The most striking thing about The Tale of Despereaux,
one of a few rare animated endeavors by Universal Pictures, is
the way its figures move in space. Critics often comment on the
realness achieved by pioneer Pixar and motion-capture visionary
Robert Zemeckis in this respect, but never have I seen an
animated film with quite the sense of weight that this one has.
While the quality may go unnoticed by the masses because it is
accomplished in a movie about a cute and courageous little
mouse, such graceful and authentic motion deserves recognition.
Hopefully Oscar voters are able to see through Disney’s massive
awards-campaign for Bolt, a good but inferior picture,
and nominate The Tale of Despereaux this January.
The movie is a visual wonder that combines elegance with
slapstick-based flair. Roger Ebert describes it best by using
the word “painterly.” In addition to its achievements in motion,
The Tale of Despereaux is full of beautiful images that
create a realm in much the same way that illustrated storybooks
do. It comes as no surprise that writer Gary Ross—using a screen
story by Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi—adapted the film from a
beloved children’s novel.
The narrative is not as absorbing as the visuals, but will
nonetheless engage kids and appease adults, who will find
themselves indulging in the other elements. Depereaux (Matthew
Broderick) is a curious, big-eared mouse who is banished from
Mouseworld because he doesn’t embrace the typical
characteristics of his species, particularly fears of cats and
knives. He is thrust into a realm of darkness occupied by rats
in an underworld and humans aboveground. All the light was
sucked away after a series of unfortunate events at an annual
festival led the king to ban rats and his kingdom’s prized soup
from a society dependant on both. Despereaux vows to the
princess (Emma Watson) to save the, doing so with the help of
unlikely rat-ally Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman).
The details of each of the realms in The Tale of
Despereaux don’t come across very clearly, but they’re
insignificant given the simple premise. The real pleasures of
the film are the visuals and, to a lesser extent, the
enthusiastic voice-talents of Broderick, Watson, and Hoffman.
(The cast is full of big names—Frank Langella, Tracey Ullman,
Kevin Kline, and Ciaran Hinds to name a few—but only the three
main actors and narrator Sigourney Weaver lend distinctive and
memorable work.) This is not a must-see movie, but it’s a
pleasant one with simple, but striking animation that feels
welcome after the more complicatedly-designed Wall-E and
Madagascar 2. As a 19-year-old male, I’m about as far
removed from the target-demographic as one could possibly get,
and I was entertained for every one of The Tale of Despereaux’s
short 93 minutes.
-Danny Baldwin, Bucket Reviews
Review Published on: 12.19.2008
Screened on: 12.13.2008 on the AMC 30 at The Block in