“Charming” stars Demi Lovato, Wilmer Valderrama, Sia, Ashley Tisdale, G.E.M., and Avril Lavigne. Released in Spain on April 20, 2018, followed by a Netflix release on January 8, 2021, the film is about a prince who attempts to break his curse by finding true love.
The film was written and directed by Ross Venokur, who also directed “A.C.O.R.N.S.: Operation Crackdown” and is known for his involvement with the 2004 series “Game Over”. You can already tell how desperate I am to seek out some new content for me to review this year. In fact, I am so desperate that I had to rely on Netflix to find some recent smaller films that people are unfamiliar with. I managed to find one that caught my attention and boy, do I have something to say about this. This latest animated film comes from Vanguard Animation, the production studio that was founded by John H. Williams (the producer of the “Shrek” franchise) and Neil Braun. The studio was responsible for creating some below-average animated films like “Valiant”, “Happily N’Ever After”, and “Space Chimps”. I haven’t watched those films that often, but I do have some fond memories of seeing them for the first time during my middle school days. This is also the third animated film from Vanguard to be released on Netflix, following “Gnome Alone” in 2018 and “Fearless” in 2020. I haven’t seen the latter, unfortunately, but I did happen to watch “Gnome Alone”, and from what I can remember, I thought it was a pretty decent kids movie. Not perfect, but tolerable enough for me to go back to whenever I have nothing else to watch. Anyway, back to the topic at hand. The film was able to debut in theaters in Spain in 2018 (less than three years ago), followed by Europe and Africa throughout that same year and in the United Kingdom a year later. It didn’t get a United States release until Netflix was kind enough to acquire the distribution rights to the film and release it on the service last weekend. It was met with a pretty poor reception from critics as of this writing, which tells me that I’m going to have a lot of fun talking about this one. With that said, let’s see if this film is worthy enough to deserve its “happily ever after”.
The story follows Prince Philipe Charming (Valderrama), a prince who is cursed by his father’s former partner Nemeny Neverwish (Nia Vardalos) to be instantly attractive to every woman in the land until his 21st birthday. As a result, he wound up proposing to the likes of Cinderella (Tisdale), Snow White (Lavigne), and Sleeping Beauty (G.E.M.) despite them not knowing that they’re engaged to the same man. In order to rid himself of this curse, Charming must go on a dangerous quest to find the truest of true loves. There he meets a cunning thief named Lenore (Lovato), who may be the answer to his prayers due to her being the only woman who resisted his curse. Similar to “Shrek” and “Happily N’Ever After”, the film takes the fairy tale concept and flips it around like it was a pancake on a frying pan. “Shrek” managed to make this fresh take work by providing a well-told story and lovable characters. “Happily N’Ever After”, on the other hand, wasn’t so fortunate in terms of its critical reception and box office failure. “Charming” could wind up falling in either direction. It could end up being the next “Shrek” or the next “Happily N’Ever After”. After having the guts to watch it for myself, I can safely assume that it ended up being the latter. When you have something that first came out in a different country and it took a couple of years to appear in the United States, that’s usually not a good sign when it comes to the quality, and “Charming” just happened to become one of the films that prove this theory. To its credit, however, it did provide a suitable message for the kids about what it means to love. Unfortunately, that message has been bogged down by the film’s plot, which severely lacked the charm and energy that the other animated films are known for. Even when the film attempted to be charming and energetic during a few moments, it quickly fell face first on the ground and never recovered. As for the animation itself, I wouldn’t say that it’s downright awful. It definitely had some passable perks like the lighting and the okay-ish character designs, but they weren’t enough to make the style look as appealing as the title character himself. Plus, the animation for the characters’ mouths didn’t exactly match the dialogue at times, and to me, it’s very distracting, so I’m going to give it a point deduction for that. Aside from those two really tiny pros, the film is a forgettable and extremely generic kids film that completely squandered its interesting concept. While the film did have an impressive lineup that have experiences with both acting and singing, I’m afraid to say that their vocal performances weren’t able to deliver the charismatic appeal to their respective characters, who weren’t exactly that memorable to begin with. One of the main things I learned from watching animated movies or shows is that you need to have characters that are engaging and magnetic as well as the voice cast that fit those descriptions. Sadly, this film did not have that. Demi Lovato was able to put some effort into her role as Lenore, who is best described as the female version of Flynn Rider from “Tangled”, but not by much. My only problem with Lenore is the character herself, who obviously forgot the main qualities that made Rider a beloved character. I believe she would’ve been a good character for me to invest in if the writers expand her own perspective on love a bit. On the bright side, Lovato was at least a bit more tolerable than Wilmer Valderrama, who delivered his weakest performance of his career as Philippe Charming. The way he delivered some of his lines were immensely bland and poorly-directed. I’m not even sure if he was the right choice to voice someone like Charming, to be honest. I’m sorry to say this, Valderrama. You’re very talented, but I don’t think this film was right for you. Heck, even the screenplay by Venokur was very weak as it was filled with dumbed-down dialogue and imperfect attempts at poking fun at the fairy tale cliches. Of course, you can’t have an animated musical film without a song or two…or three. To be honest, I thought they’re okay. They’re not great songs, but they’re bearable enough for me to listen to. The first song, “Trophy Boy”, was my personal highlight because of its catchy tune. The other songs, though, ranged from “all right” to “meh”.
Overall, unlike its title character, “Charming” is a charmless and painfully mediocre shell of a prince that didn’t show any love to its intriguing concept. The animation was all right for the most part, and it did offer a fitting message for the kids. Nevertheless, those things don’t mean a gosh darn thing when the storytelling is as dull as watching paint dry. Filled with a lackluster plot, forgettable characters, unconvincing voice performances, and an unbearable screenplay, this so-called “fairy tale” doesn’t even come close to earning its “happily ever after”, resulting in it being not only one of the worst animated films I’ve seen, but also the first bad film of the new year so far in my eyes. It tried to copy the same success as “Shrek” when it comes to spoofing the fairy tale formula, but it lacked the main ingredients that made that film an animated classic in the first place despite the fact that John H. Williams (the producer of “Shrek”) was involved with “Charming” as the producer. Those main ingredients were the story, the characters, the charm, and the humor. This film is nothing but a worthless successor to that beloved animated gem because of the absence of those ingredients. If you’re actually brave enough to watch this film, it’s available on Netflix, and it’s worth watching for the film’s message and its so-so songs. Otherwise, you’re better off watching “Shrek” or reading an actual fairy tale book.