The Kid Who Would Be King reminds me of those quirky daydreams I had as a nerdy 7th grader: A voice would come over the intercom and page chubby, adorable little Toddy into the hallway. Instead of a principal or a parent, I would imagine someone giving me a Goonies-style map to buried treasure, or a message that would self-destruct in five seconds. Either way, I would swap out a day of long division and conjugating verbs for a Steven Spielberg movie. This movie takes a similar fantasy and gives it the first-class treatment of orchestral music, CGI monsters, and Patrick Stewart narrating. For kids, The Kid Who Would Be King offers perfectly acceptable entertainment. Their parents may find a few interesting tidbits in it, as well.
Alex Elliott (Louis Ashborne Serkis) spends his dorky twelve-year-old existence grappling with the typical pitfalls of bullies and science fair projects. One night, Alex stumbles into a construction site and discovers a sword sunk in a hunk of stone. He unsheathes the blade, only to find out that it’s Excalibur, making him the heir to King Arthur’s throne. Alex and his best bud Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) embark on a quest to thwart the revival of Morgan le Fay (Rebecca Ferguson). They enlist the help of Lance and Kaye (Tom Taylor and Rhianna Doris, respectively), two surly delinquents who’d previously handed our heroes nothing but knuckle sandwiches. Our team gets rounded out when the school’s newest weirdo turns out to be Merlin (Angus Imrie), a diet-Eddie Redmayne with a Led Zeppelin t-shirt and a penchant for overlong sentences.
From this story, we get about two hours of amiable fluff that only gets ruffled when the movie goes meta. Alex notes how many times this story has happened before, from King Arthur and Luke Skywalker, all the way to Harry Potter. And parents could play a decent drinking game around every time the script makes an oblique reference to gloomy global politics and the brutal whims of “tyrants and strongmen”…who remain nameless. (The filmmakers burn through their allotment of the word “leaderless” in the first ten minutes or so.) The movie hits its stride when it makes a few winking acknowledgements of just how goofy all this really is.
The trailers didn’t do it any favors, but The Kid Who Would Be King is more fun that you might think. It’s an 80s lark, dressed up in modern special effects and filled with references to iPhones and viral videos. The young performers, particularly Serkis and Imrie, bring a certain guileless charm to their roles. And Patrick Stewart adds a little kooky gravitas as the older incarnation of Merlin. It’s not particularly memorable, but The Kid Who Would Be King manages to be skillfully made and decently enjoyable. As someone who was once a young, daydreaming weirdo (I guess I’m now just the adult version of that weirdo), I’ll admit the idea of a kid being whisked off to a crazy adventure does touch a bit of a soft spot.