The Tale of Despereaux recalls so many great animated films. The story features a mouse and a chef in France, animated in muted tones, evoking memories of Pixars Ratatouille. The fractured fairy tale element reminded me of Shrek; Princess Pea and her unlikely suitor is a similar situation to Princess Fionas. Despereaux is a small mouse who doesnt let his size hold him back from his dreams, an idea that is used in many films like An American Tail, The Secret of NIMH, even Charlottes Web. While the book The Tale of Despereaux is a highly praised Newberry Award winning childrens book, the film is not of the caliber of its source material or the other films that it borrows from.
Despereaux is unique from birth with his adorable Dumbo-like ears. As he gets older, he takes an interest in things that differ from that of a mouse. He has a fondness for swords, and doesnt cower when he should. He reads books instead of nibbling on them. He never holds himself back because of his size. Because of his curiosity, he finds himself one day in the Princesss room, where he is quickly enamored with her. These actions banish him from his mousy home by the Mouse Council, and get him thrown into the world of the rats.
The rats pose no worry for Despereaux, as he continues on his mission to get back home and to the Princess whom he loves. Along the way, Despereaux meets a rat named Roscuro who caused the kingdom much grief, a servant girl named Mig, the dungeon master Gregory, and a gladiator cat.
The Tale of Despereaux the book, written in 2003 by Kate DiCamillo, is already a childrens classic. The book is told in four separate parts and is dark, long and a bit complex for a childrens book. The film possibly would have benefited by leaving out a chapter of the story. As the film stands, it seems hurried. There were times in the film where I didnt care what was going on with all of the characters, I just wanted them to wrap it up.
With all of the characters already existing in the story, the filmmakers felt it necessary to create one more of their own: a “soup genie” named Boldo. Seriously, the guy is a figment of the Royal Cooks imagination and hes made up of various vegetables. Hes the cooks inspiration. He looks ridiculous, and has no place being in a movie thats already so jam-packed. I think hes supposed to provide some sort of humor to the scenes with the cook, but I ended up just staring and going, “What the .?”
Its a shame that directors Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen didnt create a good story on screen, because they got nearly everything else right. The animation is gorgeous and life-like (well, everything but the humans anyway). The voice acting is superb! Its amazing how many big names can be attached to one animated project. This film features: Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Tracey Ullman, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Emma Watson, Robbie Coltrane, Frank Langella, Richard Jenkins, Stanley Tucci, and Christopher Lloyd.
I was really disappointed with The Tale of Despereaux. The dark subject matter doesnt bother me as much as the poor narrative, the bad story-telling. If your child has shown interest in this film somehow, I would suggest sharing one of the classic films that Despereaux so desperately tries to be by watching either Shrek, Ratatouille, The Secret of NIMH, An American Tail, or Charlotte’s Web. Or better yet, buy your child the book.
Presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Like I said before, the animation is breathtaking. You really forget that it’s even animated…until the humans appear. The palatte is muted, but the visuals are gorgeous.
The sound is Dolby Digital Surround.
The Tale of The Tale of Despereaux – This making of talks about the complexity of the characters and trying to capture that from the book. I think they tried too hard. They also discuss the painstaking efforts given to create the look of the film. They also show the actors recording their voices for the film, which is something I always love to see. They recorded the actors together, like what Pixar did with John Goodman and Billy Crystal for Monsters, Inc.. 11:43
Interactive Map of the Kingdom – This feature is a clickable, interactive map of the entire kingdom in the story. My kids loved clicking around on everything.
Top Ten Uses for Oversized Ears – Props for the cute title, but this feature is really kind of lame. The narrator is annoying. This would have been cuter if Broderick did the narration. 1:23
Despereaux’s Quest Game – I was surprised at how difficult this game was! Yeah, laugh now. Then you try it yourself and see if you get everything right the first time. My kids had a blast with this.
Build a Boldo Game – Um…Boldo is the useless Soup Genie…he doesn’t really need a game. But, it’s basically a matching game and my kids had a good time playing it. You can pick between easy or hard levels.
DVD-ROM features printable coloring pages, wallpapers, and more.
Also featured on the DVD is a Sneak Peek of Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey.
Trailers: Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey, The Tale of Despereaux: The Video Game, Pikachu: The Movie, Barbie Thumbelina, Bionicle: The Legend Reborn
The Inside Pulse
My kids’ fascination with the DVD features almost swayed my opinion about the movie. But even they were bored during the movie at times. My son who had just read the book in his third grade classroom, kept comparing the book to the movie, like my own personal commentary track. This is simply a case where the book is much better than the movie.
Universal presents The Tale of Despereaux. Directed by: Sam Fell, Robert Stevenhagen. Starring: Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy. Written by: Chris Viscardi, Gary Ross, Kate DiCamillo, Will McRobb. Running time: 93 minutes. Rating: . Released on DVD: April 7, 2009. Available at Amazon.com