"'The Kid Who Would Be King" (out now on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital) updates the King Arthur legend to modern-day Britain. Writer/director Joe Cornish ("Attack the Block") is really telling a story about a group of kids who think they're enemies and must find a way to make common cause against a true enemy.
It's hard not to think of this movie as wanting to give kids a counterbalance to a world that overwhelms with news of Brexit battles in the U.K. and unrelenting partisan attacks in the rest of the world. "The Kid Who Would Be King" does succeed at using the classic tale as a way to talk about learning to sacrifice your feelings in service of a greater common good.
Alex (played by Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of the great performance capture actor Andy Serkis) is a London kid with a single mom who discovers Excalibur embedded in a stone on a construction site. He pulls the sword out and sets in motion a replay of events from centuries ago.
Merlin (Patrick Stewart) appears in the guise of a kid (hilariously played by Angus Imrie) to guide Alex as he must prepare for a showdown with Arthur's half-sister Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson). Alex and his best friend Bedders (Dean Chaumoo) recruit the school bullies (Tom Taylor and Rhianna Dorris) and set out on a quest to Arthur's home Tintagel to find Alex's long-lost father, whom Alex believes holds the key to defeating Morgana.
The kids must learn to work together to face challenges on their journey and battle the demons Morgana sends as her scouts from the underworld. Alex is forced to deal with harsh truths about his father and come up with a plan to enlist his schoolmates to defeat Morgana during an eclipse.
All the values are in play here: responsibility, cooperation, goal-setting and the virtues of defending a society's common interests. The CGI flaming horsemen might be a bit scary for little kids, but nothing here rises to the level of what they'd see in an Avengers or Star Wars movie.
Plus, there's lots of swordplay without any human limbs getting lopped off. It has all the classic action and none of the gore. It's just fiery skeletons getting chopped to bits.
Best of all, this movie is made for actual kids and not for 35-year-olds who want to pretend they're still kids (see Avengers and Star Wars, above). It's easy to imagine "The Kid Who Would Be King" becoming an eight-year-old's favorite movie or reading an interview with some hot young director 20 years from now in which he or she describes it as the film that made them want to make movies.
Along those lines, there are a ton of making-of bonus features that will inspire any kids who want to learn about movies. The young cast talks about how they auditioned and worked with the director and how the effects get made. Again, it's all presented in a way that should engage the film's intended audience.
"The Kid Who Would Be King" reminds me of 1999's "The Iron Giant," another movie aimed at a young kids that didn't find its audience in theaters upon initial release, despite its excellent reviews. Of course, "The Iron Giant" is now considered a classic, and I'd like to hope that "The Kid Who Would Be King" will enjoy the same kind of long-term recognition.