Killer Soup, and a Mouse to the Rescue
Being a Hollywood story of a mouse, a princess, some soup and thread — not to mention rats, hats and a girl named Mig with the unfortunate looks of a pig — the movie “The Tale of Despereaux” offers up other changes too. It begins as all fairy tales should, with a narrator (an efficient, somewhat cool-sounding Sigourney Weaver) recounting the story of the pastel-hued Kingdom of Dor, where the peasants were content, the rulers were just, and the rats scuttled about unmolested. The balm for this peaceable kingdom was soup, a fragrant broth that flowed out of the royal kitchen and into the waiting bowls of the populace. But good times turned to bad when a rat named Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman) fell into the queen’s soup, producing a fatal reaction.
Directed by Sam Fell and Rob Stevenhagen and written by Gary Ross (who also served as one of the producers), “Despereaux” is a pleasantly immersive, beautifully animated, occasionally sleepy tale. Like most American animated movies, it centers on a plucky hero (softly voiced by Matthew Broderick) who, against the nominal odds (though, really, the odds are always stacked in his favor), overcomes adversity of some kind.
As in Kate DiCamillo’s enchanting, Newbery Medal-winning book, Despereaux has to triumph over both his home life (he’s far too bold for the other mice) and the forces of darkness shrouding Dor. What’s particularly sweet about his journey is that it begins with a book he was supposed to nibble, not read.
Reading transforms Despereaux, turning a bold little mouse into a great big hero — a wonderful moral for any children’s book. The story he reads is a fairy tale about a sad princess and a brave knight, an adventure that periodically springs to expressive life because Despereaux doesn’t merely read this tale, he visualizes it so we see it too.
Animated in a more graphically bold style than the rest of the movie, the fairy tale becomes a story within a story. And in one clever scene, which finds the mouse describing the exploits of the knight and the princess to a separate character, the fairy tale plays on the wall next to him as if it were being projected like a movie.
It doesn’t take long for Despereaux to experience the dangerous lows and exultant highs of a knight’s quest. Like many other misunderstood heroes, he suffers for his specialness, which in this case finds him banished from Mouseworld, an orderly Lilliput, to Ratworld, a menacing purgatory filled with bones and introduced with a flourish of Middle Eastern flute music. (The casbah vibe thankfully fades fast.)
There he meets Roscuro, and together they embark on the road to redemption, with justice and a happily ever after for all, including the princess (Emma Watson) and Mig (Tracey Ullman), a peasant whose porcine qualities suggest that ugliness is destiny. But “The Tale of Despereaux” is on the side of kindness, not cruelty, and it encourages smiles if not the book’s flights of fancy.
The movie has a fine sense of pictorial detail — the mouse’s delicate whiskers, the images of soup ladles carved into the palace stairs — and an agreeable gentleness. It deviates from its source material in generally modest and unobtrusive ways; for instance, by reorganizing the book’s fragmented, parallel story lines into a linear whole.
The main difference between the source and its adaptation is that while the book exudes charm, the movie leans toward cute, a substitution that largely speaks to the influence of Disney on animation. In the movie Despereaux wears a red cap that makes him look more like a well-dressed bunny than like a mouse. But at least he’s not wearing Mickey’s gold clodhoppers and bottom-line grin.
“The Tale of Despereaux” is rated G (General audiences). Some children and city-raised adults might find all the hungry, scurrying rats a bit (or very) creepy.
THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX
Opens on Friday nationwide.
Directed by Sam Fell and Rob Stevenhagen; written by Gary Ross, based on a screen story by Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi and the book by Kate DiCamillo; edited by Mark Solomon; music by William Ross; production designer, Evgeni Tomov; produced by Gary Ross and Allison Thomas; released by Universal Pictures. Running time: 1 hour 27 minutes. This film is rated G.
WITH THE VOICES OF: Matthew Broderick (Despereaux), Robbie Coltrane (Gregory), Frances Conroy (Antoinette), Tony Hale (Furlough), Ciaran Hinds (Botticelli), Dustin Hoffman (Roscuro), Richard Jenkins (Principal), Kevin Kline (Andre), Frank Langella (Mayor), Christopher Lloyd (Hovis), William H. Macy (Lester), Charles Shaughnessy (Pietro), Stanley Tucci (Boldo), Tracey Ullman (Miggery Sow), Emma Watson (Princess Pea) and Sigourney Weaver (Narrator).
Source : NYTimes