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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Tale of Despereaux

Rated: G
1 hr 34 mins
Theatrical Release:
Dec 19, 2008 Wide
Box Office:
Review :
Once upon a time there was a charming tale of a wee little mouse with wide-open eyes and ears as large as saucers. Named Despereaux Tilling, the mouse grew up, though not by much, to become a reader of books and the besotted friend of a lovely human princess named Pea. In time he saved the day, battling an army of rats, and won the hearts of millions of readers and eventually a contract with a Hollywood studio. This is how the book “The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread” became a computer-animated movie, though without the rambling subtitle and as many eccentricities.
Being a Hollywood story of a mouse, a princess, some soup and thread — not to mention rats, hats and a girl named Mig with the unfortunate looks of a pig — the movie “The Tale of Despereaux” offers up other changes too. It begins as all fairy tales should, with a narrator (an efficient, somewhat cool-sounding Sigourney Weaver) recounting the story of the pastel-hued Kingdom of Dor, where the peasants were content, the rulers were just, and the rats scuttled about unmolested. The balm for this peaceable kingdom was soup, a fragrant broth that flowed out of the royal kitchen and into the waiting bowls of the populace. But good times turned to bad when a rat named Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman) fell into the queen’s soup, producing a fatal reaction.


Directed by Sam Fell and Rob Stevenhagen and written by Gary Ross (who also served as one of the producers), “Despereaux” is a pleasantly immersive, beautifully animated, occasionally sleepy tale. Like most American animated movies, it centers on a plucky hero (softly voiced by Matthew Broderick) who, against the nominal odds (though, really, the odds are always stacked in his favor), overcomes adversity of some kind.

As in Kate DiCamillo’s enchanting, Newbery Medal-winning book, Despereaux has to triumph over both his home life (he’s far too bold for the other mice) and the forces of darkness shrouding Dor. What’s particularly sweet about his journey is that it begins with a book he was supposed to nibble, not read.

Reading transforms Despereaux, turning a bold little mouse into a great big hero — a wonderful moral for any children’s book. The story he reads is a fairy tale about a sad princess and a brave knight, an adventure that periodically springs to expressive life because Despereaux doesn’t merely read this tale, he visualizes it so we see it too.

Animated in a more graphically bold style than the rest of the movie, the fairy tale becomes a story within a story. And in one clever scene, which finds the mouse describing the exploits of the knight and the princess to a separate character, the fairy tale plays on the wall next to him as if it were being projected like a movie.

It doesn’t take long for Despereaux to experience the dangerous lows and exultant highs of a knight’s quest. Like many other misunderstood heroes, he suffers for his specialness, which in this case finds him banished from Mouseworld, an orderly Lilliput, to Ratworld, a menacing purgatory filled with bones and introduced with a flourish of Middle Eastern flute music. (The casbah vibe thankfully fades fast.)

There he meets Roscuro, and together they embark on the road to redemption, with justice and a happily ever after for all, including the princess (Emma Watson) and Mig (Tracey Ullman), a peasant whose porcine qualities suggest that ugliness is destiny. But “The Tale of Despereaux” is on the side of kindness, not cruelty, and it encourages smiles if not the book’s flights of fancy.

The movie has a fine sense of pictorial detail — the mouse’s delicate whiskers, the images of soup ladles carved into the palace stairs — and an agreeable gentleness. It deviates from its source material in generally modest and unobtrusive ways; for instance, by reorganizing the book’s fragmented, parallel story lines into a linear whole.

The main difference between the source and its adaptation is that while the book exudes charm, the movie leans toward cute, a substitution that largely speaks to the influence of Disney on animation. In the movie Despereaux wears a red cap that makes him look more like a well-dressed bunny than like a mouse. But at least he’s not wearing Mickey’s gold clodhoppers and bottom-line grin.

Once upon a time, in the faraway kingdom of Dor, there was magic in the air, raucous laughter aplenty and gallons of mouth-watering soup. But a terrible accident left the king broken-hearted, the... Once upon a time, in the faraway kingdom of Dor, there was magic in the air, raucous laughter aplenty and gallons of mouth-watering soup. But a terrible accident left the king broken-hearted, the princess filled with longing and the townsfolk despondent. All hope was lost in a land where sunlight disappeared and the world became dreary gray. Until Despereaux Tilling was born... A brave and virtuous mouse, Despereaux is simply too big for his small world. Though tiny, wheezy and saddled with comically oversized ears, Despereaux refuses to live a life of weakness and fear...believing he was destined to be celebrated in the tales of chivalry he so adores. When he's banished from his home for not following the rules that society expects of a mouse, Despereaux befriends fellow outcast Roscuro, a good-hearted rat who can't bear to look in the mirror and hopes to live far from the grim underground of his kind. While Despereaux begins his noble quest to rescue Pea--a princess who can't see beyond her distorted view of the world--his pal Roscuro receives a painful rejection from her highness that sets him on a course of self-destruction. Along their parallel adventures, the two encounter colorful characters from a serving girl who wishes to be a princess to the evil leader of the sewer rats, who plots revenge on humans from his fiefdom in the subterranean shadows he relishes but Roscuro can't abide. From the highest turrets of the glittering castle to the dankest dark of Dor's sewers, friendships will be tested as Despereaux and Roscuro embark upon a journey that will change the way they look at their world--and themselves--forever. In this tale of bravery, forgiveness and redemption, one tiny creature will teach a kingdom that it takes only a little light to show that what you look like doesn't equal what you are. --© Universal Pictures
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Robbie Coltrane, Dustin Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Kevin Kline, Frank Langella, William H. Macy, James Nesbitt, Tracey Ullman, Sigourney Weaver, Frances Conroy, Tony Hale, Ciaran Hinds, Christopher Lloyd, Stanley Tucci, Emma Watson
Director: Sam Fell, Rob Stevenhagen
Screenwriter: Gary Ross, Will McRobb, Chris Viscardi
Producer: Gary Ross, Allison Thomas
Composer: William Ross
Studio: Universal Pictures



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