$230. That’s about how much it would have cost me to buy a handmade adult-sized Swan Princess costume on Etsy this past Halloween. Not that there were any cheaper, mass-produced alternatives, and for good reason. The 1994 animated film The Swan Princess, ever-so-loosely inspired by the ballet Swan Lake, survived a measly box office run and was largely dismissed as a critical failure, albeit “a perfectly serviceable confection for small fry.”
Directed by former Disney animator Richard Rich, of Robin Hood and later The King and I, the film centers around the titular Princess Odette, who is captured by hirsute evil-man Rothbart and cursed to turning into a swan during the day. To lift the curse, she must marry him and hand him control of her father’s kingdom, or else her beloved Prince Derek with his shaggy man-bob must make her a vow of everlasting love. The “Disney wannabe” peddles cringe-inducing jokes, an implausible plot, mostly forgettable songs, a predictable storyline, and a largely anonymous cast (with the exception of John Cleese and Jack Palance).
Perhaps because of a suspiciously timed Lion King reissue on Swan Princess’s opening weekend, the film has a strange place in pop-culture history. At least half a dozen Atlantic staffers, all female and between the ages of 22 and 28, remember seeing the film as children. Everyone else who was surveyed (unscientifically) had never heard of it.