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Case Number 01300

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The Trumpet Of The Swan

Sony // 2000 // 75 Minutes // Rated G
Reviewed by Judge Nicholas Sylvain (Retired) // August 9th, 2001

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All Rise...

The Charge

Sometimes being different helps you to find your voice.

Opening Statement

It is G-rated animation, and it runs just about an hour and a quarter. Those are Trumpet of the Swan's good points, and if you read further, you'll find out why it tanked at the box office. Columbia TriStar turns it into an adequate disc, though inexplicably forgets to advertise its complete contents.

Facts of the Case

If I watched the film again to help me summarize the plot, I'd have to drink another bottle of scotch, and my liver couldn't stand that. So allow me, gentle reader, to simply quote the back of the box (with a little extra thrown in, and edited slightly):

When triplets are born to proud trumpeter swan parents (Mary Steenburgen—Nixon, Back to the Future III and Jason Alexander—"Seinfeld"), everyone is bursting with joy. All seems perfect until they discover that their only son, Louie (Jeffrey Schoeny and Dee Bradley Baker—"Cow and Chicken," Space Jam), can't speak! Without a voice, Louie can't compete against his loudmouth rival Boyd (Seth Green—Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer") for the affections of his true love, Serena (Reese Witherspoon—Legally Blonde, American Psycho). With help from a boy at camp (Sam Gifaldi) and his teacher, Mrs. Hammerbotham (Carol Burnett—"The Carol Burnett Show," Annie), and with dubious guidance from a big city agent, Monty (Joe Mantegna—Homicide, Forget Paris), Louie discovers his own unique talents which will help him to find his place in the world.

The Evidence

Here's a clue: when the only jacket-blurb for a movie comes from a flack at a place called the Film Advisory Board, you're in trouble. Though there is no sign of a review of any kind for this film at their website (making me wonder just where this quote came from!), apparently you can earn an award for your children's film from the Film Advisory Board by meeting these criteria:

• Stimulate Imagination
• Raise Awareness
• Be Created in Good Taste
• Justly Represent Its Subject Matter
• Be Safe Where Applicable
• Encourage Positiveness and Ambition
• Be Attractive and Entertaining

If this is representative of the warm-fuzzy thinking at the Film Advisory Board, then I can see how the President of that organization could label the inanity that is Trumpet of the Swan a "classic" of "truly wonderful family entertainment." It's a classic, all right; it's a classic example of an attempt to cash in on the animated musical gravy train.

Sure, it's family-safe entertainment, but family-safe does not have to mean low-quality inoffensive pabulum. The best family-friendly entertainment is going to actually entertain the whole family, and not content itself with simply condescending to the small folk and leaving the adults so bored to tears they'd rather watch a Barney tape for the 356,195th time than finish Trumpet of the Swan. Try something like either Toy Story movie, or A Bug's Life, or many of the Disney animated features, and you'll see what I mean.

Where do I start? Let's see…When the first musical number gets thrown at us barely two minutes into the feature, I knew that was a danger sign. It gets worse. I'm no stranger to the saccharine songs usually found in such a feature as Trumpet of the Swan, but these are without question low rent. The music lacks range and power and the lyrics fall flat. As lame as the musical numbers are, their frequent, seemingly arbitrary insertion in the story do very little to endear the audience to this film.

Oh, the story. The horror, the horror! The fragmented plot seems to have been written for very young children with a gnat's attention span, who even if they fail to follow the story, won't really mind. The adults just might mind the brain damage caused by being beaten about the head with the heavy moralizing plot, which is of the predictable simplistic environmental sort. Worst is the cutesy reference made in passing placing all species on the same moral plane as humans. Now I know that a trendy, far left, so-called "bioethicist" like Peter Singer would clap his hands in delight at the concept, but this is highly debatable to say the least, and not a concept that should be stealth-indoctrinated into kids.

The anamorphic video transfer is good, though the animation is of mediocre, mass-produced quality, so perhaps you shouldn't expect too much. Colors are not as rich and vibrant as you might think, though at least there are no signs of digital artifacts or bits of dirt or defects. The audio mix is a clean front-soundstage 5.1 mix, though lacking in bright, pleasing sounds. Little Richard doesn't count. There might have been a dab of rear surround support, and your subwoofer will have little to do, so give it the night off.

In addition to the extra content noted below, the disc includes the theatrical and teaser trailers for Trumpet of the Swan, as well as trailers for Stuart Little, Buddy, The Adventures of Elmo in Grouchland, The Adventures of Milo and Otis, and Thomas and the Magic Railroad.

The Rebuttal Witnesses

I can't imagine even small children giving the "Can You Guess the Sound?" game more than one run through (assuming they care enough to do even that). The DVD-ROM "Who is Unique?" game is only marginally better, but since it only can be played one way, I wonder why they bothered to include it. The other DVD-ROM content is actually nifty, as far as kids are concerned. Finger puppets for many of the characters and several coloring book pages can be printed out for used by the little ones.

What I found mystifying is that none of the DVD-ROM content is advertised on the box. I only discovered that there was any DVD-ROM content when I saw the reference in the Special Features menu. Note to the fine folks at Columbia TriStar: if it's on the disc, advertise it on the box!

Closing Statement

Based upon the story by E.B. White, Trumpet of the Swan should have him spinning in his grave. Go watch Charlotte's Web or Stuart Little if you want to see better adaptations of his work. It's more or less harmless as discs go, so if you really, really, run out of family-friendly options, Trumpet of the Swan might keep the little ones busy. Maybe. If you are thinking about a purchase ($25 list), well, caveat emptor!

The Verdict

I understand how Columbia figured Trumpet of the Swan was a good bet, but nevertheless, they are still responsible for foisting this on an unsuspecting public. I find Columbia and Trumpet of the Swan's creators guilty, and sentence them to reimbursing me for the bottle of scotch I needed to make it through to the end.

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Scales of Justice

Video: 85
Audio: 82
Extras: 47
Acting: 70
Story: 61
Judgment: 55

Perp Profile

Studio: Sony
Video Formats:
• 1.78:1 Anamorphic
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (French)
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Surround (Spanish)
• English
• French
• Spanish
Running Time: 75 Minutes
Release Year: 2000
MPAA Rating: Rated G
• All Ages
• Animation

Distinguishing Marks

• Bonus Trailers
• "Can You Guess The Sound" Game
• "Who Is Unique?" Game (DVD-ROM)
• Printable Hand-Puppets (DVD-ROM)
• Printable Coloring Book Pages (DVD-ROM)


• IMDb
• Film Advisory Board

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