(2008)3.5Tracie CooperThe world of food-related metaphors describing an individual film experience is vast, ranging from a glass of the finest vintage to chicken soup, and on some unfortunate occasions, the very questionable egg salad sandwich procured from a gas-station vending machine. The Tale of Despereaux is a cookie and a glass of milk. Also, puppies, kittens, a bedtime story, Christmas, birthday presents, and flannel pajamas, without being overly adorable. It plays exactly like a really, really good fairy tale should, with just the right amounts of darkness, light, earnestness, and humor (not unlike the soup that connects the intersecting lives of man, mouse, and rat in the film), and thanks to breathtaking animation and Sigourney Weaver's smooth narrative voice, it's gorgeous to watch and hear.
There's Roscuro (voiced by Dustin Hoffman), a kind-hearted seafaring rat who accidentally sets off a tragic sequence of events within the kingdom of Dor and finds himself in the sinister, subterranean Ratworld; the Dor royals, whose family is ripped apart when the queen suffers a nasty shock on Soup Day, the island's most celebrated holiday; and the residents of Mouseworld, a generally kind populace that just doesn't know what to do with young Despereaux, who, despite all of their efforts, can't seem to uphold the mouse society's all-important value of cowering in the face of danger. Small even for a mouse, Despereaux is born, literally, with his uncommonly large eyes wide open, ready to look the world square in the face. When Despereaux, under the tutelage of his appropriately timid brother, is sent to the Dor castle library to learn how to eat paper, he finds himself preferring to read the medieval tales of chivalry, heroism, and the rescuing of princesses. Before long, Despereaux has sworn to uphold the code of a gentleman, and vows to the human Princess Pea (who longs for the sunny days and hot soup that disappeared after the queen's demise) to finish the book and bring her news of the storybook princess' fate. Naturally, things don't go as planned -- Despereaux's insistence on consorting with humans and refusing to obey mouse laws gets him a ticket to the sewers, where a chance meeting with Roscuro saves him from a nasty gladiatorial arena-style death at the hands of the rats. Thus, their quests begin: Despereaux must escape the sewers and obey Princess Pea's request, while Roscuro vows to set things right with the royal family.
The Tale of Despereaux is a perfect fairy tale, adhering to The Princess Bride's standards of fighting, fencing, torture, and true love, without the ham-fisted moral element of so many of its fairy-tale predecessors. This is not to say the film doesn't impart several morals; it does, and they are important morals to take to heart: do not run from the world, do not allow the grief of death to poison the joy of life, and be careful when laying blame. Though the film, again, is beautiful to watch, there are some genuinely scary moments that will have viewers of any age half-convinced that their gallant hero is bound to meet a violent end, and the pacing is hurried at times. However, the film is so darn sincere (not to mention completely devoid of musical interludes and pop-cultural asides), it's a feat in itself to notice any flaws, let alone care a great deal.
A diminutive mouse strives to make a mammoth change in his troubled kingdom in this adaptation of author Kate DiCamillo's Newbery Medal-winning children's book. 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 oversized 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.
Later, while exploring the outer realms, the lonely Despereaux is joined by a kindhearted rat named Roscuro. Roscuro, too, has been excommunicated from his homeland, and still cannot stand to look into a mirror lest he be reminded of his painful past. Later, as Despereaux embarks on a treacherous quest to rescue the endangered Princess Pea, Roscuro is set down the path of self-destruction after receiving a painful rejection from his highness. Now, on their way to realizing their extraordinary destinies, these two unlikely heroes will face off against the malevolent leader of the sewer rats, who is plotting revenge on humans from his subterranean kingdom; befriend a common serving girl who longs to become princess; and meet a whole host of colorful characters that they will never forget. Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, and Tracey Ullman lead a powerhouse cast in this animated feature produced by Gary Ross and Allison Thomas. Also lending voices to the project are Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci, William H. Macy, and Christopher Lloyd.