupert Everett of his vain Prince Charming one. Even the mighty Mark Strong as villainous knight Heraclio cannot save this band of characters from being ever so tiresome.
Much of the story is derivative of other films such as Stardust, where our hero originally has his faith in the wrong woman but meets his match along the way. The plot lacks in suspense, real adventure and believability – an example being that awkward and nerdy Justin becomes an agile young knight in the space of about two days. It is also quite a strange message to children that the rule of law is pointless and not something which makes a kingdom function well. But aside from this the general message of strength, ambition and fighting for what is right is a nice one. The jokes fall flat as immediately as they come. Walliams’ alter-egoed sorcerer is thrown to the forefront throughout but his camp vs booming Little Britain comedy voices come across as embarrassing rather than adding to the comedy value. At times the animation is sharp, with attention to detail, charming scenery and a nice sequence in the middle to relay a past event akin to The Tale of the Three Brothers in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. Where the animation fails is in character expression and matching the character voice to the mouth movement.
It can’t be denied that the strong cast really tries to bring Justin and the Knights of Valour to life, but what should be a thrilling ride with a hero at the forefront that kids can really get behind becomes an unadventurous flop that might as well be banished to the dungeon.