When it comes to my favorite children's books, one of my personal favorites has always been "The Trumpet of the Swan" written by E.B. White, one that I read all the time in school when I was younger. The story of a mute trumpeter swan named Louis who gets a stolen trumpet from his father and has to make money to pay for it has always enchanted me and it seemed like a story that was bound to make a terrific film. However, the animated film adaptation of "The Trumpet of the Swan" we got in 2001 is not that. The film is from director Richard Rich who also directed other animated stinkers like "The Black Cauldron" and "The Swan Princess" and this honestly might be his worst film ever. Not only is this one of my least favorite animated film adaptations ever, but it might be one of the worst animated films of the 2000s and of all time.
In the lakes of Canada, a pair of trumpeter swans (Jason Alexander and Mary Steenburgen) hatch three young cygnets, two girls they name Ella (E.G. Dailey) and Billie (Mellissa Disney), and a boy they name Louie. The couple is very happy but soon discovers to their horror that Louie is a mute swan that cannot make a single sound and worry that Louie will be shunned because of this, especially after Louie starts eying a swan he loves named Serena (Reese Witherspoon). Even after learning how to read and write with the help of a human boy named Sam (Sam Gifaldi), Louie still feels alone due to the other swans not being able to read. Hoping to give his son a voice, the father steals a trumpet from a music shop in Billings, Montana, and gives it to him. Shocked at learning the trumpet was stolen, Louie sets off across America to make money by playing music with his trumpet so he can pay for the damage to the music store.
I was shocked at how bad this film was. Apart from "The Fox and the Hound", I've never been impressed with the work of Richard Rich and this film really sinks to new lows, especially considering he had a great book to adapt from. I normally do not like comparing film adaptations to their books. Films and books are completely different mediums and both have their own advantages and disadvantages when trying to present stories so whenever something is adapted to the screen, certain liberties and changes are always bound to happen. That being said, I'm going to make a huge exception here. In order for me to illustrate my problems with this film, I have to compare this film to the book it was adapted from because the story of the film is where this film fails the most. The original story by E.B. White is such an imaginative and wonderful book filled with creative setpieces and wonderful characters while also being written in a very mature manner for children that never talked down to them. This film on the other hand butchers the source material filled with tons of generic animated tropes, unnecessary subplots, and lousy writing that loses all the magic and wonder that White wrote. It's also very poorly written to boot as screenwriter Judy Rothman Rofé rearranges certain scenes from the book that really harm the film rather than enhance it. For example in the book, Louis tries to find his voice by learning how to write at Sam's school which doesn't work since the swans can't read which is what results in his father stealing the trumpet from the shop in Billings. However in the film, the father steals the trumpet first, and then Louie sets off to write and only gets the trumpet after he comes back to the lake. Changes like that seriously frustrated me. It also doesn't help that Rofé also tries to add cliches to certain scenes of the books like changing a scene where Louie rescues a drowning camper at a lake by making him have to save him from going over a waterfall instead. It was so aggravating watching these unnecessary and harmful changes play out. The film's humor also falls flat with one of the biggest eye-rollers being at the aforementioned camp which involves the chief always talking into a megaphone that warbles his voice. How funny. It all builds to an unsatisfactory ending that left me frustrated by the end. As far as the animation goes, it's really not very good.
While I'm not sure how much the budget of this film was, it certainly didn't go into the animation as this film looks more like a learning PC game from 1998. The backgrounds of this film look very dull and flat with ugly pastel colors, especially the city of Billings which looks like a generic city, while the character animation itself looks really wonky. It looks rather unimpressive and looks so cheaply put together. One moment that stood out is when Louie picks up a piece of watercress from a tray, but it looks like he picked it from mid-air since the background of the watercress stays the same and doesn't change. Stuff like that really bothered me. At times doesn't even feel original as well. There's a song number where Louie and Serena fly through the clouds above the lakes of Montana in love and it just reminded me how much better the "A Whole New World" sequence from "Aladdin" was. Add on to the fact that the passage of time in this film feels nonexistent as apart from the swans, none of the characters seem to age despite the backgrounds indicating different seasons. I guess that should lead me into talking about the characters and I'll start off by talking about the ones from the book. Louie is such a boring protagonist here compared to his literary counterpart. He's such a dull character in the film that isn't as interesting and doesn't have any personality apart from being slightly naive compared to the book where he was smart and determined. It also doesn't help that the film unwisely gives him an inner monologue that's voiced by Dee Bradley Baker. While it worked in the book, it doesn't work here as we can clearly see what Louie is thinking and most of the time he just says what he writes on his chalkboard. I also found his father very annoying as he constantly monologues and isn't funny compared to the book where he was wise and caring while being a bit cocky, his mother just passive and uninteresting, and Sam Beaver the one-dimensional best friend compared to the book where he was also very smart and helped out Louie in many ways. The film also adds some new characters and all of them are lousy character tropes ranging from an annoying bully swan named Boyd (Seth Green) that constantly picks on Louie and has to battle with him for Serena at the end of the film which was exceptionally lousy as well a sleazy manager that tries to swindle money off of Louie that was completely pointless and very weak. There's also a bunch of these squirrels that Louie talks to that the film wants to make his comedic sidekick, but they don't do anything relevant at all and aren't funny in the slightest. These characters just are unimpressive. I should also mention the film's music is not very good as well. The score by Marcus Miller is so bizarre and feels like it was composed on a cheap keyboard while the songs are all unmemorable that not even a song sung by the legendary Little Richard could save it.
All in all, "The Trumpet of the Swan" is a lousy adaptation of E.B. White's book. The story is drowned with cliches and lousy changes, the animation is unimpressive and old-fashioned, and the characters are all just unremarkable. I really cannot say this enough, but this really is a terrible animated film and I recommend avoiding it at all costs. However, I do highly recommend reading the book if you can. It's a very good book that has definitely stood the test of time. This film adaptation though left me on a very sour note.