I'm not that big a fan of the endless parade of digital "cartoons" these days, but that doesn't mean I can't enjoy an engaging and pleasantly-rendered romp like THE SWAN PRINCESS: ROYALLY UNDERCOVER (2017) when it comes my way.
Directed by former Disney animation director Richard Rich, it's the sixth direct-to-video sequel to his 1994 theatrical film THE SWAN PRINCESS which was done with old-school handpainted cel animation (which I sorely miss) as were the first three sequels.
The main characters of that film were a beautiful princess named Odette and a handsome prince named Derek. In the current sequels, they're older, married, and have an adopted daughter, Princess Alise.
She and her friend Lucas, a shy peasant boy living with his parents on a tulip farm, are the new focus of our attention as they have colorful adventures in and around their mythical kingdom. Here, they go undercover as spies to find out if ditzy Queen Uberta's dashing young suitor, a Count from a nearby kingdom, is really as nice as he seems or if he has ulterior motives that could threaten the entire kingdom and its royal family.
Alise and Lucas are the typical spunky, likable kids who get in and out of trouble by their own wits and also with the help of their talking animal friends. Their grown-up ally is a grandfatherly Lord Rogers, an inventor with a secret subterranean vault full of cool steampunk spy gadgets. He's sort of a Hans Conried type with the look of a sage old gentleman but the heart of a child, and he secretly loves the Queen.
Aside from some shots of him, the kids, and their animal friends wearing shades and walking in slo-mo RESERVOIR DOGS style (to accentuate the "spy" theme), there are refreshingly few "nudge-nudge" modern references barring a rather spectacular nod to GOLDENEYE in the pre-titles sequence.
Moreover, this film really is G-rated, with no smirky double-entendres or unwelcome sexual innuendos of the kind that crop up in much of the so-called "childrens" entertainment these days. Everything remains resolutely juvenile throughout--in a good way.
Adults should find it more than tolerable, especially in the second half when the kids infiltrate the Count's castle and all that spy stuff starts to pay off in a big way. Alise and Lucas encounter a number of bad guys and dangerous situations, and the action and suspense are pretty much nonstop.
At this point in the series, the songs (what few there are) aren't that special and there are no celebrity character voiceovers, but I doubt if kids will really mind all that much.
Characters are genuinely warm and caring toward each other, and the story puts forth various benevolent themes of togetherness, teamwork, and charity (a neighboring kingdom damaged by a flood receives emergency aid) in unobtrusive ways. "Don't trust kindly strangers bearing chocolate" is another subtle message.
The DVD from Sony Pictures Home Entertainment is in 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen with Dolby 5.1 sound in English and French, and Dolby Surround in Mandarin, Korean, Spanish, and Thai. Subtitles are available. In addition to several trailers for other Sony kids' films, there's a brief featurette with singer Macy Kate recording the end titles song.
Online comments from fans of the series indicate that some feel THE SWAN PRINCESS: ROYALLY UNDERCOVER is inferior to its predecessors. But it's such a colorful and brightly entertaining diversion that, not having seen any of the earlier ones, I found this sequel quite enjoyable.
Buy it at Amazon.com