I went into my re-watch of Quest for Camelot expecting to write about its portrayal of people (and dragons) with disabilities. What I found was a deeper element of the film that tied that into this message of togetherness. It makes total sense, too, when you consider that the story of King Arthur is about one man uniting a bunch of warring clans and tribes to make Camelot, the greatest city in the world. And so, lets consider this three metas in one! It is the holy trinity of metas.
Quest for Camelot is no Disney classic, but it is a pretty great film (not made by Disney). Kayley is the protagonist, a girl hellbent on being a knight. She idolized her father from a young age, dreaming of being a knight just like him. When he’s killed by a greedy knight, Ruber, Kayley is determined more than ever to follow in his footstep. The only problem is, women are not knights. Trapped at home, Kayley’s moment finally comes when Ruber steals Excalibur and comes to collect her mother, Julianna, and have her lead his army into Camelot by tricking King Arthur. When news that Ruber’s pet gryffin lost the sword reaches her, Kayley rides off to the Forbidden Forest to retrieve it before he can. There she meets Garrett, a blind badass hermit, and a two-headed, fireless and flightless dragon, Devon and Cornwall. Predictably, Kayley and Garrett fall in love and they all save the day together. And voila, that’s all you need to know if you haven’t seen the film.
Family in Quest for Camelot
- Kayley: On My Father’s Wings
The first facet of Camelot’s theme of togetherness is Kayley’s relationship to her father. Since she was a little girl, Kayley has adored her father and the knights. She wants to hear the same story of King Arthur over and over again and go to Camelot.
“I’m coming with you, daddy!” Little Kayley says when her dad has to go to Camelot for a meeting of the Round Table. When you’re older, her father says—famous last words. And off he goes and I cry buckets when little Kayley sees all the knights bringing her dad’s body back and is so excited her dad’s home and has no idea—
So brings us to the song On My Father’s Wings, one of my favorites. When your dad sucks, it’s nice to imagine he’s a brave knight. Taking a play from Disney fashion, this is Kayley’s I Want song. She wants to be a knight, she wants to be guided by her father, she wants to do great things.
If you were with me now
I’d find myself in you
I want to live my life
The way you said I would
With courage as my light
Fighting for what’s right
Like you made me believe I could
Kayley wants to be her father’s daughter: “One day, I’ll be a knight, like father.” With his death, there’s no one really that encourages her to go for her dreams. Her mother, Julianna, is amazing, but doesn’t encourage her to become a knight.
Julianna: That’s a job for the knights.
Kayley: But I want to be a knight.
However, once Ruber attacks their home, Julianna is the one that tells Kayley to go and warn Arthur. Kayley is hesitant to leave her mother in Ruber’s clutches, but goes. When she hears that Ruber has lost the sword, she decides to get if before he can instead of riding to Camelot. Kayley finally gets her big adventure, her chance to achieve glory.
Kayley: How am I going to do great things if I’m stuck here? With these silly chickens?
Don’t worry, Kayley. Your time has come! When Garrett suggests they make camp for the night, Kayley rebuffs this.
Garrett: No one travels through the Forbidden Forest at tonight.
Kayley: My father Sir Lionel would have.
The imprint her father left on her is Kayley’s driving force. She still grieves for him and she still aspires to be like him.
I will fly on my father’s wings
To places I have never been
There is so much I’ve never seen
And I can feel his heartbeat still
And I will do great things
On my father’s wings
And in poetic fashion, Kayley even echoes her father’s final lines, while staring down the same foe: I will not serve a false king.
Even the villain gets it: You’re in the way, just like your father. Since you’re dying to be just like him, lets see if I can help you out.
But he can’t, because, um, duh, villains never win. Kayley and Garrett defeat Ruber and finally, the are both knighted—Kayley holding her father’s shield! I’ve heard lots of complaints or criticisms from people that animated movies feature a lot of death of parental figures and that it doesn’t affect the main character as much as it should. Quest for Camelot is not one of those. Kayley’s father has never been far from her mind and probably pushed her harder.
Disability in Quest for Camelot
Representation is SO important. The world is not made up for fully able bodied peoples. Ableism is a real problem and Quest for Camelot is a movie that tackles that. Garrett is blind, but that does not stop him from being a total badass and helping Kayley save the day. Cornwall and Devon are a two-headed dragon that can’t fly, breath fire, and well, are physically different because they have TWO HEADS.
- Garrett: I Stand Alone
Garrett’s motto is the title of his song I Stand Alone. He was blinded in a stable fire after he risked himself to save the horses and was knocked in the eyes by a spooked horse. His dream of being a knight slipped away from him, ridiculed by the people of Camelot. Towards the end of the film, when Kayley says she wishes he could see Camelot, Garrett says, “I have seen it and there was no place for me.”
Garrett might be physically disabled, but that doesn’t stop him. He’s a great fighter and his walking stick doubles as a weapon. Emotionally, however, Garrett is all locked up. His character arc isn’t about learning to overcome his blindness, it’s about overcoming the emotional walls he put up. When he saves Kayley from Ruber’s mechanical army in the beginning, there’s no hesitation. His disability does not make him feel weak because he’s not weak. In fact, when Kayley tells him Excalibur is somewhere in the forest, he’s ready to go and find it himself. He’s not lacking in bravery and strength. His real problem is emotional.
The one exception to Garrett’s standing alone-ness is Aiden, a falcon. Aiden is his eyes, in Garrett’s words, and caws every time danger is about to strike. Garrett relies on his other senses, especially the auditory and olfactory ones.
His fighting strategy, inn his own terms is, “Take position, face your fear, and hold your ground till the last possible moment.” Aiden is frequently the voice of when it is the last possible moment. This mantra is how Kayley and Garrett defeat Ruber at the end of the film.
There are other examples of Garrett using his senses in the the film, such as smell and touch when they enter Dragon Country. Kayley is unaware they’ve crossed over even though she can see it with her own eyes. Later, when they hatch a plan to get Exalibur back from a giant, Garret needs Kayley to describe the layout to him and then he’s able to come up with a plan. His hearing is very important and the moment he can’t hear is when he gets injured, but he’s healed by the knowledge of the forest he passed onto Kayley, such as which plants are medicinal.
Despite everything, Garrett does not lose his sense of humor.
When he saves Kayley, meeting her for the first time, she doesn’t realize he’s blind right away. But when she does, she says, “Oh, I didn’t realize you were…” Garrett takes the opportunity to throw out some adjectives, like rugged and handsome, but when she finally says blind, he quips, “You know I always forget that one.”
Later, when Kayley sees Aiden, also known as Merlin’s bird Silver Wings, she says, “Hey your bird has silver wings.” And Garrett, ever the charmer: “Really? I’ll have to take your word for it.”
Garrett is such a great step towards representation. While blind, this feature is a mere facet of who he is. He has wants, he wants to become a knight, but fears he can’t. He wants to be with Kayley, but is afraid. He had a life before we met him; he was a stable boy in Camelot. He’s sarcastic, already shown above. He’s not just the “blind warrior,” as Ruber calls him.
He eventually overcomes his fears when Kayley’s been captured. He goes back to Camelot and joins the fight. When they confront Ruber and the bastard breaks his walking stick, Kayley comes up with a plan to trap Excalibur back in the stone. They take position, face their fears, and hold their ground until the last possible moment, tricking Ruber and using Garrett’s technique. The film does not devalue Garrett because he is blind. In fact, they validate the things he’s learned, most importantly at the end of the film when it is Garrett’s tactics that prevail.
- Devon and Cornwall: If I Didn’t Have You
If I Didn’t Have You was one of my FAVORITE songs ever as a kid. I loved this musical number. It shocked me now to come back to these characters and see them in an entirely new light. Devon and Cornwall are the reason “cousins shouldn’t marry” (hello incest joke!). They’re not classically handicapped and I don’t want to say they are a mutation, but they’re different from the norm. I think an argument can be made that they are a symbol of disability. Seriously, I do not want to offend anyone and I’m really nervous. I want to phrase this properly and respectfully. Devon and Cornwall also can’t breathe fire or fly, which are serious disabilities if you’re a dragon and Devon and Cornwall certainly are.
They are bullied by their fellow dragon-peers. Devon calls them “fire breathing bullies” and after they lead Kayley and Garrett underground to escape, they say they know every place to hide because they’ve been “dodging those bullies since we were two hundred years old.” Now, Devon and Cornwall aren’t disabled in the traditional sense like Garrett. Their problems fall on the fantastical side because of the nature of the film and the story being told, but I think the fact that they do look different and aren’t “normal” by conventional standards, does make them a symbol of disability.
Their song If I Didn’t Have You, while hilarious and witty, can be applied to anyone that wants to change something about themselves. It can be something as simple as, I wish I didn’t have a big nose, to something deeper like, I wish I wasn’t blind. Devon and Cornwall imagine all the possibilities their lives could go if they weren’t stuck with another head. Where Garrett’s arc is not about learning to cope with his disability, it is for the dragons. They’re not in the right headspace, constantly bickering with each other, and angsting. That changes as they gain confidence traveling with Kayley and Garrett.
The other part of the Devon/Cornwall conflict is that they can’t breath fire or fly. This is a more mental than physical problem, though they are unaware of this for the majority of the film. Once they stop bickering and putting each other down, once they are united because their friend Kayley is kidnapped, they can fly. When they notices they’re flying, they argue again, “I did it!” “You mean I did it!” Logical Garrett says: “Don’t you get it? The only reason you can’t fly is that you can’t agree on anything.” Obviously, no one’s disability is solved this easily but the message is that by loving yourself for who you are and embracing every part of you, you won’t be beholden to your disability.
Finally, at the end of the film, Devon and Cornwall DO get separated, but choose to be reattached. They love themselves the way they are.
Quest for Camelot: We’re all in this Together
- United We Stand VS I Stand Alone VS Through Your Eyes
The music in Quest for Camelot really carries this theme of togetherness through till the very end. United We Stand is the opening song of the knights. It sets up the world and the values of the society.
United we stand
Now and forever
In truth, divided we fall
Hand upon hand
Brother to brother
No one shall be greater than all
From the start, this message of strength in numbers is told to us. Which, everyone knows the Knights of the Round Table are all about teamwork and crap like that. But then we meet Garrett and his song, I Stand Alone totally flips that.
Like every tree stands on its own
Reaching for the sky I stand alone
I share my world with no one else
All by myself I stand alone
As was already stated, Garrett’s arc is all about his overcoming that feeling. I mean, he lives in the FORBIDDEN Forest. He’s not about uniting and standing together. Garrett feels rejected by society, so he’s shut himself away. He tells Kayley flat out he’s a hermit and later, once he, Kayley, Devon, and Cornwall have made it out of dragon country in one piece, he says “Good news is, we’re out of dragon country, the better news is, this is where we say goodbye.” Garrett is not one for the whole team playing. Neither is Kayley, really, since after he finishes his song, she retorts, “I stand alone, too. I just need your help this once.” Kayley has always wanted to prove herself. She resents the gender roles that makes her a homemaker: “Taking care of the house… boring… where’s the glory in that?”
But, there’s Kayley, who he falls in love with. When he’s injured, Kayley can’t bear the thought of losing him. He’s not just her guide. She says, “Please don’t die, I can’t do this without you.” Kayley has always wanted to be a knight, but unlike Garrett, she never gave up on that dream. But she wanted to do great things on her own.
Kayley, too, had to learn the power that comes from having a partner, from standing with someone (a la her “I stand alone, too” comment). After she heals him, they admit their feelings and the song Through Your Eyes plays. This song is all about two people becoming one, a unity.
Our two hearts are one
It’s out of our hands
We can’t stop what we have begun
And love just took me by surprise
Looking through your eyes
Kayley and Garrett have learned that some things can’t be done alone. That together, by standing together, they are stronger. Well… they only learn it for a little while, since once they reach Camelot, Garrett tells Kayley to return the sword alone.
Kayley: But we’ll deliver the sword together.
Garrett: No, you deliver it. I don’t belong in that world. (Instrumental I Stand Alone plays)
Kayley: (as he walks away) (whispering) But you belong in mine.
- Things Everyone Learned
By the time Kayley decides to go back for Garrett, it’s too late. Ruber has already caught up to her. And once Garrett hears this, he goes after her, no questions asked. No more fear. The only hitch is, he’ll never make it to Camelot in time… unless Devon and Cornwall fly!
Devon and Cornwall are united in their love for Kayley and want to save her. The moment they put their differences aside because they are equal in their resolve to save their friend, they are a team! They can fly! They even choose to remain one at the end, instead of separating. They even protect Aiden/Silver Wings from Ruber’s gryffin. It’s not about one person. It’s about everyone helping everyone
Just before Kayley and Garrett stop Ruber and the creep thinks he’s won, he says, “Two for the price of one.” Again, it reminds is Kayley and Garrett are a team. But Ruber, actually, in a rather odd turn of events, actually also falls into this message of togetherness. He interrupts United We Stand and visually appears out of the shadows the first time we meet him, a sign that he’s different from everyone else. His beliefs aren’t in line. But, when he gets Excalibur, finally, he attaches it to his arm.
So morbidly, Ruber too enters a unity with the sword and becomes one with it. It’s really weird and I wonder if the creators were thinking this way when they were building the story.
Let’s switch gears a little—because that got weird fast—and look at King Arthur, Camelot, and his knights. Arthur also needs to be reminded of the importance of teamwork. He wants to go after Ruber and get Excalibur back, but he was wounded in Ruber’s attack and must heed Merlin’s advice: he must rely on the courage of his people. People! More than one. It’s not about valiant King Arthur riding in and saving the day. It’s about a collective force coming together.
Visually, we’re also shown the three ringed symbol of Arthur’s rule: the one true king, the sword, and the lands he united. We also see subjects dancing in large group numbers. Everything is collective here. That message of united we stand isn’t lost in simple world building aspects like this.
- Wrapping Up
If it wasn’t totally obvious, I completely recommend Quest for Camelot. It does fail in the people of color aspect, everyone is white. But it does show us grief, a mother/daughter relationship I didn’t get to touch on but is very strong and also important, and really, most importantly Garrett: a strong amazing blind character. Devon and Cornwall too are important in terms of disability, but they’re merely just symbols. Garrett is a human, is disabled, and kicks ass (literally and figuratively).
What do you think? Have you seen Quest for Camelot? What’s your favorite song?