Director/Story – Robert Tinnell, Screenplay – David Sherman, Producer – Richard Goudreau, Photography – Roxanne di Santo, Music – Normand Corbeil, Production Design – Michael Marsolais. Production Company – Malofilm Comunications/Melenny Productions
Johnny Morina (Alex Cole), Malcolm McDowell (Merlin), Michael Ironside (Butch Scarsdale), Jameson Boulanger (Luke), Justin Borntraeger (James ‘Scar’ Scarsdale), Maggie Castle (Jenny Ferguson), Peter Aykroyd (Mr Cole), James Rae (Sheriff Rick Ferguson), Roc LaFortune (Gil), Rene Simard (Stu), Barbara Jones (Mrs Ferguson)
Alex Cole is a bright kid with a love of Arthurian legends. He and his friends have fun dressing up and play enacting them. The wizard Merlin then appears to Alex, giving him the sword Excalibur and asking him to guard it carefully. Through doing so, Alex learns how to stand up to bullies. Alex becomes jealous when Jenny Ferguson, the object of his desire, develops a crush on Luke, a new kid at school that he has befriended, instead of him. When three hoods on the run from a bank robbery take Jenny and her friends hostage during her birthday party, it is up to Alex to save them.
Kids of the Round Table was the first film of American-born but Canadian-based director Robert Tinnell. Tinnell specialises in children’s films and has since gone onto make Frankenstein and Me (1996), a delightful deconstruction of genre movie cliches, and the fine children’s ghost story Believe (2000), as well as the modernised Edgar Allan Poe anthology Requiem for the Damned (2012) and the documentary That $#!% Will Rot Your Brain: How the Monster Kids Transformed Popular Culture (2014).
There is always a great play of ideas in Tinnell’s films. Kids of the Round Table is a fascinating attempt to render the Arthurian legends in modern-day (schoolyard) terms. Thus Luke, the equivalent of Lancelot, become a new schoolfriend rather than a new knightly recruit to the Round Table; Jenny/Guinevere is the girl Alex/Arthur has a crush on and instead of infidelity in marriage, it is jealousy rearing its head when she prefers Luke instead of him. One wondered if there would be any equivalent of Morgan-le-Fay and Mordred and how a children’s film might handle the complexities of an issue like incest but alas the interpolations end about there.
The pleasure of Robert Tinnell’s films is always his ability to depict complex adult emotions in children’s films rather than reach for the mawkish sentimental cues of many of his contemporaries. There are some good scenes here with the father and son discussing the departed mother. Even the lead bully is painted in less black-and-white terms and shown to be missing his jailed father.
Kids of the Round Table is also less polished than Tinnell’s later films. The problem here is that the more interesting modern reworking of the Arthurian legends drops out about the halfway point. Merlin even disappears as a character right until the end. Instead a less interesting petty crime story takes over and the film degenerates to cliches of kids outsmarting caricatured idiotic slapstick villains a la Home Alone (1990). Certainly, Tinnell never lets it descend to the mustache-twirling one-dimensionality of the dumb villains that feature in most children’s films and keeps it a little bit more rooted but one wishes the film would have continued in the much more interesting initial direction of the modern take on the Arthurian mythos. Canadian actor Michael Ironside plays the lead villain and gives a performance that amusingly swings between the usual cold, tight-lipped persona that has served him through many B-movie action villain roles and trying to play a dumb hick. Malcolm McDowell – who himself played King Arthur in the tv movie Arthur the King/Merlin and the Sword (1985) – turns up as Merlin.