The Trumpet of the Swan

(Richard Rich & Terry Noss, USA, 2001)


E. B. White's The Trumpet of the Swan is one of those classic stories for children concerning a misfitting youth – in this case, a trumpeter swan who is sadly born mute.


Mocked by friends and pitied by family, Louis (whose inner thoughts are spoken by Jeffrey Schoeney) must find his own artificial voice – and does so by becoming a popular, soulful trumpet player.


As directed by Richard Rich and Terry Noss, this feature animation is no-frills but charming. Jason Alexander gives a lot of vocal character to the role of Louis' hammy father; likewise, the parts given to Carol Burnett, Reese Witherspoon and Joe Mantegna are shaped around their well-known screen personae.


This is not as sanctimonious as larger budget animation spectaculars of recent years. And some of its plot moves are actually cleverer: a thread concerning the father's guilt over stealing a musical instrument from the city, and its dramatic consequences, is especially deftly managed.


The most pleasant aspect of this movie is its music. Offering us relief from the bombastic, dreary, old-fashioned show tunes that fill similar fare for children, Marcus Miller's bright score takes its cues from swing, funk, soul and rap – stopping for only one Whitney Houston-style ballad.


Kids are likely to enjoy this spirited concoction – although their parents (especially those versed in a little Cultural Studies) may occasionally wonder why songs belted out by the likes of Little Richard are being placed in the mouths of pristine, white swans.

© Adrian Martin March 2001

Film Critic: Adrian Martin
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