Beautifully crafted, animated fairy tale about a big-eared mouse that becomes an unlikely hero harkens back to the heyday of such Disney classics as Snow White and Sleeping Beauty. With a killer voice cast that includes Dustin Hoffman, Matthew Broderick and Tracey Ullman, this holiday treat should do well—though Despereaux may be a little dark for the youngest family members, even though it is rated a tame ‘G,’ It’s probably too thoughtful to be another Kung Fu Panda or Madagascar 2, but expect lots of business over the Christmas break and a long afterlife on DVD.
In the once happy and carefree kingdom of Dor, all sunlight has disappeared and the outlook is permanent gray clouds. All hope vanished until the proud and tiny mouse with Dumbo sized ears, Despereaux (Broderick), was born. But he eventually makes the mistake of befriending Princess Pea (Emma Watson), and in a ‘toon version of The Reader (sans sex) he gets immersed with her in the literary wonders of books. When he is banished to the mouse kingdom’s dungeon for interacting with a human, he meets a rat named Roscuro (Hoffman) who joins him in reading the stories. When Pea rejects the rat, Roscuro teams with homely outsider Mig (Ullman), a servant girl who works for the jailer (Robbie Coltrane), in order to get revenge. Can a tiny mouse find his inner white knight and save the day for the Princess after she is kidnapped? That’s the situation at hand.
Based on the award-winning book by Kate DiCamillo, screenwriter and co-producer Gary Ross ( Seabiscuit ) has created a nifty screen version of a beloved children’s fairy tale that does not stint on the source’s dark and foreboding subtext. Directed with great style and respect by Sam Fell and Rob Stevenhagen, this tale of Despereaux is given first-class treatment and has the feel of an instant classic. Its admirable devotion to its origins could hold it back from the kind of success enjoyed by more accessible animated entries but its heart is in the right place. Nostalgic adults will recognize it as an homage to the Disney classics of their youth and appreciate the strong message that appearance doesn’t always indicate ability or courage.
The all-star voice cast, led by Broderick’s sweet and noble reading of the title mouse, is superb. Hoffman is wonderfully droll as the likeable, soup loving rat, Roscuro and Ullman is wistful as the rather unattractive but hopeful Mig. Harry Potter ’s Emma Watson does a nice reading in the traditional forlorn princess slot. Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci, Frank Langella, Richard Jenkins and William H.Macy also turn in authoritative work in various roles. Coltrane is the perfect counterpoint to Ullman, while Sigourney Weaver’s narration is lovely as it strikes to perfect tone to tell this engaging tale.
Cast: Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Tracey Ullman, Robbie Coltrane, Frank Langella, Richard Jenkins, Cirian Hinds, William H. Macy, Kevin Kline, Stanley Tucci, Christopher Lloyd, Frances Conroy and Sigourney Weaver.
Directors: Sam Fell and Rob Stevenhagen
Screenwriter: Gary Ross, Chris Viscardi and Will McRobb
Produced by: Gary Ross and Allison Thomas
Running Time: 87 min.
Release Date: December 19, 2008