Opening this week is the “Tale of Despereaux” is the latest computer animated film from Universal Sutidos.  Adapted from the Newberry Award winning book of the same name by Kate DiCamillo, Despreaux is a fairy tale in the classic sense; done in a very modern way.

Fans of the book, children specifically, may be confused as the film takes quite a departure from the original story, at least from what I read on Wikipedia. While I obviously have limited experience with the written version I will only throw out a “heads up” on that and stick to reviewing the movie. Suffice it to say, the original characters all appear in the film, but in slightly different situations.

The film opens following Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman), a rat who is eager to taste the official offerings of the yearly soup festival from which people gather from miles around to enjoy. His eagerness for food lands him in hot water… literally!  He accidentally falls into the Queen’s bowl of soup and she dies of a heart attack.  The king, in his distress, bans soup throughout the kingdom and banishes all rats to the dungeon.

While the Roscuro plot line comes off as quite interesting the real hero of the story is Despereaux (Matthew Broderick).  Despereaux is unique in modern cinema.  Not since maybe Superman of the 1980’s has any fictional character been portrayed without an overlying character flaw. While Despereaux is not lacking in physical flaws, he’s small even for a mouse and has very large ears.  His strength comes from his purity of heart and his inability to be afraid, as mice often are.

Mouse culture, being what it is, teaches young mice to be afraid of nearly everything. But through Despereaux’s sense of adventure and courage he travels throughout the castle eventually befriending the Princess Pea (Emma Watson).  For this, Despreaux is banished from the mouse society and sent to the dungeon.  Despreaux faces his fate undaunted.

At this point if you are looking for a multi-layered story satirizing the various aspects of our society, the analogy falls short here.  The mice are followers who do not question their own elders’ rules of law. You can try and find an aspect of human culture for comparison, but at the next level you find that the rats are just rats.

Despereaux is befriended by Roscuro and together they usher in the third act which sends the Roscuro character in an odd direction given his character set-up.

Technically speaking, this is a beautiful movie. The animation is top quality displaying near-Pixar levels of artistry. On the other hand Hoffman squarely out-performs Broderick.  This may have something to do with the augmentation of the story and compiled with the casting of an academy award winner.

The voice performance may be my biggest, if only problem with the film.  While Despreaux is a cute lovable noble character his voice just does not stand out.

Overall, this is a great kid’s move. The main character is as noble as you will find in recent years, the ensemble cast does work well together (also including Sigourney Weaver as the Narrator and Tracy Ulman as Miggery) and the animation will keep the children’s attention in the theatre and in the back seat of the minivan for years to come.

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