The 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.
The Tale of Despereaux on AllMovie
The Tale of Despereaux (2008)