April 19, 2009
Review - " The Tale of Despereaux " - (on DVD) By Roland Hansen
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The Tale of Despereaux
Directed by: Sam Fell & Robert Stevenhagen
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Tracey Ullman,
Kevin Kline, William H Macy, Stanley Tucci
Anyone trying to market an animated film without the words Disney, Pixar, or
DreamWorks attached faces an uphill battle, and Universal's "The Tale of
Despereaux" is a prime example of why that is: because cartoons by upstarts
tend to be mediocre.
Based on Kate DiCamillo's children's book that I've never heard of but that I
assume is beloved because all children's books that get turned into movies are
described as "beloved," "Despereaux" is set in a far-off kingdom such as those
seen in fairy tales. There's a castle, a royal family, a narrator (Sigourney
Weaver), the whole nine yards. It's not one of those satirical "Shrek" kingdoms,
either. This is G-rated, irony-free family fare.
The story starts off being about Roscuro (voice of Dustin Hoffman), a rat from
a sailing ship who stops off in the kingdom of Dor and accidentally causes
major trouble on national Soup Day. Soup is a big deal in Dor, you see,
prepared by the exacting Chef Andre (Kevin Kline), but the Roscuro caused
tragedy leads the king to ban both rats and soup. Why rats weren't banned in
the first place, who knows.
So the kingdom is super-sad, especially Princess Pea (Emma Watson), and it's during this period of mourning that the
actual star of the film, Despereaux (Matthew Broderick), comes around. He's a wee mouse, wee even by mouse standards,
who is distinct among his peers for being unafraid of all the things mice are usually afraid of. That makes him an outcast,
as mice are very proud of their cowardice. "You can't be a mouse if you don't learn to be afraid!" says the principal at his
mouse school (Richard Jenkins). "There are so many wonderful things in life to be afraid of, if you just learn how scary
This brave little mouse gets the idea that he is a gentleman and a knight by reading a fairy tale in the castle's library.
Despereaux's temperament makes him ideally suited for the heroic tasks that lie before him, which include befriending
Princess Pea. Meanwhile, Roscuro is plotting revenge for his banishment, and an ugly maid named Miggery (Tracey
Ullman) is looking for happiness.
The film takes a long time to find its way, with everything before Despereaux's introduction feeling like an overlong
prologue, even once it's on track, it has a hard time juggling the shifting story lines and characters. But it's well-served by
its fairy-tale whimsicality and energetic computer animation, and there are some pleasant chuckles to be had in the
particulars of the cute story. If your kids have been clamoring to see it, allowing them to do so won't hurt you any.