My Thoughts: THE SWAN PRINCESS (1994)

the swan princess

Let’s talk a bit about a man named Richard Rich.

"Yes, let's!"
“Yes, let’s!”

Richard Rich was an employee at Walt Disney Studios. He started in the mail room and worked his way up until he became an animation director as well as co-director for films such as “The Fox and the Hound” and “The Black Cauldron”.

In 1986, he left Disney to form his own animation studios called “Rich Animation Studios”, now known as “Crest Animation Productions”.

"And yet somehow you like him and dislike me?"
“And yet somehow you like him and dislike me?”
"That's the way the cookie crumbles, Don!"
“That’s the way the cookie crumbles, Don!”

For this studio, Richard Rich would produce and/or direct many animated films including “The King and I”, “The Scarecrow”, “The Trumpet of the Swan”, “Muhammad: The Last Prophet”, “Alpha and Omega”, “The Little Engine That Could”, and a handful of educational/religious direct-to-video releases among others. But his most famous film by far is the subject of this review, “The Swan Princess”.

The film, based on the ballet, “Swan Lake”, features a King William and a Queen Uberta (voiced by Dakin Matthews and Sandy Duncan, respectively) who rule different kingdoms. They get along amazingly with each other and wish to bring their families and kingdoms together through the marriage of their kids. They plan to meet every summer so that the kids can grow up together and hopefully develop a bond of love and a desire to marry when they become of age.

The boy, Prince Derek, is Queen Uberta's son. The girl, Princess Odette, is King William's daughter.
The boy, Prince Derek, is Queen Uberta’s son. The girl, Princess Odette, is King William’s daughter.

But as the kids are still young, they understandably dread these visits and pretend to hate each other. But, all that changes when they reach adulthood and they realize their true love for each other.

Yeah, they realize their true love for each other and...oh...Hullo, new animated crush!
Yeah, they realize their true love for each other and…oh…Hullo, new animated crush!
"Back off, Animation Commendation, she's mine! Stick with your Daphne Blake!" "Oh...Daphne, yeah, forgot about her."
“Back off, Animation Commendation, she’s mine! Stick with your Daphne Blake!”
“Oh…Daphne, yeah, forgot about her.”
"What'd you say, Animation Commendation-boo?" "Uh...nothing my  love, just...talking to myself. You can go back on your mystery hunt."
“What’d you say, Animation Commendation-boo?”
“Uh…nothing my love, just…talking to myself. You can go back on your mystery hunt.”

Prince Derek (voiced by Howard McGillin) is even ready to marry Princess Odette (voiced by Michelle Nicastro), and she him, yet this awkward conversation takes place.

swan princess convo1

swan princess convo2

swan princess convo3

swan princess convo4

swan princess convo5

swan princess convo6

swan princess convo7

swan princess convo8

And because of stupid Mr. Derek, the union fails. Wow, that’s a very different turn for a prince/princess story! (Ok, I’m being unfair to Prince Derek. The movie makes it very clear that he’s not a jerk who only values beauty, but he’s just someone who was unable to get his feelings/the right words to come out correctly.)

When King William and Princess Odette head back home with their entourage dejectedly, they’re ambushed by an enchanter named Rothbart, who was banished from King William’s kingdom years before after attempting to take over the kingdom.

He's like Jafar's bald-headed, stupid descendant.
He’s like Jafar’s bald-headed, stupid descendant.

Rothbart, voiced by Jack Palance, has the ability to transform into a mighty beast and attacks King William’s entourage in this form.

"MUAHAHAAA!!!! ROTHBART MAD!!!"
“MUAHAHAAA!!!! ROTHBART MAD!!!”

He eventually kills King William and the other soldiers and kidnaps Princess Odette.

He then takes Princess Odette back to his secret hideout where he places an incredibly weird curse on her. He curses her to take the form of a swan…but only temporarily. Every night when the moonlight hits this particular lake (and as long as Princess Odette as a swan is in the lake), Princess Odette is transformed BACK into a human until the moon sets again. Then, she turns back into a swan. (This stupid curse leads to SOOO many plot holes, but I’ll get to them later). He hopes that she’ll marry him and hence inherit her kingdom.

"Think about it, my dear! We can rule the world together! We'll even have human-goslings together. We can name one of them Ryan if you'd like!"
“Think about it, my dear! We can rule the world together! We’ll even have human-goslings together. We can name one of them Ryan if you’d like!”
“You do know that a baby swan isn’t called a gosling, right?”
“Yeah I do, but this joke was too good to throw away!”

When Prince Derek hears about the attack, he vows to find Princess Odette and the rest of the film is about his journey to find the Princess and the obstacles that both he and she have to overcome.

Now, this movie has some VERY BLATANT plot holes and things that don’t make sense! Let’s start at Princess Odette’s swan dilemma. First of all, Princess Odette as a swan CAN fly away from her captor! She’s not bound to the lake nor to the secret hideout. Understandably, she can only turn into a human when she’s in that particular lake, so maybe that gives her an incentive to not leave. But when she DOES become human, she has AMPLE time to get back to her kingdom and explain the situation to her people before she turns back into a swan! By then, she can amass an entire army to attack Rothbart’s hideout and get him to reverse the spell!

"Should I leave...nah...that moon seems quite fast tonight!"
“Should I leave…nah…that moon seems quite fast tonight!”

Secondly, why does Rothbart put Princess Odette through such a STUPID spell? Why not just imprison her or something? At least that way, he knows that she can’t ever escape! He actually does imprison her, but only near the END of the movie! Or if he wanted to go through with the curse, why not use an actual menacing curse or a more permanent curse? Like, why not just transform her into a swan and let her stay that way until she agrees to marry him? Rothbart, you’re failing as a villain!

"I prefer raising my fowl free range-style!"
“I prefer raising my fowl free range-style!”

Thirdly, Prince Derek learns about the attack from the dying King William who tells the Prince that they were attacked by a “great animal”. Now, why doesn’t King William just tell the Prince “It was Rothbart who did this!”? That’d have been much more comprehensible! Now when he says “great animal”, it tells absolutely nothing to Prince Derek and he spends much of the film trying to figure out what the heck King William meant by “great animal”. King William, you’re failing as a wise monarch!

"You dare insult the GREAT king?" "You dare confound with the term, 'The GREAT Animal'?"
“You dare insult the GREAT king?”
“You dare confound with the term, ‘The GREAT Animal’?”

Despite these and many other plot holes

swan princess convo8

I honestly LOVE this movie!

"Wow, totally did NOT see that coming!"
“Wow, totally did NOT see that coming!”

I know, it’s weird! This is the first time that I’ve seen it, but I totally understand why this movie has such a fan following and spawned a number of sequels! What are some things that I like about this movie? Well, I really, really love the courtship of Prince Derek and Princess Odette!

I shall challenge my future wife hopefuls to a game of gin rummy...seems to have worked with them two!
I shall challenge my future wife hopefuls to a game of gin rummy…seems to have worked with them two!

Coming from a culture wherein arranged marriages occur, I feel that many times when the West thinks of arranged marriages, they automatically associate it with FORCED marriage, i.e. “you’re marrying him/her and that’s that!”. And yes, there are many examples of forced marriages around the world, sad to say!

But at the same time, there are many ARRANGED marriages that occur which are NOT forced. And the whole process of arranged marriage/courtship is pretty much exactly what Prince Derek and Princess Odette went through. Their parents feel that the kids are a match for each other and do all that they can to let the kids know one another, grow together, have life experiences together, and hopefully kindle and develop a love for each other. But at the end, when Princess Odette refuses the marriage proposal, the King and Queen don’t force the marriage on them! The King actually responds with:

swan princess we tried

And that’s the essence of a TRUE ARRANGED marriage: the parents (or other matchmakers) doing their best to match two people together, to arrange a marriage, yet the final decision rests solely with the people involved AND the decision is respected! This is a method of courtship that is so rare in Hollywood films, and I strongly congratulate “The Swan Princess” for showcasing this method!

"The pleasure's all mine, my dear Animation Commendation!"
“The pleasure’s all mine, my dear Animation Commendation!”

This film also has quite enjoyable animation. The colors are nice and the animation moves wonderfully; there aren’t any sudden jerks/scratchy lines or anything like that. There are also many songs in this film with the lyrics written by David Zippel, the same guy who would later write the lyrics to Disney’s “Hercules” and “Mulan”. I won’t say that all the songs are GREAT, but they are at least GOOD! My absolute favorite is the song, “This Is My Idea” which is played near the beginning of the film as we see a montage of Prince Derek and Princess Odette’s summer meetings.

When all is said and done, this film is FAR from perfect, but I’m extremely glad that I saw it.

"Hear that, Don? He's really glad he saw it!"
“Hear that, Don? He’s extremely glad he saw it!”
"Oh yeah? Well, try directing a box-office blockbuster, Richard!"
“Oh yeah? Well, try directing a box-office blockbuster, Richard!”

Maybe it’s the incredibly believable courtship of Prince Derek and Princess Odette, maybe it’s the likable characters and (most of) the supporting cast, maybe it’s the story, maybe it’s the animation, or maybe it’s just the fact that I’m so in love with Princess Odette.

swan princess convo4

I don’t know what exactly is the main reason that I love this film, but I definitely recommend it for anyone who hasn’t seen it yet!

swan princess ranking

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16 thoughts on “My Thoughts: THE SWAN PRINCESS (1994)”

  1. I like this movie too – well, if it were a Disney movie, I would be more critical about it, but since it is from a fairly small studio, I am really impressed with the result. There are only two aspects which bother me about it
    1. It borrows heavily from Sleeping Beauty
    2. There are too many filler songs in it

    But otherwise, it is fun, and yes, “This is my idea of fun” is my favourite song, too, and not just because it is the only one which actually progresses the plot instead of stalling it.

    1. Oh yes it’s definitely mediocre had it been made by Disney. But being Richard Rich’s studio’s first film, it’s quite good.

      And yes, it does borrow alot (and sometimes BLATANTLY STEAL cough*cloud-dancing scene*cough) from “Sleeping Beauty”.

      As much as there were filler songs, I don’t think there were THAT many, so maybe that’s why it didn’t bother me too much.

      Yeah, “This is My Idea of Fun” does what a musical song is supposed to do and it does it well!

      Time to watch the sequels!

      1. Ugh….are you sure you want to?

        I think you could cut down this movie in half and not loose anything important. But all the additional stuff is kind of fun (like the ridiculous stealing the card scene), so I don’t mind too much.

      2. I don’t really WANT to, but whenever I watch a film of a series, I feel obligated to watch the rest of the films in the series. I also feel obligated to watch every animated film I can get my hands on, lol.

        Yeah, the stealing the map scene was filler, but enjoyable.

  2. I used to watch this movie growing up. Sorry to say that I didn’t enjoy it back then and, upon re-watching it a few months ago with my sister, I can’t say that I enjoy it now. The pacing was all over the place and I found that it dragged at times. The animation was wonderful, though, and I kind of liked the frog and the turtle. I’m in sort of a “mixed to negative” viewpoint on the other characters. The relationship between Odette and Derek was well done and I loved the design of Rothbart’s “Great Animal” form. Sorry if I’m being a bit negative, I can’t honestly say that it’s a bad film, just not one that I particularly enjoyed.

    1. It does have it’s problems. Like I said, if it were s Disney (or Pixar or DreamWorks) production, I would be way more critical. But for what it is, it is surprisingly well done. The Animation is decent, none of the songs are downright annoying, and it has its moments.

    2. Totally understandable; this film is definitely far from perfect, especially in terms of plot, pacing, and originality.

      The frog, Jean-Bob, was super awesome and made even more awesome when I found out he was voiced by John Cleese. I’d never have guessed it was him! Apparently, he had the choice to voice this character or Zazu from “The Lion King”, and chose this one because he was more interesting.

      But there were a few side characters who were quite annoying; I agree with you there.

      Time for me to check out the sequels…that should be “fun”.

      1. I’m going to admit something very embarrassing: I was terrified of this movie as a child because of the scene where Rothbart transforms into that horrible creature in the 18th picture. In fact, it made me hate the third film as well which I had actually liked before because there was a brief clip from the first movie of the creature and I thought it was just a wild boar they were hunting and was shocked when I watched the first movie and realized the truth.

        Other movies that terrified/traumatized me as a child: The Secret of NIMH 2, All Dogs Go to Heaven II, for the evil brother who turned the scientists into dogs and the evil cat demon respectively.

  3. Why can’t we have animators like this nowadays. Oh wait I know.

    A. Everybody ( especially Disney ) is cheap and gets away with making cheesy films with special effects.

    B. People are selfish.

    I miss all dogs go to haven the television series and Aladdin, Little Mermaid, and even Peter Pan television series. They were alot more fun the actual movies or related or unrelated films. Also it was a dream come true when you could come home from school and watch your animations and cartoons from the movies but as a television series. I think it all ended with Hercules attempting to do a high-school version of the movie and then of course the argument of anime being mature ( when it is not ), which lead to more complex cartoons becoming straight-up animations.

    Merry Melodies turning into a socialistic relationship show and Scooby-Doo showing off Velma’s body not to mention jumping drawing styles.

    A good comparison ( or easy ) is looking back on Sonic the Hedgehog series. First we had a decent cartoon, then we had an even better and probably the best animation. Finally for some reason they took the animation and attempt to make it into a story about musical items ( which is beyond jumping the Shark ) and now we have a stereotypical Anime along with a Stereotypical 3d animation that was more or less like a reverse in the direction we needed.

    I mean seriously I miss those tales and days and wish they would come back. Sad part is that we have grown-ups ( including myself ) who are immature or not quitting, not settling down in remedial jobs, and are too distracted by evil stuff ( like 9/11, Patriot Act, Violations against privacy, genocide ).

    1. Um, welcome to the blog, first and foremost!

      I disagree with the fact that Disney is getting cheap and relying on special effects; I still have praise and admiration for their WDAS films.

      I didn’t really grow up with these TV shows, so I can’t comment. How do you feel about the DuckTales reboot though?

  4. I watched SWAN PRINCESS only once, and oh, ancestors help me, how I did NOT like it!

    It seems as though it’s merely trying to replicate the Disney Renaissance formula (in fact, in his “Movie Guide” series, Leonard Maltin calls it, quite rightly, “too derivative of Disney’s BEAUTY AND THE BEAST for its own good”), at the cost of everything that made the Disney Renaissance movies so great- the characters are not at all interesting, the animation is sloppy, the voice acting is lackadaisical, and the songs are instantly forgettable.

    If you ask me, the only non-Disney animated feature to be directed by Richard Rich (at least, of those I’ve seen) to be even remotely good is THE KING AND I (which, by the way, I used to watch quite frequently when I was a kid). SWAN PRINCESS was a complete misfire, TRUMPET OF THE SWAN basically trashed the original source material (which I’ve been fond of since reading it for English class in the fourth grade), and I have absolutely no intention of watching *any* of the ALPHA & OMEGA movies.

    1. I’m the opposite in that I found ‘The King and I’ to be incredibly bad!

      My fave Richard Rich film is ‘Muhammad: The Last Prophet”. In 2004, he directed an animated film about our Prophet Muhammad’s life, so it’s like one of the few Muslim-oriented animated films out there.

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