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The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 2 out of 5

AS CUTE and loveable as the big-eared mouse at the centre of The Tale of Despereaux is, it’s still difficult to feel the same way about the film as a whole.

Based on the best-selling book by Kate Di Camillo, the film is a curiously cumbersome affair that’s too slow and too densely plotted for the youngest viewers, and a little too prone to copying from other better movies for some of its inspiration.

In the faraway kingdom of Dor, there was once magic in the air, raucous laughter and gallons of mouth-watering soup. But after a terrible accident leaves the king heart-broken, the princess filled with longing and the townsfolk despondent, the kingdom has fallen into a depression.

That is until Despereaux Tilling is born… a brave and virtuous mouse, saddled with oversized ears, who refuses to live a life of weakness and fear. Upon hearing of Dor’s plight from the princess herself, Despereaux vows to return happiness to the kingdom once more.

Co-directors Sam Fell and Rob Stevenhagen employ some eye-catching animation and the vocal cast is first-rate (from Sigourney Weaver and Dustin Hoffman to Matthew Broderick and Frank Langella), but the film fails to make the most of its ample opportunity.

The story itself, while happily content to stick to old fashioned values, meanders rather than delivering anything truly inspiring, while Despereaux himself quite often feels like a stranger in his own movie.

Audiences – and particularly kids – may become restless waiting for him to appear, and even when he does there are so many other characters and other stories to support that the film seems to have difficulty squeezing them all in.

What’s more, the other characters feel like visitors from other, better stories. A rat who serves as the trigger for proceedings (voiced by Hoffman) is particularly guilty of hogging the screen-time, while comparisons between his story and that of Ratatouille are shockingly similar early on (he has a refined sense of smell, can talk and likes to interact with humans).

A farm-girl with princess envy blatantly looks like Princess Fiona from Shrek, while even Despereaux himself bears more than a passing resemblance to another much-loved character, Dumbo. The film doesn’t feel like it’s paying homage to these past classics, so much as stealing from them!

And it also lacks the pace, ingenuity and verve of the best examples of the genre, succumbing to obvious story arcs and heavy-handed message making about the power of forgiveness.

The end result is a curiously under-whelming experience that really ought to have made a better impression than it does. Despereaux is cute but the film fails to emulate either his appeal or his achievements.

Certificate: U
Running time: 93mins
UK DVD & Blu-ray Release: April 20, 2009