The Tale of Despereaux (2008) Poster

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Good message, better visuals, best vocal work!
Joseph Smith22 December 2008
Still wondering about the reviews above that insult this film's animation. I thought it looked terrific. (For the record, nearly every professional critic I could find singled out the film's strong visuals.) The character differentiation is very strong in the mice & rats -- and all that tender-loving detail in Ratworld and Mouseworld! You'd have to watch the movie 6 times to pick out all the tiny man-made objects the rodents have used for furniture, clothing, etc.

I see also several reviewers' concerns about the film's "darkness." Ummm . . . don't we find Hans Christian Andersen a bit dark too? Isn't there something about kids being baked in an oven? And doesn't someone's father die in "Lion King"? And a certain famous mother in that deer movie . . . ? For the matter of that, fans of DiCamillo's Newbery-winning book can tell that her version is a lot darker -- heart-breaking at times. At least one critic has scolded the film version for toning down the darkness, which concomitantly weakens DiCamillo's message of forgiveness and redemption.

AND: I don't think I've ever heard vocal work this good in an animated film. They're not big box-office names that will draw tons of kids to the picture, but real pros -- Hoffman, Ullman, Hinds, Watson, and that narration by Sigourney!! -- who bring an amazing richness and authenticity to the characterizations.

Plus, any movie that so convincingly counsels little kids to say "I'm sorry" -- well, even if it had no other merits, it's hard to argue with a message like that!
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A Charming story
valleyjohn1 January 2009
After waking up with my usual January the 1st mother of all hangovers i wondered how i would manage to grab some recovery time in the form of some extra shut eye later on in the day? Bingo! why not take the family to the cinema? I great place to catch forty winks , or so i thought. Little did i know i would find a kids film that was so good , sleep was the last thing on my mind.

A long time ago, in the distant kingdom of Dor, A horrible accident broke the heart of the king, left a beautiful princess crestfallen, and filled the townspeople with despair. As the sun disappeared from the sky and the flowers were drained of color, the laughter slowly ceased in this once-magical land. It was into this darkened world that a tiny mouse named Despereaux Tilling was born, and while this virtuous little rodent may have been short in stature, his bravery was ultimately too big for such a small world to contain. An unlikely hero with over-sized ears and a discernible wheeze, Despereaux was taken with tales of chivalry, and longed to one day become a noble figure among his people. Sometimes in order to realize their true destiny, heroes must first experience great hardship, however, and when Despereaux fails to adhere to the rigid rules of his society, he is banished from Dor

I don't review Children's films very often . Maybe that's because they are on all the time in my house and i don't really take a great deal of notice of them.

To be honest i didn't even know of The Tale of Despereaux until i checked the listings but I'm glad i did.

This is a magical production that has a mesmerising story , some delightful characters and animation of the highest quality. It reminded me a little of some of the fairy tale books i used to read as a kid. The narration by Sigourney Weaver was perfect. It helped my children understand exactly what was going on when there was two or three sub plots going on.

The Characters voices are performed by Dustin Hoffman , Emma Watson , William H Macey , Tracy Ullman , Kevin Kline and Matthew Broderick but to be honest i only recognised the voices of Hoffman and Watson during the film.

It does make you wonder why studios pay massive wages to big film stars when a lot cheaper alternative could be used.

If you stuck for something to do before the kids go back to school next week you wont go far wrong if you take them to see The Tale of Despereaux .

Without a doubt this is the best film i have see this year......and its also the first!

8 out of 10
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An interesting watch, something out of the ordinary
Domantas20 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I can't say I was expecting much before going to this film: I hadn't heard anything about it prior entering the cinema, and the fact that it was an animation didn't appeal to me. I went to see it just because my little sister wanted to watch it very much, so I really didn't have much choice.

Firstly, the colours and the overall atmosphere of the movie was something unusual. The film can be divided into three parts: happy beginning, dismal middle, and of course, the happy ending. The feel and atmosphere of every part is enhanced by the change of colours: bright, warm colours dominate the beginning and the end of the animation, while faded and cold colours dominate the middle.

Secondly, I enjoyed how three different types of society were reflected. The first and most apparent would be the Kingdom of Dor, suffering from an incompetent ruler who puts his emotions first, while the interests of the kingdom are second. The second type would be the Ratworld, a consumerist, primitive society, which is ruled on the basis of "the leader is he who provides food and entertainment". The last type is the Mouseworld, a society governed by fear of rule-breaking, emphasising the importance of "fitting-in".

Although I liked the middle part of the movie (the gloomy one), I was wondering, if it was appropriate for children, as it brought up such issues as revenge, abolishment of one's principles, treachery. I doubt if kids can make the correct interpretations (or conclusions), so explaining or talking to them after the movie would be reasonable.

The ending was typical of fairy tales: everyone (except for the bad guys) is fine and lives happily ever after (?).

In all, the movie exceeded my expectations. The moral issues brought up, the atmosphere, the unusual development of the story, the happy ending- everything was delivered in a nice way, the only thing that made the movie lose a star (9/10) is the doubt that children would fully understand it.

In all, in all, a nice watch :)
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Fantastic Film. Superb Story-telling.
Melaus3 May 2009
I loved this film. Definitely the best film of the year in my opinion. It's full of inspiration. The film was written after the novel by Kate DiCamillo of the same name as the film. The novel won the 2003 Newbery Medal. I have just started listening to the audio book of the novel and it starts off just as inspiring.

Although it is a children's fantasy film it has a whole lot for the adults. One of my favorite films to date. Fantastic, next to Peaceful Warrior.

Not sure about the other comments on here, I guess we have to live with them. Hopefully you will enjoy it as much as I did, because I really loved it and so did everyone I spoke to that's seen it. With an all-star cast this movie truly stands out. Don't miss this one!
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Lovely, kind-hearted film that doesn't pander
ldarroch18 January 2009
I'd be hard pressed to name a kid's flick I've seen in the last four years that can't be summed up by "a quest to find his true self." For once, the hero knows who he is, and lives by this truth rather than learning to define himself along the journey. It was refreshing to see a slightly less-linear film aimed at the under-10 crowd. There were at least 3-4 narratives to follow (mouse, rat, servant girl, and to a lesser extent, the royal family). The notion that one's actions and attitude can greatly affect those around you, in unexpected ways with surprising consequences, was a lovely lesson to learn, rather than the rote "value of friendship" moral. I don't quite get the Ratatouille comparisons, frankly. OK, the heroes are both rodents. And there is a chef. This film reminded me more of Big Fish, The Princess Bride, and Pushing Daisies with its small themes and seemingly meandering narrative, that all comes nicely at the end. And yes, the film was utterly beautiful.
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Enjoyable Fairy Tale!
g-bodyl23 January 2011
It's sad that movie producers don't make this kind of movie anymore. This is a classic, wonderful fairy tale that is good for the whole family. It does have a few flaws such as this movie is too dark for a G-rating. But the movie itself works and it's not boring like many people say it to be.

This is about a mouse who is different from the rest of the mice. After being kicked out of this tribe, he befriends a rat and together they must save a kingdom from darkness.

This movie has an impressive voice cast. Matthew Broderick does a good job playing the hero mouse.

The animation is pretty good. It looked like the animation was drawn. I liked it though. It reminds me of old Disney movies. In fact, this has a great moral like the rest. I liked this film a lot. I rate this film 8/10.
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Wonderful film is more like reading a really good meaty book that you want to curl up with and lose yourself in
dbborroughs26 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
Okay we applauded at the end and I got teary at times.

I have no idea when I last saw an animated film this complex made in the US. I mean that in a good way. I also have to wonder when was the last time I saw a real meaty fairy tale on screen, Strings perhaps (oh what a great double feature that will be) How the heck do I explain this simply? I have no idea. Perhaps by saying this is the story of a mouse named Despereaux who isn't afraid of anything, who reads the stories of a knights and chivalry and takes an oath to be a gentlemen, who helps a princess trapped in a castle and a kingdom caught in gloom.

One of the most beautiful animated films, possibly the best looking computer animated film yet with a lush scheme that makes it look like various paintings by people like Vermeer. At other times this is the equivalent of book illustrations come to life. As good as the trailers look the film itself is even better. If you love art (both fine and animated, see this film since the film references numerous works.

For the most part this is a beautifully adapted film that is like curling up with a good book.Where recent films like City of Ember or Twilight or even the Harry Potter films have links to their source novels that make them less then stand alone movies, this film takes the book and puts it on the screen and doesn't dumb it down or make it so you need to have read the book. You have real fleshed out characters of surprising complexity (What is a character like Dustin Hoffman's doing in a film that is "for children?" I don't care frankly because its wonderful). These are not one note sketches but living breathing people. It doesn't rush things, this is a film that takes its time telling the story and requires you actually pay attention. Despereaux doesn't show up for at least fifteen minutes as we get a long run up of why things are the way they are.Its wonderful since it beautifully lays out the world we are walking through. Its a real fairy tale movie that is much more complex than anything that Disney has been churning out, or even Pixar with the film juggling several story lines- Despereaux,Roscuro(Hoffman), the maid, the Princess- all at the same time all seeming to get an equal amount of weight to their telling. It wonderful.

Unfortunately the film has one flaw that keeps it from being perfect.(This is a POTENTIAL SPOILER so you may not want to read this bit) There is a moment or two after the meeting of Roscuro and the Princess when the climax of the film is set in motion when it felt like something was left out. How does all of the villainy transpire? Its not fully clear and on some level I couldn't completely go with it to the next level. Its like coming to a canyon and you have to bridge it, but you suddenly find yourself on the other side without knowing how you got there. its the sort of thing that made the almost 10 out of ten film closer to 8 out of 10. (END OF SPOILER) Yes I really liked it. Yes I think you should see it, especially if you like really good fairy tales or stories that are not simple or simplistic. Its a wonderful movie.
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An Underrated Classic
mossfoot26 April 2010
I just saw this movie again, and stand by my original assessment of it. It's an underrated classic, with far more depth than most family movies. On the one hand it's more simplistic than, say, a Pixar film. It's more of a fairy tale like The Little Prince. And while I don't care for the character designs too much (though they do have an artistic charm to them), from a writing standpoint I would put Despereaux on par with the best Pixar films, maybe more so.

Most of the main characters are seriously damaged, yet believably human (even the rodents). The way some characters fall from grace is more believable than anything Lucas came up with in Star Wars III.

If it has a failing it's with some of the secondary characters, such as the Soup Maker's assistant (made up of vegetables) which just didn't really seem necessary.

But the themes of anger, regret, sadness, depression, and the power of forgiveness makes this a movie I feel more children should be exposed to. It's a very much a children's movie, but deals very much with adult themes.
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It was actually very good, although very different from the book
s_garoutte26 December 2008
My son and I read this book last year and it along with Kate's other great work "The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane" we enjoyed very much. It is rare to find witty educated authors who are able to identify with the 5-10yr old crowd. The movie however was a far cry from the book, nevertheless the family and I enjoyed it very much. I am personally tired of the movies that focus on the parents more and the kids less (Bolt, The Incredibles etc..). The movie is a great movie particularly if you want to have a great talk with the kids on the way home about honor and bravery.

Was it the book? No and I prefer the book, but the movie is good entertainment in it's own right. Give it a chance, it will touch you.
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Leave the little kids at home
AcousticWords1 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Let's start with a big caveat: Yes, I know "The Tale of Despereaux" is animated. And, yes, I know it features a delightful little mouse. But this is not a movie for little kids! This movie deals with concepts that are beyond the understanding of most kids under the age of, say, 10, and in a way that can be, at best, disturbing. (I can just see Boldo, the Vegetable Man, causing all sorts of nightmares despite his benevolent and even heroic presence!) If you want a movie to keep the littlest kids entertained, go for something a little more Disneyfied. But if your kids are ready to be challenged in their thinking, consider "Despereaux".

As for the movie itself, it is, as has been amply pointed out already, extremely well done. The animation is superb, and the characterizations deeply engaging. If they're a little clichéd -- who didn't immediately recognize in Botticelli the stereotypical villain? -- that doesn't detract from the overall excellence of the story.

Some questions have been raised about the motivations -- and changes thereof -- of a couple of the characters. I didn't find the vacillation of Roscuro between good and evil at all sudden or jarring. Yes, it had to be condensed a bit to fit the time constraints, but the reasoning behind the shifts was clear -- Roscuro was unjustly persecuted for what was simply an accident and tarred by the general prejudice against rats; the fact that he held out as long as he did before giving in to his bitterness was not only impressive, but formed the basis for understanding why he was willing to stand up at the end and follow Despereaux's example of nobility. And while Miggery Sow did not actively apologize to the princess for taking her down to the dungeon (I don't think she was even aware of the sinister intentions of the rats, so to accuse her of trying to get the Princess eaten is, I feel, going too far), the point of the story was not so much the power of an apology as it was the power of forgiveness. Although we weren't shown the scene -- which probably would have helped clarify the story but added to the length -- it's clear the Princess extended her forgiveness to her maid as well.

All in all, I found the movie to be a wonderful investment of time and money, and a very good source of lessons in forgiveness, acceptance, nobility, and tolerance.

Just leave the preschoolers at home!
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Sublime! Not a Hollywood cookie cutter.
trint26 December 2008
I understand the less than stellar reviews from some. This movie is not Toy Story or Madagascar. Don't expect to see Buzz Lightyear kitsch, or Shrek fart-jokes. It is a fairy tale of the finest sort.

I am a long time fan of CGI animation, since the days before Pixar was a household name (and I do love Toy Story). The artistry and technical achievements in this film leave me speechless. The characters emoted better than many live-action films. (They did seem to cut a couple of corners on non-critical characters. The cat was pretty bad by comparison, but it's only in two scenes.) The feel is very literary, as it should be. And you get the feeling they made some sacrifices to get the book to the screen. (Don't they always?) The film makes me want to read the book and see what I missed. Still, the story stands well on it's own.

The voice talent (What a star packed cast!!) was held in check allowing the story to shine through. You don't find yourself thinking, "Hey, it's Robin Williams!" or "Hey, it's Mike Meyers!" (Thank God!) Instead, you enjoy the characters and only momentarily think, "I know that voice." It may be too cerebral (read "old skool") for some of today's iPod, Dragon Ball Z, Nintendo DS, 24/7 non-stop stimulation generation, but it's exactly the kind of story they need.
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Disappointing, to say the least
Russell Campbell4 January 2009
This was a movie that was "just there." I remember being doubtful about Ratatouille. After all, rats and food? Didn't sound like the best combo, but Ratatouille grabs you and pulls you in. Not Despereaux. I was waiting for it to happen, but I was sorely disappointed. The plot was meandering and had no drive to it. I think I chuckled at one thing during the movie, but mostly it was devoid of humor. My kids may have laughed once, too. They didn't leave with the normal "can we get that on DVD" questions. You're waiting for something to happen, for something to peak your interest, for a little heart palpitation, a little humor, an interesting plot twist. It's just not there. One person called the movie a "hack job" on the book. I can't speak to that, since I did not read the book, but I hope - for the author's sake, at least - that the book was better. I'd recommend that you wait to rent this movie. Your kids may like it, but I doubt they will find it as good as Ratatouille, Cars, Shrek, or some of the other quality kids films, so don't waste your money in the theater. For a $5 rental, it's OK. But for the big bucks they charge at the theater, no way!
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Qualities and flaws
Mihnea the Pitbull19 January 2009
The qualities:

  • Superb graphics, expressive, beautiful and stylish;

  • Solid characters, both intrinsically and visually;

  • A compelling atmosphere, and mood in general.

The flaws:

  • A chaotic script, confusing and unprofessional. They were too ambitious to keep as much as possible of the novel's sub-plots and secondary characters, but didn't know how to organize them according to the screen-writing rules.

  • A linear direction: everything flows on too uniformly, the important scenes are not accented and developed enough. As such, it gradually becomes boring, and during the culminating moments it's positively anticlimactic.

  • The disadvantageous comparison with "Oblio". That one had spark! This one is also smart, but less inspired.
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scary, depressing, unengaging and all over the place
larcenydogood2 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
Desperaux is a poorly conceived film, or, more to the point, three poorly conceived films rolled into one. Much too ambitious/confusing.

First movie, a happy kingdom is about to celebrate their wondrous Soup Day. Among the happy throngs ready to eat are a sailor and his happy rat, Roscuro. Roscuro is so enthralled by the amazing soup that he sneaks into the castle for a closer glimpse and falls into the bowl from which none other than the queen herself is eating. This causes her to faint into her soup and suffer a quiet unnoticed death (No one thought the queen may need to breathe through all that soup?), so that her husband will become a near-catatonic depressive who spends his days in semi-darkness plucking away lachrymose tunes on a lute that sound like funeral music composed by Jethro Tull. He also bans rats and soup. Which drives away curiously, both the sun and rain.

Next movie, Desperaux is born in an unused castle room-village of neurotic mice who seem as though they are all candidates for the Dr. Phil hall of fame. Desperaux is an adventurous mouse, which I suppose makes him a republican in a Hollywood allegorical, and this goes against the grain of angst that permeates his community and he therefore is eventually banished to the dungeons, where the rats, who have their colony in the darkness, will certainly eat him. Guess which rat outcast saves him.

In the last of the three movies an angry dungeonkeepr yells at the comely wench who serves the princess. This servant girl, Miggery, has delusions of being the princess that manifest physically and is so anthropomorphic in reverse that any pigs watching the film would surely gasp, "Golly, it's scary how swine-like they made her." Then there's gladiatorial combat amongst the freaky looking rats, the princess is kidnapped and almost eaten by thousands of evil-looking rats, the mouse saves the kingdom and brings rain (see The Rainmaker, Dune, The Day After Tomorrow, et cetera). He also brings back the sun. And the soup. And we must assume, world peace and reduced carbon emissions.

The whole thing is so convoluted, the characters, especially the dungeonkeeper and the maid, oh and the lugubrious king, and the rat who caused all the problems then tried to kill the princess then had a life-altering moment (apparently he got access to some of the mice's Dr. Phil literature) are hard to care for, there is no emotional charge other than "Jeez, those are nasty rats", which are much too scary for little children, there's a ridiculous Quixotic-kamikaze man whose body is entirely vegetative (I suppose it would be difficult to have a Quixotic-kamikaze man whose body is entirely vegetative not be ridiculous), there is no humor other than laughing at Desperaux's ears (one is left pining for the "wit" of Shrek's bodily evacuations) and it is way too violent to be a kids' movie which it was marketed as. The whole movie comes across like the king, cleverly drawn but emotionally barren.
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Gentle, soft focus, with an expected big ending
dumsumdumfai24 March 2011
Warning: Spoilers
I think I get it. This animation has a very specific look and feel. It is definitely not Pixar or Disney.

Even the story goes back to the days of knights, castles, princess in distress and the King as a sidekick.

Now the plot gets a bit complicated, characters of all kinds shows up. And there's a big scene near the end. But this is somewhat gentle, a throwback.

Still I can't get over the look. So distinct that it stayed in my mind. There's some softness which unlike most animation these days - are overly sharp for my tastes. And some characters' are drawn with slightly overdrawn features - except the mouses. While others are fairly normal in a sense.

The story does shifts from perspective to perspective. Maybe some will get annoyed by this - and particularly not really done for extensive takes in animation. But I am OK. Maybe kids will get a bit confused by this ?
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I liked it
Jeremy Williams7 April 2009
Although this was not what some would consider a masterpiece of cinema, I though it was great; one of the best kids movies I have seen in a very long time. It was a good tale which taught good principles. There were no adult jokes, fart humor, or any of that nonsense. It did what fairy-tales once did: give hope and inspiration to the less-fortunate while stressing good values. This is what children need more of, not mindless humor meant to please the adults in the crowd. Yeah, the animation wasn't exceptional; but it did have a surreal classic art feel at times. I loved it and will recommend it to my customers. Working at a video store has it's perks. I hope many who would have otherwise turned away will give it a chance.
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Bizarre, incomprehensible mishmash
zmarc1 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
I was looking forward to this and expected to like it, but I was crushingly disappointed. I think I could go so far as to say I hated it, which shocks me. How could one go wrong with the story of a funny little mouse who's a hero? I don't know, but somehow this film does it.

First of all, the story is way overdone: it's got too many things happening and jumps from plot to plot with no transition at all that it's confusing and breaks your chain of thought. For example, the basic story seems to be that of a brave mouse who saves a princess. But mixed in with that is the story of a rat who's somewhat similar and who helps the mouse. That is further complicated with the story a girl who's a "princess" serving as a maid in the King's castle. All of these stories sound generically familiar, but they purposely resolve differently than we expect; I suppose that's to make things more interesting, but I just found it annoying, since the whole movie you are confused as what is happening. Is the Desperaux the mouse the main character? Then why is so much time spent on the rat's story? And which princess are we to root for: both, neither? It's all bewildering.

Another fatal flaw is the animation. At times it's breathtakingly beautiful, with fantastic attention to detail. I loved the way Despereaux's nose glistened with faint wetness, for instance. Amazing. But the animation is inconsistent, with humans looking awkward and dorky, and very often the movement of characters defying real-world physics. Like in one scene Despereaux is bouncing on the end of a rope and he bounces as though the rope is elastic -- it just did not feel natural. In many scenes the editing is so choppy and the camera angles so poorly chosen it's difficult to tell what is happening. You get a vague impression and you're probably right, but it's not clear. Another problem is that the film's humor is odd: there are many scenes where the mice discuss Despereaux's problem in that he's not afraid and hasn't "learned to cower like a proper mouse." I guess that's supposed to be funny and it is the first time, but it's hammered over and over, with parent-teacher conferences with Despereaux's parents, etc., and in the end it just starts to get repetitive and puzzling. There's also bizarreness associated with the supernatural. While there's an aspect of the film that feels like it should be "magical" (fantasy), we're not really shown that anything is actually magic -- except for a strange talking vegetable man. This being assembles itself from a collection of vegetables (i.e. different vegetables for the mouth, nose, eyes, etc.) and he talks. We're given no history of him, no explanation of what he's doing there, how he can talk, what he is, or what happens to him in the end. (Does he die when he fell down the stairs or was he just forgotten on the cutting room floor?) I wanted to see a world with a lot more magic, or key magic used at just the right moment to save the day, or none at all. This bit of random magic for no good reason was just bizarre and weird and pointless.

There are a few moments of brilliance: Despereaux himself is very good (though he's not on screen enough), the narration has some good lines, and some of the scenes are interesting. But mostly this is just a mishmash of styles, stories, characters, and confusion. I really disliked it and found myself contemplating leaving the theatre on many occasions (something I've never actually done). Though it's not long, it felt endless. I am extremely disappointed.
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We loved it.
nadjapfifi22 February 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The movie was Excellent. My son who is 2 1/2 was just so into it and not scared. They are just rats. Why is everyone so sensitive?! A lot of cartoons have animals that scare people in real life like snakes. Besides, based on personal experience, there was friend who would not let her son watch Ratatouille because of the rats, but then let him watch Dark Knight, hmmm? The mouse was so cute. I really enjoyed that this cartoon finally took a turn from what is usually out there. Right now we are stationed in Germany and the Europeans have a lot more cartoons like this. The graphics are just nicer. I do not have a problem with watching cartoons as long as they are not weird like the standard ones on TV today. For example, the digital mickey mouse. They are just not natural enough. I hope that many people will cherish this cartoon and go back to what used to be traditional Disney style and cartoons.
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Solid story
Neil Welch4 January 2009
Warning: Spoilers
The trailer, which offers the story of a mouse who refuses to be scared, sells this movie short. It covers about 10 minutes of the film, and comes about 25 minutes in. There is an awful lot more story, much of which concerns a good rat, an annual soup festival, an unfortunate death, a pig farmer's daughter, a lonely princess, etc. etc. etc. There are a lot of subplots here, and they all tie beautifully together by the end.

Having seen most of the CGI movies pitched at youngsters over the last 12 months, this is one of the better ones. They all seem to take a great deal of care over production and character design, and this is no different - the action takes place in a stylised mediaeval town and castle, and the characters are all well-realised (there's not so much by way of each individual hair being animated, but characters are constructed so as to take that into account as a design element).

The voice talent is high profile (Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, William H Macy, Kevin Kline etc.), varied and, of course, extremely good at what they do. The animation is excellent and there are a number of exciting action set pieces. The film is attractive without being beautiful (as, for instance, parts of Madagascar 2 were). It is perhaps a little intense in places for smaller children, but the story is likely to satisfy older children and adults.

Not a major movie in the scheme of things, but a decent enough offering.
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Good film, visually stunning, with plot weaknesses.
clark-15726 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
I just saw it with my three kids, and the youngest two (ages 4 and 7) loved it, the older one (18) not so much. In fact, most of the flaws discussed below were pointed out to me by the 18-year old...

It's visually breathtaking, filled with attention to detail (incredibly subtle facial expressions, great use of light/shade, powerful scenery, nice music (although the lute music is somewhat anachronistic – yes, I play the lute, in case you're wondering!)), and overall quite powerful. The only real weakness is the plot.

I do not want to overstate the weaknesses in the plot -- I'd recommend it to parents of younger children (maybe 10 and under; even my 4-year old really enjoyed it, and he usually isn't able to maintain his attention span for an entire movie). But IMO the plot weaknesses include:

  • Roscuro, the good rat, turns bad — REAL bad! — so quickly it makes your head spin. Why? The story implies that this conversion to the Dark Side occurs because his attempted apology to Princess Pea (Roscuro had earlier accidentally tumbled into her mum's soup, the shock of which resulted in the queen's death!) turns out very badly, combined, presumably, with the frustration he feels to be stuck in the dank and dreary rat world after having experienced the freedom of living freely amongst humans. The speed and intensity of his turnaround strains credulity. (Roscuro is played by Dustin Hoffman, who was Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy (1969); type casting? ;-)

  • The fact that he turns good again just as quickly is also somewhat problematic. This, however, is somewhat more credible to me because of we are given to understand that, unlike other rats, Roscuro has always been essentially good. He is portrayed as a sympathetic outsider misjudged by virtue of his ratness.

  • Miggery Sow, the aptly-named (i.e., plump) lady-in-waiting to the princess, also turns bad with astounding alacrity, and appears to have developed a pretty serious case of dementia as well, due, we surmise, to a difficult life. This is a bit more believable to me, but the big problem with this character is that, after coming very close to having had Princess Pea eaten alive by rats, there is absolutely no repercussion for this act. At the end we see her back in the country with her dad, happily tending the fields. What happened to the dementia? Where is the punishment for kidnapping the princess and attempting to murder her? Where is Miggery's apology or show of contrition?

The film's narrator, performed with wonderful serenity by Sigourney Weaver, tells us that forgiveness is "the most powerful thing you can feel" (after earlier telling us that hatred is the most powerful thing we can feel... And here I thought it was love!), and this presumably is by way of explanation for why the princess apologizes... But for what? For being somewhat short on one occasion with her dimwitted, kleptomaniac servant (Miggery), and being scared of a crazy-looking rat?

The character of Despereaux is consistent from beginning to end. He is a quixotic non- conformist who becomes enamored with chivalry after reading about it in a story, and he makes it his quest to save the princess. When others write of the positive values in this film, I suspect that it is Despereaux's character to which they mostly refer.

But ultimately, I believe it is meant to be a film about redemption — we are told that saying 'I'm sorry' will, essentially, make any wrong right, but the plot doesn't lead me to buy into it, particularly in the case of Miggery Sow who never apologizes for anything and gets away with her abduction of the princess scot-free.

As some others have commented, another weakness (or at least strangeness) is the Boldo character, who is magical, and made out of vegetables. Why? He is apparently the chef's muse... but what's he doing in the film? There's no back-story about where he came from, or anything to explain why we need this character.

I'd be curious to know how the film compares to the book; I'm guessing that most of the plot problems are not the fault of the book, but I guess I will have to have a look at the book to find out.

Again, I think it's a good film, definitely worth taking your younger kids to.

I just find it perplexing that with the humongous budget they must have had to hire so many huge Hollywood stars and and the many talented creative people who made it look and sound so good (amazing, really), they couldn't figure out how to avoid some pretty serious flaws in the plot.
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the animation & voice talent are excellent, but something was lost in translation
alerter15 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
  This will be one of those "animated" feature films that adults will drag children along as an excuse to go see, with mixed entertainment value for the tykes.

Don't get me wrong, the animation is both storybook stylized and state of the art. The characters' eyes and all emulated reflections and refractions of light are technically excellent, as are the flow of character body movements and facial expressions. (Real world physics are otherwise pretty much ignored, but this is a fairy tale, so no harm done by that.) The face of Princess Pea (voiced by Emma Watson) is an inspired interpretation of Vera Farmiga's (and not a bad choice, even though she was not in the voice cast).

All of the other voice talent also deliver better than decent performances. Matthew Broderick captures the essence of youthful wonderment and exuberance in all of Despereaux's lines.

If I could pick anyone to read me a bedtime story, it would be Sigourney Weaver... but there is too much use of narration to bridge the gaps between book and screenplay.

There is a lot more to honor, courage, heroism and commitment than merely reciting them as a laundry list, no matter how beautifully Weaver repeats the words. The pared down story telling in the film reduces Roscuro's character arc to one of an opportunist with an heart of gold. Roscuro simply switches sides without much self-examination or doubt about his honor, courage, heroism or commitment.

I could not help but notice that a lot of the younger kids (K-6-ers) who were present for the screening I attended grew visibly and audibly restless and were, at times, completely lost.

When a film engages children, they are brimming with accounts of the parts that they liked the most and want to see again. That was not the case with this film. The film makers were too busy aiming to please the grown-ups, who pay for the tickets, and forgot about the kids. The kids shuffled out at the end in near silence.

I think that is an unfortunate shame, because the book is such rich source material, speaking to most age groups. It is possible to keep both children and adults engaged with a good story, without having to alternately play to one audience at the expense of the other. I think kids were given the short shrift.

(For adults who have the time and patience, there is a lot of material in the film worth trying to discuss with children, after they've seen it. But that is more of a credit to the book than the film on its own.) Middle school children might better grasp the moral/ethical dilemmas and uncertainties, as boiled down in the film, than K-6-ers. High school students will likely disdain going to see a "children's" animation, whereas, many of the characters in the story are acting out what amounts to teenager-ish angst.

This is supposed to be a story concerning four "heroes," but the case for heroism is not evenly made. (A press kit I saw listed Princess Pea as the fourth, who was omitted from the IMDb synopsis). Despereaux passes muster (the film would be a disaster if he didn't) with flying colors; but the heroic conduct of the others is dubious, at best. There is also a fifth hero in this story (the Royal Chef, who eventually defies the king's decree against soup), but the promotional materials for the film have overlooked the obvious.

In short, I was entertained (but a bit troubled by what was lost in translation from book to film). Kids, on the other hand, were just barely included for much of this ride.

There are worse films to take kids to see, but this one could, and should, have been so much more.
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Disappointed - not what I expected
joewg320 December 2008
I expected a bit more out of this movie than was delivered. My 7 year old actually fell asleep near the end of the movie. No kidding. Another reviewer hit the nail on the head in describing the animation as video game quaility (maybe like 1990's quality). The story is a great storybook but terrible in movie format. I kept waiting for a funny part to come or something exciting to happen. It rarely did.

I have to disagree with another reviewer who praised the voices. Honestly, I can't see the importance of having big named screen actors doing the voices of these characters other than trying to draw folks into a mediocre movie, unlike Madagascar where the voices and big named people actually make the movie even better.
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A violently deviant fantasy posing as a children's fairytale. BEWARE!
TwoToneColor22 December 2008
Warning: Spoilers
The Tale of Despereaux is easily the most disturbing children's movie I've ever seen. I had high expectations, hoping to see a charming movie about a brave little mouse. After about 15 minutes of the movie, I was starting to go numb from the idiocy. As time passed, it got worse and worse. The animation is like a low-budget video game, the story wretchedly stupid from beginning to end (the banning of soup in the kingdom turns everything dry, gray, and depressing), and the characters bizarrely random (the vegetable man/spirit/thingy that the cook talks to). But BY FAR the worst thing was the disturbingly deviant "morality" displayed by the characters and shoved down the audience's throats. Don't listen to anyone who claims that this is a deep psychological movie, it's nothing more than abusive fantasies presented as a "children's" film.

The film presents two of its sickest characters as simply misguided and not responsible for their actions (such as attempted murder) because they were slighted or not pretty or whatever little thing upset them. We're led to believe that sadism and sick obsession are merely mild offenses and that you have the right to commit any crime you like if someone offended you or has something you want. There are no negative consequences to your actions, and the person you inflict the crime against should apologize to YOU because it was all their fault anyway (for being too rich or too pretty or not respecting you enough). Princess Pea is a kind, gentle, pretty young woman who is grieving for her mother (and soup, and rain, etc...). Apparently, though, she isn't good ENOUGH because she is the (supposedly deserving) target of two freaks' sadistic impulses...

Roscuro is presented as a decent rat during the first half of the movie. That changes quickly. When he goes to Princess Pea to apologize for her mother's death (who died of a heart attack when Roscuro fell into her soup), he ends up having to flee when she recognizes him and, terrified, throws things at him to protect herself. A normal response to this would be empathy and understanding because the princess has been deeply wounded by her mother's death (of which, Roscuro was unintentionally responsible for). Roscuro's response? Encourage a deranged servant girl to abduct the princess at knifepoint and force her down into the dungeon so she can be devoured alive by the evil rats. Yep. That's it. After he finally decides against the twisted murder (because he decided to "forgive" her), the movie has the princess tell him the SHE is the one who's sorry. Huh? Did I miss something? He tried to KILL her for being afraid of him and because he decided against it at the last second, it's her fault anyway because she was afraid of him? Why the heck does she need HIS forgiveness? At the end of the movie, he sails off on a ship, presumably living happily ever after.

Miggory Sow is a brooding psychopathic servant girl who, angry that she's not a princess, talks to herself, steals Princess Pea's belongings, violently hacks at a painting of Princess Pea's face with silverware, and finally forces the princess down into the dungeon at knifepoint (you can only imagine what the heck she was planning to do down there). No kidding. The film tries to make you feel sorry for her because she's ugly and poor, but her inner self is far uglier than any outward looks. She acts like a psychopathic neanderthal, who doesn't understand that you're NOT supposed to murder people out of jealousy. The film also tries to make it seem like she was manipulated by Roscuro into the kidnapping, but all it took was a suggestion from him and she was quick to get a meat cleaver from the kitchen and go straight for the princess, repeating to herself over and over "I... should be... the princess!" At the end of the movie, she's reunited with her father and lives happily ever after. She doesn't even have a sickening change of heart like Roscuro. We're instead "treated" to a scene of the princess, after being freed by Despereaux, apologizing to Miggory and putting her own crown atop the sadist's head. Remember, folks, you must keep the people beneath you appeased so that they don't hack you to pieces in a dungeon.

The two psychopaths live happily ever after without any repercussions, as do the other twisted souls of the film... Miggory's father, another angry neanderthal, who throws a helpless Despereaux against a stone wall. Despereaux's mouse community, who sentenced him to a nearly guaranteed death even though he's still a child. His family, who didn't even try to stop them. And so-on and so-forth... It would take hours to list all the things wrong with this movie.

The general morality of this film is: You're pretty and I'm not, so I'll murder you. You have something I want, so I'll murder you. You didn't treat me with enough respect, so I'll murder you. By the way, it's your fault. You should apologize to ME and make amends to appease me. It's like watching a film project made by a serial killer on death row.

DO NOT take your kids to see this freaky flick.
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Wonderful!! Meaningful! Heroic!!
lexie4917 June 2009
The Tale of Despereax is a wonderful tale of a brave, young mouse and his undying quest for truth, honor, and justice.

I loved the many different story lines, the graphics, the storyline, the characters, and the message that it sends. I wish the movie was longer and had a more exciting plot, but all in all it was good! It made me think back when I was a kid and I used to read stories about knights and used to believe I was a knight.

To the parents who saw the movie and complain that it was too scary for their kids, I have 2 things to say: 1) You raised your children poorly. Parents nowadays worry too much about their kids getting scared and try too hard to protect them from these kind of things. The world is full of scary things, anyone who does not see this is blind. And there will always be scary things your child has to face. So, while they're young, it's good to introduce them to some scary things slowly to help build their courage. If they don't learn now, how will they ever learn? (I was afraid of the dark when I was a little girl. I used to put the covers over my head and I kept a night light on in my room. Then one day, I forced myself to take the covers off my eyes, turned out the night light, and laid in the darkness. I was absolutely terrified, of course, but after a while I became brave, and now I'm not afraid.) 2) If you've read certain children's stories like Rapunzel, Little Red Riding Hood, and Rumpelstiltskin, there is a lot of violence (Rapunzel=prince falls into a thorn bush and has his eyes poked out. Little Red Riding Hood=the woodsman cuts off the wolf's head/slices the wolf open. Rumpelstilskin=Rumpelstilskin tears himself in half from frustration.) A lot of the stories are violent and scary when you picture it, but the reason why stories like this were told back in the old days was because they were (semi) realistic (plus, there was no censorship compared to what we have today) and it taught people to be brave, behave well, and make good decisions.
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A Nutshell Review: The Tale of Despereaux
DICK STEEL15 March 2009
Never did I think that The Tale of Despereaux would have all it takes to be a fairy tale in the spirit of Stardust, and I had actually found myself enjoying this tale from once upon a time, which provided entertainment to children, and not leave the adults in the lurch thanks to its rather mature story that spread out like a hydra thanks to the myriad of colourful characters inhabiting its kingdom of Dor, where citizens enjoy the yearly ritual of witnessing and subsequently tasting the soup of the year created.

There's a difference between a mouse and a rat, as far as likability and the cuteness factor goes. And central to the story are a world-weary rat Roscuro (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) who lives aboard a ship and finds himself grounded in part due to his love for good food, and that of an innocent mouse with a big heart, the titular character Despereaux (Matthew Broderick), who is smaller in size than the average mouse, but born with big Dumbo like ears which he uses to great effect. Roscuro's presence in the kingdom happens to be the root cause of the king having to ban soup and outlaw the presence of rats in his kingdom, and disappears for a while in the middle section of the story, leaving room for Despereaux to step up to the central role.

We learn that Despereaux is no ordinary mouse, not only in physical terms, but in character, because he knows no fear and very much unlike the other mice who must learn to be meek and cower as an innate response to danger. For his steadfastness in holding true to his principles, he finds himself banished as punishment for speaking to Princess Pea (Emma Watson), and so paves way for the little one to exhibit the values of honour, chivalry, loyalty and courage, stuff in which he found appealing from a story book that he read, with which he imagines himself to be a mouseketeer/knight.

What made this movie work, are the many threads and characters in seemingly disparate narrative arcs, where you can't help but to anticipate how they would all come together. Each character created was quite balanced in having grey area to tread, so that the theme of forgiveness could ring through. And having a star studded cast to voice them worked wonders too, such as Tracey Ullman, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Ciaran Hinds (who is also in this week's Race to Witch Mountain), Frank Langella, Christopher Llyod and Sigourney Weaver as the narrator, which quite interestingly, doesn't always narrate verbatim to what's shown on screen. Each character has their own motivation put out clearly, and while some, like the key characters, have their work cut out for them, you can rely on the support cast to liven up things a little and provide some comic relief.

I guess the animation studios in the west have already reached a plateau in terms of the technical know-how in putting out a photo-realistic animated film these days. You can imagine the texture of the animal's fur, as well as the smell of the dark and stank underground city of Rat Town, or the perfumed sweetness that comes with a princess' room. It goes to show that the benchmark has been raised permanently, and it will take many years and larger budgets if local animated film studios (that have given us cringeworthy titles to date, with poor stories and poor graphics) are thinking of reaching the same heights. Not wanting to put them down, but they have to understand that a strong story is key (and doesn't mean you tweak it to suit the flavour of what you think will sell) in order for the animation to do its part (e.g. Barnyard – excellent CG art, but poor story = box office disaster).

The Tale of Despereaux again is family friendly fare save for one scene which I thought might be pushing the envelope a bit (for a children's G-rated film that is). Other than that, for those looking for a more adult fairy tale, give this mouse a chance, and in all honesty, this little guy got more spunk than Ratatouille. Recommended!
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