For love of Prince Derek

THE SWAN PRINCESS Richard Rich (U)

THREE WISHES Martha Coolidge (PG)

THE SHOOTER Ted Kotcheff (18)

THE TIE THAT BINDS Wesley Strick (18)

Once upon a time it was Christmas, and the critic, who had been a (fairly) good girl throughout the year, was granted three wishes by the sprocket-hole fairy. She wished for all movies to last less than 90 minutes. And she hoped that Chris Columbus, Roland Joffe and Michael Winner would never make another film. Those requests were refused as being beyond the powers of even the most powerful magus. But she also asked for some decent seasonal movies and - wondrous to relate - that wish was granted.

Apart from the enchanting Babe (reviewed on the previous page), there is a revival of Jean Cocteau's brooding La Belle et la Bete to remind us of the dark and erotic undercurrents in that fairy-tale before Disney got its mitts on it. And there is The Swan Princess, an animated version of the story that inspired Swan Lake. Here the human in animal guise is a princess transformed into a swan by an evil magician and allowed to resume her womanly shape briefly by night. To break the spell she must get dashing Prince Derek to declare his undying love. Only in Americanised fairy-tales - in EuroDisneyland - could Derek be thought an appropriate name for a regal leading man.

Actually, The Swan Princess is not a Disney film: the director, Richard Rich, left the studio in 1986. Most attempts outside Disney to find the pot of gold, notably the animated features of Rich's fellow-refusenik Don Bluth, have flopped resoundingly; it seemed that only Walt's magicians held the secret. But The Swan Princess is rather good - not groundbreaking, it's true, but a polished variant on a trusty pattern.

By far the weakest spots are the fuzzy painted backgrounds and the soppy, bland-featured lovers with their dreary ballads ("Derek, you and I were meant to be"). And by far the best bits are the witty musical comedy numbers (the lyrics are by David Zippel, who wrote the clever film noir stage musical City of Angels). A brisk curtain-raiser shows how the two bratty royal sprogs, thrown constantly together by match-making relatives, hate each other on sight, then quickly change their tune as puberty kicks in. The ball at which the Prince must choose his bride becomes, amusingly, "Princesses on Parade", a bad-taste showbizzy beauty pageant.

The subsidiary characters are nicely conceived, too; Jack Palance plays the villain (who at one point treats us to a one- armed push-up, as performed by Palance when receiving his Oscar at the 1992 Academy Awards). The comic animal sidekicks include John Cleese as a frog who believes he's a prince (French-accented, inevitably), and the comedian Steven Wright as a droll, sepulchral-voiced turtle.

Grown-up fairy-tales are the hardest to achieve. In Three Wishes, Patrick Swayze plays a mysterious stranger, a tramp with a magic dog who enters the lives of a Korean war widow (Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio) and her two sons and grants each of them a wish in return for their kindness. This slow, directionless film takes an age to get going, and looks on the surface like a feeble attempt to make a modern Frank Capra movie.

In fact it's quite different - we're in no cosy utopian small town but a place of claustrophobic, mid-Fifties conformity; the kitsch, pastel- coloured Toytown suburb could be just down the road from Edward Scissorhands' house. Swayze, a proto-beatnik, affronts the locals by brewing up sun tea in the garden and helping the useless Little League baseball team by teaching them Zen: it's a tribute to his performance that he brings this piffle off with a degree of plausibility. The big message (Be Happy With Who You Are) is well meant, but hardly original - it's articulated with greater subtlety and wit in rival releases elsewhere.

Dolph Lundgren is no Prince Charming. Slack-jawed, dull-eyed, his brow furrowed in perpetual perplexment, he is (against stiff competition) the dimmest of superheroes. The Shooter finds him swanning around Prague in his Franz Kafka sweatshirt getting constantly beaten up, sometimes by girls, in his pursuit of a beautiful hit-woman.

I enjoyed this stupid straight-to-video movie. Unlike Stephen Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme, new-man Dolph allows decent female characters in his films: here, Maruschka Detmers as a beautiful bisexual assassin and Assumpta Berna as her lover. One priceless early scene finds our hero and his sidekick bumbling inadvertently into a lesbian bar. "Gay?" wonders Dolph as women embrace passionately all around him. "God, I hope not!" groans his tubby friend. There is also a wicked Cuban villain with oiled hair and python-skin boots. The picturesque locations make you want to rush out instantly and book a weekend break in the Czech Republic.

The Shooter is a fun-bad movie. The Tie that Binds, by contrast, belongs in the boring-bad category: a routine thriller half-baked in the mould of The Hand that Rocks the Cradle (note the near-cloned title). Keith Carradine and Daryl Hannah are natural-born killers forced to abandon their six-year-old daughter during a crime spree; Vincent Spano and Moira Kelly play an upscale couple who unsuspectingly adopt her. The baddies, however, harbour parental yearnings and want their little girl back.

In this sort of movie the psychos are generally the best characters, but Hannah and (more disappointingly) Carradine don't bring to them the kinks and quirks that would make them more than cardboard villains; in any case, most of our time is spent with the dull yuppies. The plot is full of loose ends (why, for instance, have Spano threatened by bankruptcy if nothing is to come of it?), and Wesley Strick, a successful scriptwriter - his work includes Wolf and Cape Fear - directs from someone else's screenplay at a pace that allows you ample time to puzzle over them. The general and thorough-going unpleasantness, which also involves the little girl mutilating herself and stabbing another character, earnt the film an 18 rating.

n On release from tomorrow

Suggested Topics
Arts and Entertainment
Over their 20 years, the band has built a community of dedicated followers the world over
music
Arts and Entertainment
The Wu-Tang Clan will sell only one copy of their album Once Upon A Time In Shaolin
musicWu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own only copies of their latest albums
Arts and Entertainment
Bradley Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson on stage

film
Arts and Entertainment

Grace Dent on TV

tv
Arts and Entertainment
Taylor Swift is heading to Norwich for Radio 1's Big Weekend

music
PROMOTED VIDEO
Arts and Entertainment
Reese Witherspoon starring in 'Wild'

It's hard not to warm to Reese Witherspoon's heroismfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Word up: Robbie Coltrane as dictionary guru Doctor Johnson in the classic sitcom Blackadder the Third
books

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
The Oscar nominations are due to be announced today

Oscars 2015
Arts and Entertainment
Hacked off: Maisie Williams in ‘Cyberbully’

Maisie Williams single-handedly rises to the challenge

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Eddie Redmayne in The Theory of Everything and Benedict Cumberbatch in The Imitation Game are both nominated at the Bafta Film Awards
Arts and Entertainment

Academy criticised after no non-white actors nominated

Arts and Entertainment
Damian Lewis shooting a scene as Henry VIII in Wolf Hall
TV

Arts and Entertainment
A history of violence: ‘Angry, White and Proud’ looked at the rise of far-right groups

tv

An expose of hooliganism masquerading as an ideological battle

Arts and Entertainment

art

Lee Hadwin can't draw when he's awake, but by night he's an artist

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Keaton in the 1998 Beetlejuice original

film

Arts and Entertainment

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Olivia Colman and David Tennant star in 'Broadchurch'

TV

Arts and Entertainment
Michael Kitchen plays Christopher Foyle in ITV's 'Foyle's War'

TV
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Downton Abbey star Joanne Froggatt will be starring in Dominic Savage's new BBC drama The Secrets

Arts and Entertainment
Vividly drawn: Timothy Spall in Mike Leigh’s ‘Mr Turner’
film
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
News
art

‘Remember the attackers are a cold-blooded, crazy minority’, says Blek le Rat

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    Iraq invasion 2003: The bloody warnings six wise men gave to Tony Blair as he prepared to launch poorly planned campaign

    What the six wise men told Tony Blair

    Months before the invasion of Iraq in 2003, experts sought to warn the PM about his plans. Here, four of them recall that day
    25 years of The Independent on Sunday: The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century

    25 years of The Independent on Sunday

    The stories, the writers and the changes over the last quarter of a century
    Homeless Veterans appeal: 'Really caring is a dangerous emotion in this kind of work'

    Homeless Veterans appeal

    As head of The Soldiers' Charity, Martin Rutledge has to temper compassion with realism. He tells Chris Green how his Army career prepared him
    Wu-Tang Clan and The Sexual Objects offer fans a chance to own the only copies of their latest albums

    Smash hit go under the hammer

    It's nice to pick up a new record once in a while, but the purchasers of two latest releases can go a step further - by buying the only copy
    Geeks who rocked the world: Documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry

    The geeks who rocked the world

    A new documentary looks back at origins of the computer-games industry
    Belle & Sebastian interview: Stuart Murdoch reveals how the band is taking a new direction

    Belle & Sebastian is taking a new direction

    Twenty years ago, Belle & Sebastian was a fey indie band from Glasgow. It still is – except today, as prime mover Stuart Murdoch admits, it has a global cult following, from Hollywood to South Korea
    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    America: Land of the free, home of the political dynasty

    These days in the US things are pretty much stuck where they are, both in politics and society at large, says Rupert Cornwell
    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A graphic history of US civil rights – in comic book form

    A veteran of the Fifties campaigns is inspiring a new generation of activists
    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    Winston Churchill: the enigma of a British hero

    A C Benson called him 'a horrid little fellow', George Orwell would have shot him, but what a giant he seems now, says DJ Taylor
    Growing mussels: Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project

    Growing mussels

    Precious freshwater shellfish are thriving in a unique green project
    Diana Krall: The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai

    Diana Krall interview

    The jazz singer on being friends with Elton John, outer space and skiing in Dubai
    Pinstriped for action: A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter

    Pinstriped for action

    A glimpse of what the very rich man will be wearing this winter
    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: 'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'

    Russell T Davies & Ben Cook: How we met

    'Our friendship flourished online. You can share some very revelatory moments at four in the morning…'
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef serves up his favourite Japanese dishes

    Bill Granger's Japanese recipes

    Stock up on mirin, soy and miso and you have the makings of everyday Japanese cuisine
    Michael Calvin: How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    How we need more Eric Cantonas to knock some sense into us