Building Entertainment: The films of the Walt Disney Studio. A Kid in King Arthur’s Court

Welcome to my weekly discussion of the films of the Walt Disney Studio. I’m proceeding mostly chronologically. The title comes from a quote from Walt, “I never called my work an ‘art’ It’s part of show business, the business of building entertainment.”

Title: A Kid in King Arthur’s Court

Year: 1995

Source materials: Mark Twain’s 1889 novel A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Court 

Budget:  $15 million

Box office: $13.4 million

Plot: Calvin Fuller is a nerdy young boy living in the Los Angeles suburb of Reseda who loves baseball, but is not a good player. The gangly, unsure youth is first seen at a game, standing at bat for his team, the Knights, ready for yet another strike out. Suddenly an earthquake hits; as the others run for safety, the ground opens up under Calvin’s shoes and he falls through the chasm. He eventually lands on the head of a 6th-century black knight. Upon hearing of his miraculous appearance, the elderly King Arthur, seeing him as the savior whose appearance Merlin has predicted, dubs the boy Calvin of Reseda and invites him to dine with the court.

Calvin begins his knight training under Arthur’s top knight, Sir Kane, to help the king retain his crown. When the earthquake hit, Calvin had just grabbed his knapsack, a fact that enables him to dazzle the people of Camelot with his futuristic “magic”, including an introduction to rock and roll via CD player, and a Swiss Army knife. The young “wizard” also shows them how to make inline roller skates. His work wins him adulation and renown, but it also rouses the jealousy of Lord Belasco, who will use any means to take over the throne.

Meanwhile, Calvin finds himself spending time and developing a crush on young Princess Katey, while her elder sister, Sarah, is secretly in love with Sir Kane. Belasco moves forward with his plans and kidnaps Katey and tries to frame Calvin for murder and tells Sarah that if she doesn’t marry him, Katey will die. As Belasco is about to arrest Calvin, Sarah rescues him, tells him Katey is alive and to find her father and show him the proof. Calvin goes to Arthur and shows the proof of Belasco’s scheme. Playing along, Arthur misdirects the knights and helps Calvin escape and they disguise themselves to go rescue Katey.

Walking amongst the people, Calvin tells Arthur that Belasco has been stealing from them for years and they think Arthur doesn’t care about them, and Arthur vows to be a better king. Calvin and Arthur find the castle Katey is being held captive; during the fight, Calvin renews Arthur’s will to fight by giving him Excalibur (gifted to Calvin by Merlin). They release Katey, but Belasco’ second-in-command, Richard, kidnaps her again and holds her hostage over the moat. Calvin uses a laser pointer from his CD player to blind Richard, causing him to fall and save Katey. Arthur knights Calvin as a Knight of the Round Table and arrive back in Camelot to stop Belasco from forcing Sarah into marriage. To take him down for good, they’re going to have to face him in a tournament for Sarah’s hand.

During the tournament, Calvin uses a variety of means to try to defeat Lord Belasco. Sir Kane defeats all the opponents and just him and Lord Belasco are in the finals. Belasco uses a magnifying crystal to use the sunlight to beam it into Kane’s eyes and nearly knock him out. Calvin asks the King to stall Belasco. Belasco is close to declaring his victory if Kane doesn’t return, but Kane does return and faces him another joust; Belasco knocks Kane’s helmet off, but the now headless Kane still jousts and makes a comeback victory by knocking Belasco off his horse. But it isn’t Kane, it is Calvin, who pokes his head out from the large armor. Belasco pulls Calvin off the horse and tries to kill him, but a Black Knight that Calvin had seen earlier appears and ambushes Lord Belasco, saving Calvin. Forfeiting his victory to the Black Knight, Calvin, Arthur, and Camelot is surprised to see the knight is Sarah herself; an astounded but happy Arthur rewards his daughter with the right to choose her own hand in marriage, and she proudly chooses Kane. Belasco is banished from Camelot forever.

Now that he has helped Arthur keep the crown, Calvin has Merlin uphold his bargain show him his way home, and he sadly bids the king and Katey farewell. He is returned to the 20th century just before the moment when he struck out, and he steps up to the plate: this time, he is ready and hits a home run. He is greeted by his teammates – including a girl who looks like Katey – and is looked on by a spectator who looks like Arthur, who is whittling a piece of wood with a pocketknife – the same knife Calvin gave to King Arthur.

Background: Most of the 6th-century portion of the film was shot in Budapest, Hungary, while the majority of the 20th-century portion was filmed in late September 1994, at the softball field of London Central High School (LCHS), an American institution at RAF Daws Hill, High Wycombe, England.

Cast: Ron Moody returns as Merlin, the same role he played in Unidentified Flying Oddball

Thomas Ian Nicholas as Calvin Fuller. Nicholas is best known for playing Henry Rowengartner in Rookie of the Year, Walt Disney in Walt Before Mickey and Kevin Myers in the American Pie film series. Joss Ackland as King Arthur. He appeared in Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, The Sicilian, Lethal Weapon 2, The Hunt for Red October, White Mischief, Passion of Mind, and Hogfather.

Art Malik as Lord Belasco. He appeared in A Passage to India, Underworld, The Living Daylights, True Lies, The Wolfman, Sex and the City 2, Ghosted, John Carter, Bhaag Milkha Bhaag, Diana, and The Infiltrator. Paloma Baeza as Princess Katey.Baeza has acted in a number of films and television programmes, including the 1998 film Far from the Madding Crowd playing the leading role of Bathsheba Everdene, and the 2008 BBC production The Passion as Mary Magdalene. As a director, her 2017 film Poles Apart won the BAFTA for best animated short film in 2018.

Kate Winslet as Princess Sarah. She is best known for playing Rose in Titanic. She appeared in Heavenly Creatures, Sense and Sensibility, Quills, Iris, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, Finding Neverland, Little Children, Revolutionary Road, The Reader, Mildred Pierce, Divergent, Carnage, and Collateral Beauty. Daniel Craig as Master Kane. He is best known for playing James Bond in  Casino Royale, Quantum of Solace, Skyfall, Spectre, and the upcoming No Time to Die. Other films include  Our Friends in the North,  Elizabeth,  Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon, The Trench, Some Voices, Lara Croft: Tomb Raider, Road to Perdition, Layer Cake, Munich, The Golden Compass, Defiance, Cowboys & Aliens, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Logan Lucky, and Knives Out.

Legacy: A sequel titled A Kid in Aladdin’s Palace was released in 1998 as a direct to video with Nicholas reprising his role as Calvin Fuller.

My take: There are some movies that make you think. Why was this made? Who was this made for? Whose idea was this? How long did it take to shoot Ron Moody’s scenes? Twenty minutes?

Available on Disney +?: Yes.

Next Week: The Big Green