Review: A Royal Wedding (The Swan Princess 10)

Like them or not, the endless CGI sequels to The Swan Princess are here to stay. The only thing we can hope for at this point is that the movie's creators are capable of continuing to add fresh new stories to the franchise and improving their skills in what was once a brand new style of animation for Princess Odette and her friends. After seeing the last two installments, I believe that they have. A Royal Wedding is the tenth movie in the Swan Princess series and a direct sequel to the previous film, Kingdom of Music. I found both of these sequels more enjoyable than the older CGI sequels that began in 2012 with The Swan Princess Christmas, which was so bad that there was really nowhere to go but up. The improvements to the latest sequels were accomplished by introducing original new mythology that was inspired by "Swan Lake" and allowing Odette and Derek to step into the background for supporting roles, something that was well deserved after eight movies that revolved around them and their bland adoptive daughter, Alise.

A Royal Wedding takes place in the Chinese kingdom of Cathay, which was introduced in A Kingdom of Music. What I really loved about this particular sequel is that it was actually a stealth remake of The Swan Princess in a new setting with new characters. While this trope doesn't always work well for sequels such as The Little Mermaid 2: Return to the Sea, it worked here thanks to the fresh Chinese cultural music and art as well as the new story elements that made the similarities to "Swan Lake" more subtle. I absolutely loved the opening frames of the movie that recreated the look of Chinese ink paintings to tell the story of Mei Li and Chen. Even though it still seemed silly that Princess Mei Li could not be with Chen just because he was a dragon sometimes, the music, art, and storytelling made these shortcomings more forgivable. I loved the way Odette's voice artist recited the poem she wrote about Mei Li for the emperor of Cathay with symbolic imagery of all the characters represented as various types of birds.

The villain in A Royal Wedding is an evil sorceress named Fang who takes on the roles of both Rothbart and his henchwoman who he disguised to look like Odette at Derek's engagement ball. Just like Rothbart wanted to force Odette to marry him instead of Derek, Fang wants to marry Chen in Mei Li's place. Instead of a swan, Fang transforms the beautiful princess into an old woman, making her unrecognizable to anyone who knew her before. This gives Fang the opportunity to become an Odile-like double of Mei Li and trick Chen into marrying her instead. Like the foolish Prince Derek, Chen falls right into her trap, and that would have been the end of Mei Li if it were not for Odette and Derek's interference. The similarities between Mei Li and Odette were the reason that Mei Li sought out Odette in the previous movie, Kingdom of Music. I would love to see future sequels introduce other princesses from different cultures who befriend Odette to seek her help with magical curses. It would be great for Odette to grow into a fairy godmother-type character after so many years have passed since her original ordeal.

Because of the similarities to The Swan Princess, this sequel also suffers from many of the same flaws. In the original movie, Odette managed to escape Rothbart's prison thanks to the friends she made as a swan, namely Jean-Bob, Speed, and Puffin. Derek, who was supposed to be her one true love, never knew the difference between her and the woman impersonating her until it was too late. Similarly, Mei Li receives help from Odette and some other kind people in her village as an old woman, but Chen never pays her any mind until Odette tells him her true identity. In some ways, this downplays both movies' themes of true love, but that wasn't something I ever thought about when I watched The Swan Princess as a kid. A Royal Wedding also appears to have been written in a shorter time because there are quite a few things in the story that are never fully explained. For instance, Odette and Derek learn that Fang is impersonating Mei Li because of Fan's tendency to talk to herself out loud, a very lazy trope used in old movies where the villain captures the hero in a room and tells them their entire evil plan. There was also little explanation as to why the Mei Li's tear freed Odette and Derek from the painting Fang had trapped them in or why Odette believing Mei Li's true identity was enough to break her curse.

Despite its flaws, I think A Royal Wedding is one of the best CGI sequels that the Swan Princess franchise has produced thus far. Instead of rehashing another tired trial of Odette and Derek's love, it retells the story of "Swan Lake" in a new way that embraces other mythology and cultures. The art and music behind the movie made its shortcomings forgivable, especially after we've seen just how bad it could have been. I must admit that I didn't miss the character of Alise at all even though we never saw her in this sequel. She felt so forced in the earlier sequels when Odette and Derek adopted her just because Uberta was pressuring them for an heir. I never thought she was a particularly interesting character and found Mei Li much easier to relate to. My hope after seeing this movie is that the creators have found a new way of continuing the Swan Princess franchise without wearing it out by rehashing stories for the same tired old characters. I'm eager to meet more cursed princesses from other cultures in future sequels.


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