Calvin Fuller (Thomas Ian Nicholas) is a young teen from Reseda, California whose biggest problem is that he's lacking confidence. We join him as he's the next batter in a crucial baseball game. The pressure is on. He strikes out without even trying. An earthquake strikes as he's despondently walking back to the dugout, which isn't surprising for Northern California. Suddenly, Army of Darkness (1993)-style, Calvin "falls" to Arthurian England wearing his baseball uniform and his backpack. It seems that Merlin has pulled Calvin back through time "by mistake", perhaps misled by Calvin's clothing--his team is called the "Knights". Merlin was seeking help to vanquish a renegade courtier, Lord Belasco (Art Malik), who desires to wed Arthur's daughter Sarah (Kate Winslet) and take over Camelot for ill purposes. Will Calvin be able to help Merlin anyway, even though he's just a kid with low self-esteem?
The basic idea of the film is a modernization of Mark Twain's A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, which was originally published in 1889 (why didn't they have Calvin be from Connecticut and name his team The Yankees? The "mistake" and delivery device could have been rewritten). There are also relations and references to the number of film versions that have been made of Twain's book over the years (including 1921, 1931, 1949, 1955, 1978 (A Bugs Bunny version), 1979 (The Spaceman and King Arthur), 1989 and even another 1995), a few other Arthurian films, such as The Black Knight (1954) and Siege of the Saxons (1963), and even F. Scott Fitzgerald's The Great Gatsby (originally published in 1925), from which comes A Kid in King Arthur's Court's villain's name, "Belasco", which Fitzgerald meant as a reference to turn of the century playwright David Belasco; Fitzgerald used the name metaphorically to mean something like "illusionist" with a strong sense of "fakery" or "fraud".
This Disney version is quite a pleasant take on the tale. It's a funny but also surprisingly serious fantasy, with an appeal to families and a good message for kids. It helps to go into the film with limited preconceptions/expectations, as the film's tone takes many twists and turns.
Of course it's especially important to not expect non-fiction. Not a few reviewers have complained about the plausibility of certain scenes in Arthurian England, one saying that "Disney underestimated the intelligence of its audience" by showing implausible reactions on the part of the residents of Camelot to Calvin Fuller, and taking little care in making the historical setting more authentic (never mind that their notions of historical fact seem to be based on other fiction films rather than any historical research).
I'm afraid that we'd be severely overestimating the intelligence of at least that section of the audience if we expect them comprehend that the film isn't intended as a documentary on Arthurian England, nor is it intended as a sociological dissertation on what would likely happen given such a clash of these particular cultures. It remains a mystery why it wouldn't strike the parties in question that perhaps the entire film is a daydream of Calvin's while he's waiting on the bench and as such would be far from accurate in its portrayal of Arthurian England. At least the film isn't intended as "realistic". However we interpret the visual information we're given, fantasy is surely intended. After all, the film literally concerns a teenaged boy traveling 1500 years or so (King Arthur is usually placed around the latter half of the 5th to the first half of the 6th Centuries) back in time through a crevice left in the wake of an earthquake. Did someone think that was plausible? That's a fairly large clue that you should switch your interpretational mode to "fantasy".
Like the other versions of A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court, the novelty is the cultural clash. Calvin wows his historical audience with his strange dress, speech, behavior and most concretely, the technological gadgets he brings along. He arrives as King Arthur's men are pursuing the Black Knight, falling right on top of the fugitive so that he acquires the box the Black Knight was riding off with, saving the day. Shortly afterward, Calvin is taken to Camelot, where Belasco challenges him, asking him to choose his weapon. Calvin says, "combat rock" and pulls a CD player out of his backpack, which he ingeniously connects to a couple horns as earphone amplifiers, shocking and awing the crowd with blaring heavy metal. Later, items such as candy, bubble gum and a Swiss army knife prove fortuitous.
But the most important character arc is a developmental one. In Arthurian England, Calvin's self-consciousness isn't interpreted negatively. To Camelot's residents he is merely a strange foreigner acting with decorum--if he's even not threatening. The King's younger daughter, Katherine (Paloma Baeza) takes an almost immediate shine to him, which is important as Calvin is just at the age where he's strongly interested in girls. Even if he's not physically adept, he is clever, as demonstrated with the CD player gag. He further employs his ingenuity to instruct the royal blacksmith in making first a pair of roller blades, then later a "mountain bike", both of which serve important purposes. While at court, he's also giving knight training, which improves his physical abilities. Eventually, Calvin reaches his potential and sheds his self-doubt, fueling the climax and providing a denouement that is a Zen-like "return to the market" (from the oxherding parable), where Calvin proves successful and appreciated in his native environment.
This is an important message of confidence, not only for kids, but for adults, too. The point isn't the historical drama, although that's a lot of fun even if it's more like a medieval section of Disney World than 6th Century England. The point, at least in this particular instantiation of A Connecticut Yankee, is the removal of conceptual/environmental ruts that get in the way of self-actualization.
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