There are certain subjects and mediums which seem tailor-made for each other – one example being fairytales and animation. This union, which began with the release of Lotte Reiniger’s The Adventures of Prince Achmed in 1926, is now continued with Manuel Sicilia’s Justin and the Knights of Valour (2013). Though not derived from one of the common fairytale sources (such as the Grimms or Perrault), this new feature, starring the voice talents of Antonio Banderas, Freddie Highmore and Saoirse Ronan, has all the archetypal elements you’d expect including brave knights, fearsome dragons and damsels in distress.
Justin (voiced by Highmore) yearns to be a knight just like his late grandfather, Sir Roland. However, his father Reginald (Alfred Molina) has other plans and wants Justin to study and become a lawyer just like him. Determined to follow his heart, Justin sets off for the legendary Tower of Wisdom, which is watched over by three wise monks – Blucher (James Cosmo), Legantir (Charles Dance) and Braulio (Barry Humphries) – whom he hopes will instruct him in the ancient laws of chivalry and help in his quest to become a fully-fledged knight. Though keen, Justin is certainly not your archetypal hero. Initially weedy, his braveness only comes as a result of his perseverance and self-belief, which of course wins out in the end.
As for fearsome dragons and fair maidens, Sicilia’s film once again turns common-held assumptions on their head. The dragon in question is in fact little more than a bumbling crocodile in disguise, whilst Talia (Ronan) – who takes the part of the main damsel – is no helpless maiden, and turns out to be more than a match for the countless block-headed men she encounters each day in the local inn. With its clever twists on populist fairytale patterns – as well as featuring a host of voiced cameos including Julie Walters and Rupert Everett – Justin and the Knights of Valour is a witty pastiche of medieval European legend which should enchant audiences of all ages.