Not every rodent-themed family movie is destined for success, and the use of marionettes in feature-length films has never caught on in a big way. A brief theatrical release and modest payoff on video is the best "A Rat's Tale" can hope for, with younger kids showing the keenest interest.
Based on the award-winning children's book by Tor Seidler
, the Legacy release of a German production features the expertise of the 50-year-old Augsburger Puppenkiste
. A trio of Americans -- Beverly D'Angelo, Jerry Stiller
and Lauren Hutton
-- lend their talents, but the tale is curiously lacking in almost every aspect.
Inserting the ungainly puppets into real New York landscapes and depicting several scenes with human-puppet interaction, director Michael F. Huse underscores the elemental problems of the marionettes' visible strings and limited mobility.
The rat characters designed by Augsburger Puppenkiste
owner Hannelore Marschall-Oehmichen and Jurgen Marschall, particularly leads Monty Mad-Rat (voice by Dee Bradley Baker
) and Isabella Noble-Rat (Lynsey Bartilson
), are woefully underanimated, with unblinking eyes and unchanging expressions. An affable "canalligator" (Donald Arthur
) is the most sophisticated creation and endearing character.
Hutton is the most prominent of the live actors, playing an art gallery owner who secretly does business with the rats. German stage and screen actor Josef Ostendorf
is both ogre and oaf as the generic story's heavy, a businessman intent on exterminating the furry denizens underneath property he plans to develop.
While there is little in the way of fright and no violence, the story is a bit complicated for very young children. The political squabbles and class prejudices within the diverse rat population envisioned, along with the elementary spiritualism and confusing messages about greed and responsibility, make the ratty saga overtly satirical and not altogether enchanting.
In English, with some dubbing in the live-action sequences, "A Rat's Tale" is neither fish nor fowl. It's not stylized enough visually and it's not a simple story, while the occasional flurry of digital effects -- relating to three magic shells that become the focus of the uninspired plot -- are pretty but inconsequential.