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The Tale of Despereaux


The thing about animated films is they rely much more on a captivating story than live-action films, even if the cast is waist deep in celebrities. You can’t rely on the vibrant features of an actor or actress to draw in an audience and hold a film together. If the story is sub par, or told in a sub par fashion, there is little an actor’s voice can do to keep the film entertaining throughout. The Tale of Despereaux falls victim to this unfortunate event: filled with stars, but lacking substance.

Grade:

A small, courageous mouse, Despereaux (Matthew Broderick), gets enchanted by a tale of knights, honor and princesses and decides to make this his mantra when helping Princess Pea (Emma Watson) after her town is covered in doom and gloom. A rat and the cause of said doom and gloom, Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman), tries to make amends for his mistake by overcoming the hatred of rats and working with Despereaux. Meanwhile, Miggery Sow (Tracey Ullman) is a lowly servant who believes she is a princess so much that she tries to emulate Princess Pea.

Having only heard of the plot of the book and never read it, I had little idea of what was actually going on beforehand. Watching Despereaux provided no answers either. The entire story is told in a sort of late-remembrance style, by which I mean a character would be introduced and then, as if the writers forgot, a piece of information or another character is thrown into the fray. There is so much build up to the main facets of the story that you are lost way too soon. The pace is frustratingly slow and never provides more than a spark of interest, which is unfortunate considering the potential of the story.

The inner-workings of Mouseland and Ratland are amazing in how they mix human features with mouse/rat features. The schooling of mice to be cowardly and timid is actually quite funny, but quickly abandoned for the larger story. There is a lot left unexplained about both “lands” and how or why they came to be. Also, where does the vegetable spirit come from??

In any case, the likes of those mentioned above and Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, Tony Hale, Robbie Coltrane, Frank Langella, Richard Jenkins and Christopher Lloyd were not enough to save Despereaux from being a completely middle-of-the-road film. Broderick has a great voice, but it did not fit the role of a small, young mouse that sets a bad precedent for a titular character. Kids may enjoy it, but I’m willing to bet most will stop paying attention early on. Couple that with good, not great, animation and you just have a mediocre film that ultimately isn’t worth your time.

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  1. I agree with you completely on this one. It’s not terrible, just mediocre, but it could have been so much better if it had focused on its one interesting premise: a mouse world schooled to be fearful of humans, and then one young mouse born with no fear, but a swashbuckling chivalrous spirit instead. That’s a great premise, one that I was hoping to see after the trailer came out. Sadly, the movie is as you say: confused with too many boring subplots that it doesn’t do anything with, exceedingly bland characters, and interesting but not great animation. I also thought that the subplot of human-eating rats kidnapping the princess for some kind of gladiatorial sacrifice was extremely disturbing and way out of place in a kids’ movie. It’s like they couldn’t decide on a tone for the story.

    And yeah, what was the deal with that vegetable spirit?

    • I didn’t even want to touch the gladiator rats. That was just way too bizarre for me. By that point there were enough subplots to make about 3 films on their own.

    • Steph
    • April 10th, 2012

    C-?? But how can you say no to those adorably huge ears?

    • If I was grading cuteness, it obviously would’ve been like an A-

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