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THE TRUMPET OF THE SWAN

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Review by Michael Jacobson

Voices:  Jason Alexander, Mary Steenburgen, Reese Witherspoon, Seth Green, Carol Burnett, Joe Mantegna
Directors:  Richard Rich, Terry L. Noss
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1, Dolby Surround
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 1.78:1, Full Frame 1.33:1
Studio:  Columbia Tri Star
Features:  Trailers, Game
Length:  75 Minutes
Release Date:  July 31, 2001

Film **

Say the name of author E. B. White, and the titles Charlotte's Web and Stuart Little readily come to mind…both are excellent children's stories that have also been translated into popular films.   A title that doesn't quite jump out is The Trumpet of the Swan, and probably for good reason.  I've never read the book, but now it, too, has joined the ranks of White books to become motion pictures.  The results are passable, but far from enchanting.

It's another typical outsider-makes-good story that's been done to death in everything from The Ugly Duckling to Pinocchio to Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer to many, many others.  In this case, Trumpet tells the tale of a trumpeter swan named Louie who is born without a voice, much to the heartache of his proud father (Alexander).  After all, how can a trumpeter swan trumpet without his voice?

Louie grows up in a lonely way because of his condition, but eventually finds solace in two friends:  a young human boy who happens to be a nature lover, and a pretty young female swan named Selena (Witherspoon).  Selena rightly feels that Louie does have his own voice, even if he can't speak with it.  But all the other swans, including her father, is pressuring her to marry the pompous Boyd (Green), a cheesy crooner with a voice and nothing much else (“When he sings, I get all tingly in my wishbone”, one lady swan coos).

Louie's father eventually takes drastic measures, stealing a trumpet for his son from the city.  Soon, without the benefit of lips or fingers (I know, I know, suspension of disbelief, right?), Louie becomes a whiz on his horn.  But with his father worried about his act of larceny, and time running out before Selena has to march down the aisle…er, river with Boyd, can Louie make use of his newly found “voice” to make everything right again?

The trouble with Trumpet is simply that it's not very interesting.  The characters are all flatly drawn (no pun intended) and don't attract much emotional involvement.  Many of the actors are a bit too hammy with their voices, which distracts from time to time.  As an antagonist, Boyd is about as lifeless as they come, and with so little screen time, one wonders if Boyd's best moments were left on the cutting room floor.

As far as animation goes, this picture is okay, but a far cry from some of the visual wonders audiences have been growing accustomed to in recent years.  Sometimes, a bit of rushing seems apparent.  When Louie plays, for example, many times his mouth isn't on the horn when it's making sounds, nor are his movements in time with the music.  When some swans speak, their beaks don't move, but at least once, Louie's did even though he can't speak, and we're only supposed to be hearing his thoughts.

The thought-listening aspect was another disappointment for me.  A more ambitious film with better artists at the helm would have and could have made Louie expressive enough not to need a gimmick like that to communicate with the audience.  A movie like that would have been much more worthwhile, because it would have shown more creative talent, more patience, and more faith in the main character.

The message, of course, is tried and true, and certainly a good one.  But if you want to teach your kids about the beauties of being different, there are much better films available that will do the trick.  The Trumpet of the Swan just doesn't quite hit the right note.

Video ***

I only watched the anamorphic widescreen transfer on this disc, but I found it to be a mostly good one, with one or two problems worth noting.  The color scheme seems a bit limited for the most part…at some point, I was thinking that I hadn't seen any true reds yet, and when they finally appeared as the highlight color on Boyd, there was noticeable bleeding onto the background.  Images are generally very sharp and clear, with no grain, break-up or distortions of any kind apparent, but the cautious use of color makes this picture at least a notch below most animated fare on DVD.

Audio **1/2

The 5.1 audio is occasionally a bit thin sounding with dialogue, but comes to vibrant life with the jazzy musical score by Marcus Miller.  The trumpet playing is an integral part of the story, and it sounds absolutely beautiful…I wish I could say the same for the rather disappointing songs.  The rear channels don't get used much apart from opening up the music a little bit, but one “dream” sequence makes a little better and more expressive use of the surrounds than the rest of the film.

Features *1/2

There are two trailers for this film plus five bonus ones for others, and a “Can You Guess the Sound?” game, a little ditty that teaches kids about some musical instruments and how they work.

Summary:

While not really a bad film, The Trumpet of the Swan is a bit uneven and uninvolving, and its noticeable flaws don't help it in comparison to some of the better animated films of recent years.  It just seemed a tad rushed through on all fronts: animation, songs, voice talents, and script.  The music is very enjoyable, but the rest is nothing to toot your horn about.