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'The Tale of Despereaux'
A beautifully animated tale about a small mouse with a big heart
Nicolas van der Leek (Nick)     Print Article 
Published 2009-01-21 14:33 (KST)   
©2009 Universal Pictures
It's easy to be effusive about the style of animation in this imaginative yarn, and this flick has already snapped up a handful of animation awards.

At turns, "The Tale of Despereaux" [YouTube link] feels like a prized, collectible fairy tale taking wing off the page. Incidentally, this is integral to the magic that drives young "Despereaux" onto his heroic quest.

The IMDB gives this flick a 6.2/10. This should be warning enough that animated fairy tales aren't everyone's cup of tea, and this one might not be yours. Here's another cautionary finger wag: unlike the first Shrek, Toy Story and Ice Age, the attempt to launch a "Despereaux" franchise slips a little on content.

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While the premise - a tiny misfit mouse who doesn't know how to cower or be afraid - is clever and charming, there seems eventually to be too many alter egos and subplots dueling for a Cute Award out there.

Yes, analogous characters abound: For Despereaux (voiced by Matt Broderick) there is a rat, Roscuro (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) that seeks redemption, for the fairy tale Princess Pea (voiced by the pretty-as-a-princess Emma Watson) there is the cabbage patch button nosed farm girl Miggery Sow (voiced by Tracey Ullman) and then even Chef Andre (a French-accented Kevin Kline) has a vegetable-genie to spice things up behind the scenes.

Beyond these analogous - and somewhat bizarre - characters, Ratworld is adjacent to Mouseworld, and both are run by similarly dressed evil-high-priest-like dictators.

Sigourney Weaver narrates, and is certainly "cool-sounding" as Manohla Dargis writes in her New York Times' review. Dargis also astutely refers to Despereaux's "cute" factor. Indeed, it is difficult not to be caught up by the possibilities of this elephant eared mouse staring sweetly off movie posters.

The problem is that two directors (Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen) were one too many. Screenwriter Will McRobb has run amuck with Kate DiCamillo's book. Too much story has been stuffed into one, giving "Despereaux" at least one distraction too many.

A more incredible tale may have involved the enslavement of either Ratworld or Mouseworld, and the brave mouse's valiant attempt to free one or the other.

The idea of courage in this "tale" amounts - it seems - to little more than solo rock-climbing and talking to the King.

That said, young children are likely to love this flick, and it is impossible for adults not to be charmed at turns. The eyes of the characters are rendered exquisitely along with numerous fairy tale sets.

The story carries some subtle and less subtle moral overtones, including the call to transform ourselves into our civilised selves through education. And also, that can be more than who we are (consumers, rats etc) if we simply choose a different path.

In this lies much to nibble on.


©2009 OhmyNews
Other articles by reporter Nicolas van der Leek

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