Film review: Trumpet of the Swan, The

Published: Thursday, Aug. 16 2001 2:17 p.m. MDT

Forgive the awful pun, but "The Trumpet of the Swan" is nothing for its makers to toot their own horns about.

In fact, the plain truth is that this is one of the weakest kids' films in recent memory — with flat, sometimes downright ugly, animation, and generally unappealing characters. And worse, it seems at least twice its relatively brief length.

So it's not really surprising that the film's distributor is only giving it a limited theatrical run before its inevitable home-video release. What is surprising is how far the filmmakers have gotten away from the source material, E.B. White's beloved book of the same title.

But unlike the live-action version of White's "Stuart Little," which expanded the short tale by throwing in scenes that had just the right amount of whimsy, the story here has been padded with painful, forced humor and unmemorable musical numbers.

As for the film's title, it refers to Louie, a newborn trumpeter swan. Louie's parents (voiced by Jason Alexander and Mary Steenburgen) are extremely proud of their new son at first, but are mortified when they discover that their offspring is mute.

However, they do their best to love and nurture Louie anyway, though he's still embarrassed by his inability to communicate with them and his newfound friends. And his efforts to learn reading and writing are for naught because none of them have that ability.

Feeling somewhat guilty, Louie's father steals a trumpet to give his son a "voice." But once he finds out about the theft, Louie decides to get a job as a musician to repay his father's debt.

At the same time, Louie's true love, Serena (Reese Witherspoon), is about to marry his longtime nemesis, while Louie is off in Boston, working for an unscrupulous manager (Joe Mantegna). And besides, he can't find a way to express his feelings to her.

As you can probably tell, the plot bears less of a resemblance to White's book than it does to the rather uneven "Swan Princess" movies, which also came from director Richard Rich.

If anything, the quality of his animation is getting worse with each movie (needless to say, it's not up to Disney standards, and probably not even up to Saturday morning-cartoon standards). And as for his voice cast, Alexander is the only one who sounds like he's having a good time.

Not that you can blame Witherspoon, Mantegna and Steenburgen for their uninspired work. After all, even the usually dependable Carol Burnett fails to amuse (but she's also not given very much to do). And, sadly, even Little Richard sounds like a pale shadow of his former self on the clinker musical number "Louie Louie Louie."

"The Trumpet of the Swan" is rated G, though it does feature one scene of animated violence and some mildly vulgar gags. Running time: 75 minutes.


E-MAIL: jeff@desnews.com

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