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The Tale of Despereaux /

Rated: G

Starring: Matthew Broderick, Tracey Ullman, Emma Watson, Toby Hale, Frances Conroy
Directed by: Sam Fell, Rob Stevenhagen
Produced by: Gary Ross, Allison Thomas
Written by: Gary Ross (screenplay), Will McRobb & Chris Viscardi (story)
Distributor: Universal Pictures

     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 Orange, CA.


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