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The Tale of Despereaux

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The Tale of Despereaux - movie starts with a rat, review starts with a Rant!

Dec 20, 2008 (Updated Dec 20, 2008)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Fantastic animation, great voice acting, enjoyable overall...

Cons:... voiceover is awful, seems unsure of who it's target audience is...

The Bottom Line: It could have been better, but The Tale of Despereaux is still an enjoyable animated movie.


Why?  Why why why?  On the evidence of 9 out of 10 voiceovers in movies being a very bad idea, just who is it that thinks: "You know what would really be great in this movie?  A voiceover!!"  What's worse is that there must be people in charge of the decision-making who actually agree with this!  Again, one simple question - why?  There must be a reason... but I guess I'll never know what it is.
 
From the above paragraph you may just have managed to pick out the fact that The Tale of Despereaux has a voiceover.  You may also, if you were very observant, have noticed that it didn't work very well.  In fact the voiceover (Sigourney Weaver is the narrator) brings this down by at least one star rating.  Weaver is okay but the narration is used far too often and is badly written.   Once or twice it actually aspires to be quite profound but mainly it's annoying and it would have been much better for the story to be told through the animation instead of narration.  In fact the story comes through just fine without any help.  Captions that come up proclaiming "Mouse World" and "Rat World" are also completely unnecessary... when you have just been shown a lovely panoramic sequence of a huge mouse city or rat city, do you really need to be told that's what it is?

Now that I've finished grumbling about the idiocy of the voiceover and the fact that the film-makers seem to think their audience are complete idiots and incapable of ascertaining anything for themselves, let's get back to the actual movie - which is, I might add, rather good.  As the title suggests it is the story of a mouse called Despereaux - or rather, it is partly his story, and partly that of a rat called Roscuro.  Now Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman) is a human-loving rat who also loves the sea and the sunlight.  He also loves soup - well, where the ship has just landed, everyone loves soup.  It just so happens that on the day the ship on which Roscuro travels docks, it's Soup Day - the day when all the kingdom gathers together in excitement awaiting the season's soup to be announced from the royal kitchen.  Unfortunately an accident results in the death of the queen, the king proclaiming a ban on soup, and rats being proclaimed a national enemy.  Added to this, by some unknown means, most of the light drains from the kingdom and it refuses to rain - though the clouds hang in the air, grey and oppressive, forever.  (Sounds like the UK... apart from the not raining part!!)

The rats are also the enemies of the mice.  The mice live by an extremely rigid set of rules, the first of which is "thou shalt be afraid" - or at least something like that.  When Despereaux (voiced by Matthew Broderick) is born he looks a bit different - he's small, even for a mouse, but has huge ears.  Worryingly for his parents he appears unable to learn to be afraid.  He won't cower, only scurries for fun, and draws pictures of cats in his notebook and names them "Fluffy".  If he doesn't change soon he could face banishment from the mice colony... and then the rats will surely eat him...

Added to all this is Princess Pea (Emma Watson) - the daughter of the dead queen who feels an awful longing, but for what she does not know.  Like all the citizens of the land she longs for sunlight, rain and soup - and even wouldn't mind seeing rats again.  She needs a hero, but there is none to be found.  None, that is, until a certain small mouse accepts a quest from her (another things mice are not supposed to do, of course, is speak with humans...).

Though there are many things to like in this movie, it has to be said that the funniest bits are all in the trailer, so don't expect to be crying with laughter (though there are a few amusing bits scattered throughout).  The story is nice enough and the characters are likeable / dislikeable in a way that draws you in to the story.  The animation is superb; lively rich in detail, and the locations in the film are lovingly created.   The music score by William Ross accentuates the action very well, and the voice acting is superb throughout.  There are a whole host of star names among the voice cast - Kevin Kline, Tracey Ulman, Stanley Tucci, William H. Macy, Ciaran Hinds, Robbie Coltraine, Frances Conroy, Christopher Lloyd, Frank Langella - and not a single one of them disappoints.  Broderick, Hoffman and Watson are all excellent.  There are some great action sequences too.

The main trouble with the movie (apart from the terrible voiceover, of course...) is that it doesn't seem to have made up its mind who its target audience is.  Much of it is aimed clearly at the very young, while some themes are a little darker and perhaps aimed more at older youths and adults.  However it fails to fully satisfy either young or old, and the plot flounders rather just after the halfway point, before it rallies with a satisfying end sequence.  Some plot threads are tied up just a little too neatly really, while some of the more interesting sub-plots are simply left without an ending.

All in all I did enjoy The Tale of Despereaux, but it really could have been much better - tidy up the plot a bit, add some more humour (especially that adults would appreciate) and - you knew this was coming - get rid of that blasted voiceover, and you could have something here to rival PIXAR's best.  As it is, this Universal Studios offering is reasonably enjoyable, but sadly nothing more than that.


Other Information

Runtime: 100 minutes
Directed by Sam Fell & Robert Stevenhagen
Based on the book by Kate DiCamillo.



Related Links
 
Animated Movies Featuring Rodentia:

Flushed Away
Ratatouille


See also:

My Top Ten Animated Movies
My Top Ten Computer-Animated Movies


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