In the nineties, many American movie studios were trying to beat Disney at their game by basically—mimicking everything that made their movies a hit. They didn’t try to rewrite the rules until the early aughts; before then we had a bunch of movies that were basically D grade copies of Disney hits. Richard Rich is a once Disney animator who tries his best to riff on Disney, taking a classic fairy tale and adding about every trope from the Disney list you can imagine, right down to funny talking animals. What he forgets is entertainment and a sense of life.
An aging king (Dakin Matthews) and a widowed queen (Sandy Duncan) arrange a marriage between his only daughter Odette and her only son Derek. Despite the two children’s initial dislike of one another, they eventually they fall in love, but the evil sorcerer Rothbart (Jack Palance), desiring the throne of king, enchants the princess. She is a swan by day, and becomes a woman only when the moon rises. Refusing to accept another bride, Derek sets out to look for Odette. When he finds that she’s been cursed, Derek now must fight Rothbart, while also realizing his true love for Odette that is beyond royal arrangement.
Director Richard Rich takes a lot of inspiration from Disney, taking plays from a lot of their big nineties movies, even mimicking certain beats and character molds. Rothbart is obviously Maleficent, Odette is Ariel and Snow White, and in the prologue the king even lifts his daughter to the crowds from his perch a la “The Lion King.” That wouldn’t be so bad, but “The Swan Princess” is just dreadfully boring and seems to drone on, even for a movie that clocks in at ninety minutes. While I know this movie isn’t tailored for someone like me, even at age eleven in 1994 I never thought the movie looked all that great. Richard Rich wants to be Disney and Don Bluth and bounces back and forth with animation varying in quality quite often.
Brian Nissen tries in vain to expand on a somewhat slim fairy tale and completely dodges the ballet content in favor of a lot of musical numbers that feel like pseudo-Disney. There isn’t a single memorable song in the whole bunch, which is sad considering a lot of the music hinges on delivering exposition of characters that are generally flat on screen. Derek and Odette also feel like clumsy Disney tropes without much depth or interesting elements to them. Beyond the ahead of its time feminism of Odette that would later be explored in future animated films, she’s pretty dull overall.
Richard Rich never quite grabs enough material to build a build a narrative with substance. Even when filling the screen with a talking turtle (who sounds mysteriously similar to Eeyore), a frog that thinks he’s royalty, and an Irish Puffin, it’s dull and you’ll find yourself wishing for it all to end as quickly possible.
Did you know this movie garnered six straight to video sequels? Six.
The 25th Anniversary Blu-Ray includes “Looking Back at 25 Years of The Swan Princess” which pretty much recycles vintage behind-the-scenes along with some recent interviews. It’s sadly standard and chopped together. The “Making of” is a vintage VHS segment that’s also a pretty ho hum EPK promoting the movie. It does include animation breakdowns and production peeks et al. which is fine. Finally there’s the “Sing Alongs” function for the kids, if they’re still awake at the end of the movie, mind you.