The King and I is arguably considered one of the most popular musicals ever created. The story was originally based on a true story (or at least one person’s interpretation of the real story) as it was based on the experiences of Anna Leonowens who traveled to Siam (modern day Thailand) to teach the king’s children and wives. This story eventually made its way to the book Anna and the King of Siam and later to the well received musical created by Rodgers and Hammerstein. Despite being a pretty big fan of musicals I have to admit that I don’t remember ever seeing The King and I. The story has been adapted quite a few times over the years including multiple adaptations of the musical as well as the award winning 1956 movie. Arguably the most controversial adaptation though has to be the 1999 animated movie which I am looking at today. The King and I is a decent children’s movie that fails in its quest to imitate the more popular Disney movies of the era.
The story of The King and I follows the tale of Anna and the King of Siam. Anna has traveled to Siam on the request of the King to teach his children English and give them a British education. It turns out Anna’s greatest challenge may be the King himself though due to his stubbornness and arrogance. While Anna’s and the King’s relationship begins to grow, an unknown threat risks everything. An evil sorcerer is intent on using his magical powers to seize the throne for himself.
As I had never seen the musical or story that the 1999 version of The King and I was based on I ended up doing a little research to see how the animated movie compares. While the main plot is mostly the same, there are quite a few changes to the story as well. Some of these were made in order to make the story a little more child friendly as it eliminated some of the elements that might not work well for younger children. It also lead to elements being changed/added to appeal more to children. None of the magical elements or animal companions present in the 1999 version of the film were in the original story obviously. Even the ending was slightly changed in order to make it more upbeat for children. While a lot of the elements are the same or were slightly changed, there are some elements of the story that are considerably different.
In a lot of ways it really felt like The King and I was mostly made in order to try and capitalize on Disney’s success in the 1990s. You can look at specific elements of the movie and immediately tell those elements were added in an attempt to copy what had worked in Disney films. In particular the movie seems to have been really inspired by Aladdin. It really feels like the creators looked at the success of Aladdin and decided to let it to influence their interpretation of The King and I. I say this because the magic elements and the numerous animal sidekicks that add very little to the story seem like they were taken straight from a Disney film. The animal characters in particular are only there to add some slapstick comedy. This wouldn’t be such a bad thing except that it doesn’t compare to the quality of a Disney film. In some ways it feels like a cheap knockoff. It is not a terrible movie, but if you expect it to live up to a Disney animated movie you are going to be sadly mistaken.
One of the areas where this is most prevalent is in the animation itself. At times the animation can be pretty good. It is nowhere near the quality of a Disney movie, but some of the sequences and backgrounds look quite nice. Then there are the times where the animation kind of falls off. Despite being released in 1999 it really feels more like a 1980s/early 1990s Disney movie with regards to its animation quality. The worst offenders are the early CGI used in the film. These elements stick out like a sore thumb where the movie would have been better off using normal 2D animation. Lots of animated movies from this era seemed to use this early CGI and it would regularly stick out. The movie’s animation is not horrible, but I honestly would have expected more from a movie released in 1999.
Another issue with the film is that I found it to be kind of racist. Some of this comes from the source material. The story was originally based on the experience of a British woman in Siam back in the 1860s. This was then translated to a book in the 1940s. Its origin has lead to the main story featuring a number of stereotypes. Despite being quite a bit newer as it was released in 1999, the movie fails to get rid of these stereotypes and in some ways make them even worse. I attribute a lot of this to the movie’s villains. As the original story is based around real events, I really want to know why a sorcerer was added. The biggest culprit by far though has to be Master Little who is basically a caricature of many of the racist stereotypes of southeast Asian cultures. While there are movies that are considerably worse in this area, for a movie created in 1999 it is disappointing.
The fact that I am a pretty big fan of musicals was one of the main reasons that I wanted to check out The King and I. While I am not familiar with the musical it appears like the animated movie features most of the main songs from the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical. I personally would say that the songs are a little hit or miss. Some of the most famous songs are quite good while some of the others are pretty average. The singing in the movie is also pretty inconsistent. Some of the singers and voice actors are better than others.
Earlier I mentioned that a lot of the movie’s problems come from the fact that the creators tried to craft the movie towards a younger audience. The movie has a G rating after all. While this will likely turn off quite a few adults, I think it will play quite well with younger children. The film borrowed a lot of elements that are popular in Disney movies for a reason. The magic and animal elements don’t make a lot of sense for the overall story. They do add quite a bit of slapstick comedy to the film though which should appeal to children. This humor doesn’t always work all that well for adults though as most of the movie’s funniest moments come from making fun of things that weren’t intended to be funny. For these reasons I can see the 1999 version of The King and I working pretty well for children.
As for the Mill Creek Entertainment Blu-ray which this review is based on it is the first time that the movie has appeared on Blu-ray at least in the USA. I would say that the visual quality is pretty solid. It doesn’t reach the level of what a full remaster would look like. I really doubt you will ever see a full remaster of the film though with its middling reviews and the fact that it is generally not considered to be a classic animated film. Basically this is probably the best looking version of the film that you will be able to find. As for the special features the Blu-ray only features the original trailer for the film. The movie also includes a code for a digital version of the film for Mill Creek Entertainment’s streaming site movieSpree.com.
I basically would consider The King and I to be a solid but far from spectacular movie. The movie adapts the classic musical of the same name and basically tries to turn it into a typical animated movie from the 1990s. In a lot of ways this takes the form of adapting things that were popular in Disney movies from that time period. This changes the story in some strange ways which may turn off fans of the classic musical. While the movie tries to take inspiration from the Disney animated movies of that era it fails to reach the same levels. The story lacks the same level of charm making it feel like sort of a knockoff. The animation doesn’t stand up to other movies from that era either. On top of that the movie can be a little racist at times. Despite all of this the movie is not horrible. It is totally watchable and I think children could really like it.
If you don’t really care for The King and I or aren’t a big fan of animated movies, I don’t see the 1999 adaptation being for you. If you have younger children though and really enjoy animated movies there might be enough to The King and I that it could be worth checking out.
The King and I releases on Blu-ray on October 6th, 2020
We would like to thank Mill Creek Entertainment for the review copy of The King and I used for this review. Other than receiving the review copy we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation. Receiving the review copy had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.