The Tale of Desperaux is the new animated movie based on the book by Kate DiCamillo, directed by Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen and with a very long, very prolific cast list: Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Tracey Ullman, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, Ciarán Hinds, Robbie Coltrane, Tony Hale, Frances Conroy, Frank Langella, Richard Jenkins, Christopher Lloyd, Charles Shaughnessy and Sigourney Weaver. [Phew!]
Unfortunately, in Austria we got only the German version, so I got exactly nothing from that cast – and not even famous German actors to do the parts. [Which is not to say that the speakers didn’t do a good job…]
The kingdom of Dor has one thing they’re absolutely famous for: Soup. Every year, they have the Day of the Soup where everybody gets to eat the royal soup and party. One year, an accident happens – Roscuro [Dustin Hoffman], a rat, drawn in by the smell of the soup, stumbles and falls into the plate of the queen. When he tries to apologise, the queen has a heart-attack and dies. Filled with grief, the king banishes all soup and all rats from the kingdom and Roscuro goes into exile.
This is the world Desperaux [Matthew Broderick] is born into – a mouse, who unlike all the others, is not afraid, doesn’t cower, duck or shoo. When he crosses paths with Roscuro, they set out to save themselves and the kingdom.
The movie is really very sweet, quite funny and the story is interesting, though it did feel a little unconnected in the beginning – probably a problem of the adaptation. [And I did have some issues.] But it’s definitely a movie that kids will enjoy.
The animation was beautiful and very well done – the colouring and the different mice and rats were perfect. I also liked the story sequences a lot – when Desperaux reads the fairy tale (also a nice hattip to Sleeping Beauty). I felt like the humans weren’t done very lovingly, though. Especially the princess just looked very weird.
And I didn’t like that they had to tap into the old stereotypes – the poor, fat peasant girl, who wishes nothing more than to be like the beautiful (well, she was supposed to be beautiful), slim princess. And the princess who – quite literally – only sits in her room and waits for her prince to come to rescue her…
The story is best when it leaves the well-trodden paths and turns to its central theme: grief and what grief does to people. In simple sentences and very few phrases, the narrator captures the main responses to grief: Some people are just very sad (the King), some people turn to reasons where there are none (the King, too), some people are completely immobilised (the Princess and the King), some people turn to dreams (Mig), some to self-loathing (Gregory) and some people turn to hate to hide the fact that they were hurt (Roscuro, Mig).
Despite my issues (which were mostly with the way the women were treated in this film), I liked the movie. I thought Roscuro was one of the most interesting characters in children’s entertainment I have seen in quite a while. And Desperaux is really cute.
Summarising, it’s a sweet movie, one that I would like to see in the original version but it won’t be on my favourite movie list.