Watching Vanguard Animation’s Charming was akin to a seeing a technicolur display of patronising, outdated panto’ characters whilst hearing nails on a chalkboard during a Taylor Swift concert. Ross Venokur, both writer and director of this musical comedy, sets up the fairytale genre well enough at the start: a sweeping panorama of a kingdom accompanied by swelling orchestral music…before the old meets the new and we have three princesses – Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty – strutting and twerking down a lit-up runway singing, “Trophy Boy” with exquisitely superficial lyrics like, ” I want that ring on my finger like I want that crown”.
Prince Charming (Wilmer Valderrama) has rescued and agreed to marry all three bachelorettes and Snow White (Avril Lavigne), Cinderella (Ashley Tisdale), and Sleeping Beauty (G.E.M.) are none the wiser, believing they’re the chosen one. Prince Phillipe had been cursed from birth by sorceress Nemeny Neverwish to instantly charm and be smitten by any woman that lays eyes on him. This causes problems for the other men in the kingdom, as well as the prince settling down with a single partner, as the king desires. The 21 year old spell will only be lifted if, you guessed it, Phillipe kisses his true love; someone not captivated by Neverwish’s magic. If this doesn’t occur, love shall be lost forever. Neverwish has done this because Phillipe’s father scorned her love. Hell hath no fury, and all that…
Enter Lenore/ “Lenny” Quinonez, a fiercely independent maiden, disguised as a man to elude the law, as she pilfers any treasures and gold coins she can. Prince Phillipe’s first encounter with Lenore has his legs going soft like “paella” and leaving him talking gobbledegook, as well as amazed that his usual charm seems to have no effect on her. We discover that Lenore is also cursed but with the inability to love, emphatically stating, “trust nothing, especially your heart”. What ensues is a deal for Lenore/”Lenny” to assist Phillipe on his quest of bravery and search for true love, through the dangerous Gauntlet, ovecoming three obstacles, and finishing at Fire Mountain. Her reward is a pile of loot that she won’t be imprisoned for. Hopefully, the prince’s reward is freeing the kingdom from Neverwish’s curse.
Even a role and songs by music bigwig Sia, the one-eyed Half Oracle, with cameo roles by John Cleese as Fairy Godmother and the Executioner, isn’t enough to redeem this film. There is so much saccharine referencing to hearts and padlocks and keys that I felt trapped in a Hallmark prison lined with rose petals and the whiff of despair. It seemed that stereotypical, outdated tales of heroines’ lives being incomplete until they met their supposed prince charming were waning with animations such as Pixar’s Brave or Disney’s Moana; both led by two feisty girls, detemined to not conform to their society’s conventions. Charming puts this progressive idea in a time machine and transports it back, centuries, to a patronisng era of betrothal and neverending curtsies. Lenore may be self-sufficient and quite the fighter, yet she is incomplete and her solo life and padlocked heart (shown exactly so!) is only saved when she realises she loves Prince Phillipe and kisses him, breaking the long spell. Yet this establishes a moral to the tale, for any impressionable female viewers, that this is the only way to true happiness.
The quality of the animation is very good and there are a few tongue-in-cheek comedic lines but, overall, Charming is like an animated ‘The Bachelor’ reality show. Set to irksome pop tunes. With Snow White, Cinderella and Sleeping Beauty as vacuous, bimbos seeking marriage with a vacuous himbo. When the credits rolled I felt like snappily ever after.