The Kid Who Would Be King tells a new version of an old, old story. Alex (Louis Ashbourne Serkis) is the kind of quiet, creative kid who frequently gets bullied at school and would like to just do his own thing. He begins to feel he may be destined for something more when he discovers a strange sword stuck in a stone, a sword he manages to extract.
Alex begins to believe he may be the modern incarnation of the legendary King Arthur. Suddenly he’s faced with standing up against the growing threat presented by Morgana (Rebecca Ferguson) and so must recruit the help of his friends as well as a few skilled enemies. Most importantly, he’s aided by the wizard Merlin (Patrick Stewart).
Alex appears on the first one-sheet with his back to the camera, the better for us to see Excalibur strapped to his back and the armor he’s wearing, all with Big Ben and the rest of London in the background. In the sky an eclipse hints at mounting darkness, while the “Kids rule” copy tells us we are dealing with some underage heroes.
He and his makeshift army are fighting off the evil hordes on the second poster, which gives off a distinct Army of Darkness vibe with all the undead soldiers massing around the kids, who are fighting them off with stolen street signs and other weapons. The same eclipse is shown in the sky, with Morgana in dragon form looming over the action.
All four kids are given individual character posters showing them in their school uniforms with their swords and other weapons at the ready. Beyond their names there’s no other copy about them and they’re all placed against a white background, so they don’t offer much in the way of additional information.
Those images are brought together for the final one-sheet to show them united against the threat facing the world, with the stakes laid out in copy at the top.
The place Alex occupies on the social ladder is laid out in the teaser trailer, which opens by showing him being bullied and discounted at school. He begins to suspect there’s something more to his life when he pulls a magic sword from a stone, which brings him into contact with Merlin (in disguise as a teenager). So he assembles the team of knights and sets out to build an army of other kids to fight back against Morgana before she can bring about the end of the world. They all get into various hijinks in that fight and it ends with a moistened bint lobbying a sword at Alex from the bathtub.
The official trailer isn’t much different, offering a few variations on what was previous seen but selling the same arc and ideas.
Online and Social
Advertising and Cross-Promotions
Promoted Tweets like this used short, TV-spot-like videos to help raise awareness and drive ticket sales. Actual TV commercials offered audiences different aspects of the story, mostly focusing on the kid-empowerment nature of the story, including the odds Alex and his friends are up against.
A partnership with Ubisoft inserted a movie-themed quest and virtual swag into their game Hungry Dragons. Medieval Times also joined with the studio to offer a sweepstakes awarding the winner a private screening for them and their friends.
Toy store FAO Schwarz put a movie-sponsored “experience” in its New York location that let kids step up and try for themselves removing Excalibur from a stone. And a “Fortnite Challenge” put the movie’s brand in front of the many, many players of that popular game.
Media and Publicity
There were a few featurettes offered by Fox and others, including Merlin explaining how to achieve duplication, control minds and open portals. The cast and crew also talked about the “massive adventure” the movie contains while various clips showed audiences extended looks at key sequences to whet their appetites.
Stewart was interviewed about what he wanted to bring to the role of Merlin, something that’s been tackled by a number of actors in the past. Director Joe Cornish also spoke about how this is the first movie he’s helmed in eight years and what he wanted to bring to the story, which he also wrote. The whole cast made other media rounds on “The Today Show” and elsewhere to promote the film.
The campaign may not work for me, but I’m also not its target audience. While it contains many of the same marketing tropes as some of the other YA films released in recent year, including how the kids rise up despite the opinions of adults, it differs in that it’s a fantasy story, not one involving them bringing down some authoritarian government, just stopping an evil wizard.
That lends the whole marketing effort a nice upbeat vibe as we see the kids overcoming great odds and learning what they’re capable of, not just fighting back against vague threats. The trailers may be a bit hokey and some of the posters are uninspired, but it’s hard to deny the positive nature of the story being sold, one that offers a bit of relief and escape instead of merely reflecting dystopian fears held by society at large.
Picking Up the Spare
Cornish was interviewed again about the movie, commenting on the story’s refection of the Brexit debate happening in the U.K. He also talked about the process of rethinking a historical legend to be an underage character.