‘The Kid Who Would Be King’ is an exciting adventure that opens new worlds for young viewers.
Kernel Rating: 4.5 (4.5 out of 5)
MPAA Rating: PG Length: 120 minutes
Age Appropriate For: 8+. This modern update on the Arthurian legends includes some action sequences that may be a little scary for young kids, including skeleton soldiers riding horses that breathe fire, trees that turn evil and attack children, some sword fighting, a few chase scenes, and a fire-breathing dragon. Those fantastical scenes are scary, but children in the film use teamwork and camaraderie to fight back, and that message is an important one. Also some bullying, a storyline involving a parent with a drinking problem who left his family, and a recurring joke about the gross potion a wizard needs to drink to restore his strength.
By Roxana Hadadi
“The Kid Who Would Be King” is an instant classic. This live-action family film from director Joe Cornish, who previously directed the sci-fi film “Attack the Block”—in which a group of neighborhood kids banded together to fight off an alien invasion—brings similar themes to this fantasy offering. The result is a wonderfully engaging movie that should bring parents and children together with its humor, its action sequences inspired by Arthurian legends, and its messages about overcoming obstacles and trying to be a good person, despite the hardship and difficulty that requires.
The film focuses on 12-year-old Alex Elliot (Louis Ashbourne Serkis), who is bullied along with his best friend Bedders (the delightful Dean Chaumoo) by the older Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Doris). The two boys are into magic tricks, card games, role playing, and fantasy properties like “Harry Potter” and “The Lord of the Rings,” and those interests make them prime targets for mockery—until, when running away from the bullies, Alex and Bedders come across a construction site, where Alex pulls a sword from the stone.
It’s a funny story, Alex and Bedders decide, and they laugh when Alex playfully “knights” Bedders—but what they don’t know is that the pulling of the sword has set off a series of events. The evil Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson, of “Mission: Impossible—Fallout”) awakes underground, determined to free herself, return to the world above, and enslave all of Britain, while the wizard Merlin (Angus Imrie, fantastic) transports himself through Stonehenge and to London.
Is Alex the “once and future king,” as a book his father gave him as a child suggests? Is the sword he pulled really Excalibur? Alex and Bedders don’t believe it, but when Merlin arrives—with the ability to transform into an owl, and a variety of magic spells—they start to realize something unbelievable may be happening to them. And when Merlin encourages Alex to make allies from enemies, he and Bedders decide to extend an olive branch to Lance and Kaye. They’re all different people, and they all have different strengths and flaws, but maybe they can band together to stop Morgana and save everyone and everything they love.
“The Kid Who Would Be King” strikes a perfect balance between a dry sense of humor, earnest messaging about the power of friendship, and exciting, slightly scary action sequences that will keep viewers’ attention. The alliance between Alex and Bedders is lovely, and the film’s interest in showing how onetime enemies can get along with each other if they put themselves in each other’s shoes is a meaningful message, too. This isn’t to suggest that the film forgives bullying, but that it considers the fear and insecurity that drives these behaviors, and the strength and confidence required to stand up to bullies, too.
Those elements are ripe for conversations between older and younger viewers after the film, and the movie’s incorporation of Arthurian legends may also be imagination-sparking. Merlin’s spells and the other mythical figures shown in the film, such as the Lady of the Lake, may be topics of interest for a future visit to the library or the bookstore. Plus, the movie’s diverse cast means that children of different genders and ethnicities are all given the opportunity to be heroes and knights, and that will resonate with a variety of viewers.
The film maybe goes on for about 10 minutes too long, but that’s about its only criticism. “The Kid Who Would Be King” feels like a throwback to a time when family films weren’t overloaded with pop culture references or pop music, and when inspirations for storytelling where the legends and myths of old, and when the messages that linger after the film were about how those stories resonate throughout present day. That isn’t to say that films with musical sequences or jokes for adults are somehow inherently flawed, but by shaking off those elements and focusing on a story that prioritizes historical legend and present-day camaraderie, “The Kid Who Would Be King” is a revelation without being a relic.
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