THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX
** (out of 5)
December 19, 2008
Matthew Broderick as DESPEREAUX TILLING
Emma Watson as PRINCESS PEA
Dustin Hoffman as ROSCURO
Tracey Ullman as MIGGERY “MIG” SOW
Sigourney Weaver as THE NARRATOR
William H. Macy as LESTER
Kevin Kline as ANDRE
Stanley Tucci as GOLDO
Robbie Coltrane as GREGORY
Ciaran Hinds as BOTTICELLI
Christopher Lloyd as HOVIS
Tony Hale as FURLOUGH
Directed by: Sam Fell & Robert Stevenhagen
BY KEVIN CARR
Listen to Kevin’s radio review…
Last week with the release of the CGI stinker “Delgo,” I made the observation that often the quality of an animated film seems to have an inverse relationship with the number of recognizable names in the credits. In other words, the more name actors the producers cram into the film, the lower the quality of the movie. And if the actors are more disparate (such as the range from Freddie Prinze Jr. to Lou Gossett Jr. in “Delgo”), it’s also a bad sign.
I was looking forward to “The Tale of Despereaux” for a while. It looked very cute and innovative. It seemed to have everything you needed in a CGI fairy tale film… a mediaeval setting, cute critters, a somewhat adorable story…
…then I started watching the credits. There’s no less than a dozen recognizable names in the opening credits – from Matthew Broderick to Tracey Ullman. Seeing as I just declared my latest undeniable truth of animated films (see above), I wondered if the movie was going to be something less than I expected.
The film opens with a rat on a ship, heading into the port of a city famous for its soup. After the rat accidentally scares the queen to death, the king outlaws soup and the land suddenly falls under the shadow of clouds that never rain. While the rat falls into exile under the city, a young mouse named Despereaux is showing signs of un-mouse-like behavior.
Despereaux should be cowering and scurrying like other mice. However, he’s not. Rather, he’s insanely brave (to the point of leaping over mousetraps to steal the cheese) and is more interested in reading books than eating them. Soon, Despereaux finds his way into the castle to befriend a princess and hopefully bring back the glory of soup to the land.
I kid you not. That is what the movie is about.
This film is an adaptation of a children’s book, and it goes to show what a challenge it is to adapt books into movies. There were many points along the way that I recognized might work as a book but end up falling flat with this film.
First, there’s the fact that this movie really isn’t a tale of Despereaux at all. It could have been as accurately called “The Tale of Soup” or “The Tale of a Rat” or even “ The Tale of a Pig-Faced Girl Looking for Her Father.” Every character in the film is given a full back-story and attention, even when their role is secondary to the greater story.
This leads to a heavily disjointed film, often having nothing to do with the title character. Despereaux doesn’t show up until at least fifteen minutes into the movie, and the entire soup subplot is just downright too silly to be taken seriously. When we finally meet Despereaux, he has no depth. He befriends the princess in a very awkward manner (by introducing himself as a gentleman lurking on her vanity), and she seems okay with a talking mouse but terrified by a talking rat later in the film.
I can’t stop thinking about the soup angle to this film, which seems to be a plot point hammered into the movie (but considering the book’s original title is “The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread,” it seems to be the destiny of the film to be about soup… although I don’t know where the spool of thread comes in). Still, who actually thinks a rat in a gourmet kitchen is that original of an idea after Pixar did it so perfectly last year with “Ratatouille”?
When it comes to the cuteness of the film, the kids should like the little animals. However, so much of the animation’s potential is lost due to the desaturated look called for in the film, this isn’t even interesting to watch on an aesthetic angle. “Space Chimps” was more fun this summer.
There’s a shortage of great family films at the box office this season, so it might be a good bet to see if you have little kids. However, “The Tale of Despereaux” is ultimately forgettable and drab.