The Swan Princess Review (1994)
In 1994, when I was six years old, two animated movies were released. One of these was Disney’s The Lion King; the other was The Swan Princess. Richard Rich, who directed the latter, had worked at Disney in the 1980s. Rich left Disney after directing The Black Cauldron and formed his own animation studio. Before leaving Disney, he had pitched the idea for a cartoon adaptation of the famous ballet Swan Lake. Disney said no. After making a series of shorts, Rich directed it himself, giving us The Swan Princess.
In both the film and the ballet, a princess named Odette is turned into a swan by the evil Rothbart. Her prince tries to save her and is tricked by Rothbart into breaking his promise, and the setting is a magical land. That is where the similarities end.
In the film, the prince (Derek) and Odette were raised together, and their parents wanted them to get married. After they grew up, Derek made a mess of his proposal and Odette turned him down. Odette’s father, King William, had made an enemy of the enchanter Rothbart. Rothbart kills William and kidnaps Odette, cursing her to turn into a swan during the day.
Rothbart wants to take over William’s kingdom and has decided that the best way to do this is to marry Odette. She is not interested in marrying the man who killed her father, and with the help of some newfound friends, sets off to find her true love and break the spell. Meanwhile, convinced that Odette is alive, Derek is determined to save her and prove that he does love her. But Rothbart will stop at nothing to win. Will true love triumph?
I think this is a fantastic movie. I’ve always loved it, and this rewatch reminded me why. First, the human and animal supporting characters are great. Jean-Bob is a French frog. He thinks he’s a prince who just needs a kiss from a princess to get his life back. Puffin is a puffin who was in the military, and Speed is a turtle. They play off of each other well, while not overwhelming our hero and heroine. They support the story and add a lot of humor to what could otherwise be a very dark film.
Secondly, the villain, Rothbart, is also a fun character. We don’t know much about him (his backstory shows up in the second and third movies), but he is the kind of villain who is fun to hate. He also provides a challenge to our heroes, and there are moments where it seems like he might just win. At one point, he decides to stop being so nice, showing just how powerful he is. He’s conniving, evil, and seems to love every minute of it.
Thirdly, The Swan Princess is, at its heart, a romance. A very sweet romance. The fact that Derek and Odette grew up knowing each other smooths over some of the issues people have with this part of the story. It wasn’t love at first sight, they just fell in love very gradually and didn’t realize it.
After Derek insultingly proposes and Odette turns him down, he realizes what the audience has known for a while; Derek and Odette are in love. Odette knows she loves Derek, but wants to make sure he loves her back before marrying him. As they fight to find each other, their love grows. The story unfolds in a very sweet way, and I think it works out well.
Our leads are fun too. Derek is a brave prince who isn’t above asking for help. While Derek has to save Odette in the end, she is also an active player in the story. Odette stands up for herself against Rothbart, and Derek only knew where she was because she went and got him. Twice. Odette is a brave character, willing to risk everything to break the spell, and Derek is willing to do anything to save the woman he loves.
Finally, the other parts of the film are wonderful too. The music for The Swan Princess is beautiful. It leads the audience’s emotions without being overwhelming and knows when to be exciting and when to be calm. The songs are catchy and sweet without being annoying, and the villain has a great song as well. The animation is stylistically similar to The Fox and the Hound and The Black Cauldron, which I like, personally. It’s rich and detailed, while not overwhelming the characters.
Although it didn’t make as much money as The Lion King, The Swan Princess is a nostalgic classic. The animation is beautiful, the story is the right blend of cheesy and clever, and the characters are a lot of fun. It’s one of my favorite movies. If you’re a fan of animation, princess movies, or romances in general, you might love The Swan Princess.
“You had me at hello”
“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.
I have loved none but you.”