Review: 'Kid Who Would Be King' is fun and wise

Children's version of the legend of King Arthur doesn't talk down to its audience

Adam Graham
Detroit News Film Critic
Dean Chaumoo and Louis Ashbourne Serkis in "The Kid Who Would Be King."

An honest-to-goodness children's adventure that doesn't pander to its audience or make slyly ironic nods to the adults in the crowd, "The Kid Who Would Be King" is a wholly satisfying piece of throwback entertainment.

It's also proof that a kid's story doesn't have to be dumb. "Attack the Block" writer-director Joe Cornish's modern telling of the legend of King Arthur makes very real allusions to the chaos in our current world, the dictators and the discord that give us our headlines of war and gloom, and puts the power to save the day in the hands of a child. That's not just fantasy, that's aspiration.

Louis Ashbourne Serkis, son of motion capture whiz Andy Serkis, stars as Alex, a bullied child at Dungate Academy in England. One night when running from his tormentors, Lance (Tom Taylor) and Kaye (Rhianna Dorris), Alex finds himself at a construction site where he sees a sword in a stone. He pulls it out, just as the legend foretold, and accepts his fate as the once and future king. He creates his own Knights of the Round Table by teaming up with Lance and Kaye, as well as his picked-upon pal, Bedders (Dean Chaumoo). 

Meanwhile, Merlin (Angus Imrie) — dressed in a vintage Led Zeppelin T-shirt — arrives to help guide the kids in their quest to take on Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson), an ancient sorceress awakened when Alex pulled the sword from the stone. She seeks to wreak havoc on the world and unleashes an evil spell on the land, and it's up to Alex and his pals to stop her.

Cornish pulls in references from "Harry Potter" to "Star Wars" to "Shrek" without turning "The Kid Who Would Be King" into a pop culture winkfest. Rather, he wisely speaks the language of children without talking down to them. "Where'd you learn to drive?" Kaye is asked, as she's speeding through the streets, evading an army of ghost warriors riding fire-breathing horses. "Mario Kart!" she answers, and the answer rings sincere. 

Meanwhile, a final showdown takes place at Alex's school because, when you're a child, your classmates are your army and your school is your castle. That Cornish is able to tell this tale through the eyes of a child while still placing it in the real-world context of Brexit and other global atrocities is an impressive feat. 

He makes the bigger point that evil turns people against one another, and that's how evil wins, a message that is especially resonant today. "The Kid Who Would Be King" says that leadership comes not from birth or blood, but by heart and mind. And it says we write our own legends, which is a strong lesson to take to heart these days, especially for our children.


'The Kid Who Would Be King'


Rated PG for fantasy action violence, scary images, thematic elements including some bullying, and language

Running time: 120 minutes