The Tale of Despereaux Directed by: Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen Cast: (voices) Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Tracey Ullman Running Time: 1 hr 35 mins Rating: G
Plot: On Soup Day, the Kingdom of Dor loses its Queen in a terrible rat-related accident. Subsequently, the King of Dor forbids both rats and soup. This depresses the residents of Dor who love soup (they seem ok with the rats being banned), including Princess Pea (Watson). When a little mouse named Despereaux (Broderick) learns about Pea's sadness, he sets out to restore happiness to Dor with the help of a Roscuro (Hoffman), a rat looking to make amends.
Who’s It For? Children and their parents. It may be a little frightening to very young children, but not too bad. But again, parents should find enough entertainment out of this little mouse.
Expectations: Since it's based on a Newbery Award winning book, I was hoping for a good story. The animation in the previews looked pretty good.
Actors: Matthew Broderick as Despereaux: Broderick shines as the impassioned Despereaux. He does the best thing a voice actor can do, make you forget the man behind the mouse... er, voice. Broderick lends Despereaux a sense of wonder, which makes him an endearing character. Unlike the mice and rats, even humans around them, he doesn't allow himself to be limited by fear but looks upon the world with joie de vivre. Broderick make you believe in Despereaux. Score: 8
Dustin Hoffman as Roscuro: Hoffman plays a rat, but unlike the one he played in Midnight Cowboy, this rat is a fairly noble creature. Roscuro acts as catalyst for the main event of the film, he falls in the Queens soup, causing her to faint, then she drowns in it. Lost and confused, he ends up in Ratworld where he eventually meets Despereaux. Unlike Broderick, you can't mistake Hoffman's voice, it's too unique. Still, he makes Roscuro a likable, if flawed creature. Score: 7
Emma Watson as Princess Pea: I wouldn't have placed Watson's voice immediately, but then I've only seen her in the Harry Potter films. I can't say whether it was the animation or the voice work but Princess Pea didn't work for me. She sounded condescending to Despereaux, rather than kind and interested. It becomes hard to understand why he cared so much about her. Score: 4
Tracey Ullman as Miggery Sow: As you would expect, Ullman knocks this out of the park. I didn't realize it was her voice until the end credits rolled. It's a small part, but a tricky one, a strange girl who's alone, unloved, jealous and pitiful. But she makes her a real girl, a feat for someone rendered in 0's and 1's. Score: 8
Talking: This film is presented as a fairytale and as part of that uses a narrator (Sigourney Weaver) pretty heavily. Though I'm a little iffy on narration in film in general, it works within the context of the story. I also really appreciated the lack of potty humor. Seriously, does every kids movie need fart jokes? Score: 7
Sights: The rendering of the fur is beautiful, but it's about eighth in a line of animated rat movies (Ratatouille, Flushed Away, er... others) so it's not quite as impressive anymore. But Despereaux is super-cute and I'm not a big mouse fan. The humans are a bit oblong and stylized, but it kept me from being caught up in judging how real the people looked (a preoccupation of mine in animated movies). The studio definitely spent the money, it looks good. Score: 9
Sounds: I've heard that the sign of good film score is that you don't notice it. If that's true, The Tale of Despereaux has an amazing score! Ok, I did notice some moments, the mood picks up when Despereaux runs off to save Princess Pea, shades of Raiders of the Lost Ark there. But the rest is pretty par for the course. Score: 5
Best Scene: Despereaux climbs up a high stone chute to save Princess Pea when she's caught by the rats. The sequence is pretty exciting.
Ending: Happily ever after, but what else would you expect? Fairy tales need fairytale endings.
Questions: Why are all the mice and rats American but the people are European? Why is Soup Day in the spring instead of the fall? Why did Emma Watson get the part of Princess Pea?
Rewatchability: Sure, I could see kids enjoying it repeatedly. Even parents will like it the first five times.
Though this is no Pixar film (for me, the hallmark of quality animation), The Tale of Despereaux is still a quality animated film that the whole family can enjoy during the holidays. The story contains some pretty adult themes, about loss and redemption, but presents them in a very palatable manner. Nothing is rammed down your throat, except maybe Despereaux's cuteness, but I didn't mind that. In the vacuum that has been created by no new Disney, Pixar, or Harry Potter film this holiday season, you could do worse than seeing this little mouse.
Final Score: 7/10