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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

The Tale of Despereaux

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Jacqueline MonahanLas Vegas Round The Clock -
This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.">Jacqueline Monahan is an English tutor for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also a consultant for Columbia College Chicago in Adjunct Faculty Affairs
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The Tale of Despereaux

Adapted from the 2003 Newbery Medal winning children's book by Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux is actually several interwoven tales that impact each other like a line of falling dominoes.

Roscuro, (Dustin Hoffman) a pirate-rat, visits the village of Dor with his human friend in time for the annual, much anticipated Soup Day. Chef Andre (Kevin Kline) is fussy and exacting, secretly using magic to create impossible scrumptious soup for the King, Queen and Princess Pea (Emma Watson) to sample before the assembled village people. Roscuro accidentally falls into the Queen’s bowl, causing her untimely death. Soup and rats are banshed from Dor. Light and rain stay away, too, as if connected somehow to the sad events.

In fleeing the scene, Roscuro misses his ship’s departure and descends into Ratworld, headed by the deceptively evil Botticelli Romorso (Ciaran Hinds). The Nosferatu-like rat leader presides over a world of rodent thugs that Roscuro reluctantly joins. They will, of course, cause trouble as events progress.

Titular character Despereaux (Matthew Broderick) enormous ears, tends to read books instead of eat them and has none of the fear that’s supposed to be a mouse’s birthright. The inhabitants of Mouseworld consider him strange enough to banish as well. How dare he have no timidity? Assisted by blind Thread Master Hovis (Christopher Lloyd) Despereaux wraps himhelf in red thread and descends into Ratworld.

Despereaux’s adventures lead him to the sad Princess Pea, who wears a golden crown made of spoons, to Gregory the jailer (Robbie Coltrane) to Roscuro, and to a homely servant girl named Miggery Sow (Tracey Ullman). Sigourney Weaver narrates throughout the tale, filling in the viewer on the intrepid mouse’s noble quest, multiple plot lines and character motivations.

Somewhere along the convoluted way, soup, light, rain and rats are restored to their rightful places in Dor. Do rats even have a rightful place? Since this is an award-winning fairy tale, they must. But it takes “Chivalry, Bravery, Honor!” (Despereaux’s battle cry) to reinstate all of the things that misunderstanding, ignorance, grief and cruelty have wrought. The seemingly magic mouse with the large ears (yes, he can fly, a la Dumbo) even manages to mend two different father/daughter relationships and bring a spirit of tolerance among the human and animal populations of Dor.

The Tale of Despereaux is a dark and somber, full of menace, injustice, sadness and suspicion. It is a slow-moving, deliberate tale that children may find tedious. It’s more pensive than delightful, so some light-hearted expectations could be dashed as well.

Matthew Broderick voices the tiny hero with a subdued monotone that fails to generate much interest. Dustin Hoffman’s Roscuro sounds kindly and wise, but the conflicted character can prove to be neither. Sigourney Weaver’s voice is extremely recognizable as the narrator and became a distraction, using the same placating tones that she foisted on poor Melanie Griffith in Working Girl.

Kevin Kline gets to be over-the-top as Andre the Chef, but the part is too small to inject any meaningful joy into the tale. Emma Watson’s Princess Pea is not memorable, but Tracey Ullman appears to have fun with Miggery Sow’s impossible dreams.

Director Sam Fell (Flushed Away) has created a cleverly detailed universe of mice and men, big on production value but short on capturing audience attention. The animated version does not have the torture, starvation and multiple deaths of the award-winning book, but still manages to be melancholy, pessimistic, and worst of all, uninteresting. Good looking animation will only carry a film so far, and The Tale of Despereaux suffers from a lethargy that can’t be cured with soup or rain or light or rats.

And so another noble quest continues – that age-old pursuit of building a better mousetrap.


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