What’s the Deal with Movies Like ‘Your Highness’–Medieval Settings Plus Modern Humor/References?

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Fantasy flick Your Highness, from Pineapple Express director David Gordon Green, actually seems a lot like a stoner comedy set in the woods. And while the movie — starring James Franco, Danny McBride, and Natalie Portman — had a few snicker-worthy moments, the most interesting element was this incongruous combination.

Highness, written by McBride, isn't the first movie to ground its characters in the familiar medieval setting of castles and warlocks' towers, arm them with bows and arrows and formal speech, but then pepper every interaction with anachronistic pop culture references. It's a formula that has made classic comedies out of A Knight's Tale, The Princess Bride, Robin Hood: Men in Tights, and Shrek. Here, we break down the elements that unite these movies, and where they did and didn't work.

Raunchy Sexual Humor

Thanks to high-school social studies, we've learned that medieval societies often delighted in bawdy stories and songs. But instead of a bard rambling on about some impure maiden, we get more visual gags and, often, more graphic jokes than you'd see in other comedies. Thanks to that era's predilection for long swords and codpieces, there are a lot of dick jokes. Men in Tights is full of 'em, especially when the Sheriff of Rottingham is trying to deflower poor, chastity-belt-wearing Maid Marian. In a particularly disturbing scene in Your Highness, Fabious (Franco) and Thadeous (McBride) have to give the wise old wizard a handjob as thanks for helping them on their quest. Even the squeaky-clean-by-comparison Princess Bride got in a jibe; when Buttercup is about to stab herself, Wesley comments, “There are a shortage of perfect breasts in this world; ‘twould be a pity to damage yours.”

Mocking Stereotypical Characters

Since every element of these films is a send-up, you can't have a serious portrayal of the characters. That's why in Your Highness we see Fabious totally stupid and beautiful, Belladonna (Zooey Deschanel) a doe-eyed virgin, and Isabel (Portman) a steely-eyed assassin bent on avenging her family. Sometimes, however, in mocking tried-and-true characters, a movie comes up with classics of their own, as is the case with The Princess Bride‘s Inigo Montoya (Mandy Patinkin).

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