Disney’s The Three Musketeers Review

Having recently finished re-reading The Three Musketeers, I decided I would review one of my favourite films which was the 1993 Disney adaptation of this book. The Three Musketeers is almost like a fairytale in the sense that many people are familiar with it whether or not they’ve read the original novel by Alexandre Dumas. This film was (I believe), my first exposure to the original swashbuckler. It was interestingly also one of the first films I can remember watching when DVD players started appearing under televisions though looking around today, it doesn’t seem to be widely available anymore. It was generally panned by professional critics on release but was a modest box office success which as is often the case, suggests the audience felt rather differently to the critics. Still, it is not a particularly well-remembered film.

One thing to observe immediately is that Disney was probably hoping for a lot more than a modest take at the box office with this film. It starred an ensemble of rising or already famous actors and many remain successful today. Chris O’Donnell plays D’Artagnan and this film came out the year after his major role alongside Al Pacino in Scent of a Woman. Gabrielle Anwar plays Queen Anne and also appeared in the same film. O’Donnell was one of those actors that seemed to appear in every other film I saw throughout the 1990s. The titular musketeers were perhaps the biggest draw though with Kiefer Sutherland playing Athos, Charlie Sheen as Aramis and Oliver Platt as Porthos. The films three antagonists were also recognised faces with Tim Curry as Cardinal Richelieu, Michael Wincott as Rochefort and Rebecca de Morney as Milady de Winter. I should also mention Julie Delpy, the only French member of the cast who plays D’Artagnan’s love interest and the queen’s lady-in-waiting, Constance Bonacieux.

In 2023, there was a two film French adaptation of the novel which judging by the trailers adopts a darker tone. There was also a BBC series some years before this with a similarly dark tone and which departs significantly from the souce material. Another adaptation by Paul W.S. Anderson in 2011 which had little to do with the original and I barely remember watching it. The novel had frequently been adapted prior to the Disney release but I can’t speak to how well made any of these films were. I only state all this because though this versiond departs in many ways from the source material, it is a lot closer to the source material than many recent ones.

It is also more light-hearted and whimsical in a way modern adaptations certainly aren’t; though one might be forgiven for thinking otherwise as the film begins in a dungeon with Tim Curry’s Richelieu establishing himself as the villian by having a poor peasant executed. It soon brightens up with the introduction of D’Artagnan, who is on his way to Paris to become a musketeer as in the book. To hurry things along, he is first seen engaged in a duel with Girard an effeminate foil who turns his journey to Paris into a chase. Along the way he also meets Constance and the queen riding on horseback, with only two guards escorting them. Even the famously inaccurate Dumas never went this far but it is easy to overlook. Girard and his brothers soon renew the chase which follows D’Artagnan into Paris and then into his famously unfriendly meetings with the three musketeers. As in the book, he ends up pledged to fight three duels with men he does not realise are part of the very group he is looking to join.

Where in the book, the musketeers and the Cardinal’s guards are rivals who frequently get into duels or fights, in this film the Cardinal has advised the king to disband the musketeers and has Rochefort menacingly act on this. This makes the three remaining musketeers fugitives as they refuse to surrender their weapons or uniforms to the Cardinal’s guards. D’Artagnan discover’s they are musketeers on meeting for their duel but demonstrating his honourable character, is still willing to keep to his word. They are soon interrupted by the Cardinal’s guards and D’Artagnan is welcomed to join in the fray. After defeating them, D’Artagnan is arrested and thrown in prison where he manages to eavesdrop on a conversation between the Cardinal and Lady de Winter. He is caught and sentenced to death but is rescued on the block by the three musketeers and they escape out of the city in the Cardinal’s personal carriage and now with a mission to stop the messenger from getting their message to the Duke of Buckingham.

So there is a general thread that keeps it close to the source material but it does depart in a number of significant details. I will not go through the whole plot and all the differences but the biggest is that the Cardinal intends to have the king assassinated and become the king himself. Historically speaking, I don’t see how this would have ever been allowed to happen but along with having the musketeers disbanded, it was probably thought necessary by the screenwriters. The book is naturally more complicated and the actual ending is not a very Disney one. Simplifying it into a more cartoonish battle of good and evil works well for the screen.

I could continue to quibble at length about all the changes they made but I’d rather just focus on what it does well. The actors for the musketeers in particular were very well chosen. Charlie Sheen as the pious Aramis certainly seems odd today given what has become of his personal life since, but he approaches it with sincerity and is believable in the role. Kiefer Sutherland as the gloomy Athos also works very well. Probably Oliver Platt as Porthos is the best though he is certainly smaller than how Porthos is described in the book. He clearly got the proud and boastful aspects of the character very well. 

The villains too are excellent with Rebecca de Mornay being a very convincing Milady. She is really the main villain of the book and is unrepentent until death. In the film they make her a fallen heroine who does the right thing in the end before accepting her fate. Again, this was a very Disney change to make. Rochefort is also given a more prominent role than in the book and is revealed to be the man who murdered D’Artagnan’s father. This is another invention for the film but again, it works with a nintety minute running time. Tim Curry always plays a great villain so I don’t really need to say anything about his performance. I will say though that the real Cardinal Richelieu was not the villain as portrayed in this film or indeed in the book. In this film he is cartoonishly evil but as mentioned, that matches the film’s tone.

I briefly mentioned this film in my review of the Pirates of the Caribbean series in regards to the running time. The main problem with that series was the long running time but this runs along at a quick pace and comes to a very satisfying end. One could say that some parts are overly truncated and the final act is over quite quickly but there aren’t really many slow parts in the film. The slowest point happens before the musketeers return to Paris and as the climax is a large swashbuckling battle, it is quickly forgotten.

The film does depart significantly from the book but the quick pace and fun action sequences make this easy to overlook. It has a great cast, costumes and at the very least, gets the tone of novel better than the darker adaptations that have followed. I don’t pretend it is perfect and the book as always, is recommended over any adaptation but this remains the best one I’ve seen to date.

This entry was posted in Film and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.