17 February 2005 | FilmFlaneur
Often beautiful and exciting children's animation
Shortly before his death, King Edwynn entrusts the magical Sword of Justice, Xcalibur, to Prince Erwann instructing him to hide it in a underground lake. Returning from his mission, Erwann is turned to stone by the evil sorcerer Kwodahn (an interesting pun, it turns out, on 'quondam'). A witness to Erwann's petrifaction is Erwann's daughter, the young Princess Djana. As Kwodahn's demonic powers spread like a virus, Djana vows to free her father and defeat the demon, restoring peace and justice to the land. With the help of handsome apprentice magician Herik, a fire-breathing miniature dragon known as Wip, and free-spirited barbarian Tara, Djana sets about avenging her father. But first she must gain the trust of the boy King Arthus. Although kind in heart, Arthus is influenced by his evil uncle, Bragan, a deceitful minion of Kwodahn and the man responsible for King Edwynn's death...
Co-written by Amélie Aubert, one of the creative forces behind the much loved animated Tin Tin TV series, Xcalibur was co-created and designed by the innovative French artist Philippe Druillet, perhaps best known for his work in the science-fiction fantasy magazine Metal Hurlant (aka Heavy Metal), which he co-founded in 1975 with fellow artists Moebius (conceptual artist on 'Alien', 'The Abyss' and 'The Fifth Element'), Bernard Farkas and Jean-Pierre Dionnet. The result is pretty impressive, with an alternate world rendered in detail in way which is exciting as well as sometimes surprisingly sensual, through its detailed rendition of nature and objects. Of course this is a series now over 5 years old, and CGI work since has come on leaps and bounds - a comparison with Shrek for instance, shows how far improved are the animation of faces, water and some supporting details. But Xcalibur still holds up well and such 'shortcomings' are not enough to detract from its continuing charm and don't affect the excitement.
Although it indirectly concerns the matter of Arthur, the series features that hero only as the youngster Arthus, more of a supporting character to the main participants. In fact one of the more remarkable aspects of the series is that the future national hero is, by default, on the side of evil, as the young prince believes that his throne is under threat from the actions of Djanna and friends. His petulance and wrong-siding is some way away from the wise ruler and the golden age he later oversees, familiar from the legends of his later life.
Most of the voice talent is adequate if not excellent. The exception is Tom Eastwood's performance as Bragan which, as a personification of swaggering evil is so far over the top at times as to be approaching camp. Much of the real enjoyment of the series, apart from the dynamism of each show, comes from the visual qualities it brings to the small screen. Presumably computing power available and the economies behind this sort of production dictated few supporting characters, and no real crowd scenes, even though the series has a handsome look. Bragan only ever seems to be able to draw on 5 or 6 soldiers at a time for instance, and the countryside is sparsely populated. Other than humans, the dragon Wip and horses, there is very little other, separate, wildlife to be seen. However this is compensated by some striking design work and a rendition of grass, rocks and architecture that is frequently breathtaking - assuming, like me, you revel in such imaginative detail and the pleasure of texture for its own sake. This is a series for slightly older children of all ages, although boys especially will find much to admire in red headed Princess Djana, and her barbarian friend Tara, as their skin tight outfits amplify the female form in such flattering fashion - the mildly provocative nature of which reminds one that Xcalibur is not an American-originated program. This is true of the countryside depicted too, which is far from the American West, arguably recalling instead the beaches, cliffs and landscape of southern France.
All in all this is a series which is worth viewing more than once. Each episode is reasonably complete in itself. The DVD set feature all 40 and weighs in at a hefty 16 hours viewing but the action and invention rarely flags. One only wishes it contained some supporting material, for instance on the inspiration behind the series, but it is still worth looking out for.