Trumpet Of The Swan

on May 11, 2001 by Luisa F. Ribeiro
   There's an unfortunate Saturday-morning-cartoon quality to this adaptation of E. B. White's children's novel of the same name, extending from its flat animation to a shallowness of characterization and unmemorable songs that, despite the level of talent behind it, will leave the film to be appreciated only by the very young.

   The story unfolds of a pompous but loveable Father trumpeter swan (Jason Alexander) and his gentle mate (Mary Steenburgen) who hatch three cygnets, two girls and a much anticipated son, Louis (Dee Baker), who, the parents discover with shock, is mute and thus, as Father says with utter dismay, "defective." Initially unsettled and unsure how to handle his son's condition, Father finally makes a bold decision and steals a trumpet from a musical shop to give his son a voice. Ostracized by his fellow young swans, Louis makes friends with Sam, a young boy who dreams of becoming an ornithologist. Sam gets the brilliant Louis into school where Mrs. Hammerbotham (Carol Burnett, who breathes much-needed vibrancy into the film with each of her character's appearances) unflinchingly teaches him to write. That and his skill with his trumpet take Louis to nationwide fame, enabling him to redeem his Father by repaying the stolen trumpet and find happiness with the swan of his dreams, Serena (Reese Witherspoon).

   White's classic children's novels are rightfully beloved and perhaps the most well known animated adaptation is the charming 1973 Hanna-Barbera production of "Charlotte's Web," which purists decry as too slushy, but which has nevertheless proven a longtime favorite with children. A thoroughly impressive live action/computer animated adaptation of White's "Stuart Little" in 1999 confirmed that kids' stories could be delightfully fun for adults too--and only makes this thin translation all the more disappointing.

   Composer Marcus Miller fails to provide any magical spark in his tunes, which feel and sound labored. Steenburgen, Witherspoon and Joe Mantegna are all but thrown away in their thin parts, and Alexander's histrionics as Father lose their charm fast.    Voiced by Jason Alexander, Mary Steenburgen, Reese Witherspoon and Carol Burnett. Directed by Richard Roth and Terry L. Noss. Written by Judy Rothman Rofe. Produced by Lin Oliver. A TriStar release. Animated. Unrated. Running time: 75 min.

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