The Tale of Despereaux
dir Sam Fell, Robert Stevenhagen
scr Gary Ross
voices Sigourney Weaver, Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Ciarán Hinds, Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci, Frances Conroy, William H Macy, Tracey Ullman, Robbie Coltrane, Richard Jenkins, Frank Langella, Christopher Lloyd
release UK/US 19.Dec.08
08/UK Universal 1h33
The Tale of Despereaux
En garde! Despereaux

weaver broderick hoffman
R E V I E W    B Y    R I C H    C L I N E
The Tale of Despereaux In adapting Kate DiCamillo's award-winning fairy tale to the big screen, the filmmakers have created a thoroughly engaging, slightly offbeat adventure with solid themes running through it.

Once upon a time, in a kingdom that centres its society around soup, a terrible incident involving a curious rat named Roscuro (Hoffman) brought sadness to the land. Meanwhile under the castle, a young mouse named Despereaux (Broderick) doesn't scurry or cower like normal mice. His parents (Conroy and Macy) are worried he might get banished, and things get worse when he visits the castle and befriends the sad princess (Watson). It's going to take a lot of honour and forgiveness to sort out this mess.

For an animated kids' movie, this film has a remarkably dark undercurrent. Roscuro's bitterness is genuinely dark, especially since we know he's better than that, while Despereaux's big-hearted actions are misunderstood by everyone. The script is packed with sharp observations about human nature, from the kingdom's odd obsession with soup to the mouse world's insistence that young mice must develop their fear ("because no one's born afraid").

With echoes of both The Princess Bride and Shrek, the film is also infused with a sense of yearning, augmented by beautiful, painterly animation that's strangely stylised but rather magical. And to counteract the outrageous over-cuteness of Despereaux himself, there's real terror and heartache in the story. Characters and events are twisted by the nasty things people do because they feel hurt. And the conclusions are surprisingly complex.

The vocal cast clearly catches this tone, starting with Weaver's wry narration and continuing through the genuinely witty dialog, offbeat situations and a real sense of adventure. Some of the characters feel a little under-written, such as the chef (Kline) and his bizarre muse (Tucci), while others add wonderful touches, such as the servant girl (Ullman) with big dreams and a grim ambition. It's ultimately rather heavy for an animated family movie, with powerful explorations of grief and redemption, but it's also a rare movie that will keep both kids and adults captivated. And teach them a thing or two along the way.

cert u themes, violence 7.Dec.08

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© 2008 by Rich Cline, Shadows on the Wall