Wow, its been a while since I've written. Sorry everyone. Anyway, on to the review.
The Tale of Despereux didn't start off on good terms. During the opening credits I was astounded at the amount of star talent the makers managed to acquire. Knowing relatively little about this movie, I was anticipating greatness. Of course, I should have known that star talent doesn't necessarily mean a star film.
In fact, I found the casting choices to be the movies greatest drag, with several of the main characters (and the narrator) all being stars who didn't fit their roles. Sigourney Weaver does not have the bedtime story narrator voice that she needed and tried for. The Tale, as it were, is one of those stories that requires a motherly, but clever voice to properly narrate it. While Weaver can deliver something like a motherly voice, it feels unnatural. Not a bad performance, just not what the directors (yes it was co-directed by relative newcomers Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen) should have been looking for. However, most annoying was the casting of Matthew Broderick as Despereux, the diminutive main character and wanna-be-hero. Quite ignoring that I have never enjoyed a Broderick performance (save The Producers) I think it is safe to say that casting a grown man as a very young, youthful mouse is a poor choice. Despite Broderick's unique voice, he still sounds far too old and out of place as our tiny protaganist, who is so young that he attends mouse school and is just learning how to read big books.
Moving past these shortcomings though, viewers of Despereax will agree with me that the film certainly is fun (and sometimes funny). Its hard to not enjoy a movie that centers around a smaller than life character taking on larger than life problems, especially when the story takes place in a kingdom that places Soup Day over Christmas. In this kingdom, Soup Day is what makes the sun shine, the children laugh and the birds sing. Tragically, all that is destined to change. When the brilliant Master Chef and his magnificent cook book (manifested as an avatar man made of food) put the finishing touches on a perfect soup for the King and Queen to taste, a curious rat named Rascuro (voiced by a well cast Dustin Hoffman) finds that he absolutely must taste this soup before his ship and crew leave port.
Its too bad that stereotypes get the best of everyone, which one of the morals of the story; when Rascuro loses his balance and falls into the Queen's soup, causing her death by shock and convincing everyone that he is another dirty and nasty rat. Rascuro is forced to flee while the King gives in to his sadness and anger and bans Soup Day and rats from the whole kingdom. The sun goes away, the rats go away, the soup goes away, the laughing and colors of the world go away. For a long while the world is boring and gray.
Meanwhile Despereux is growing up. From the get go its apparent that he is different from other mice, staring straight into the eyes of the adults around him in his cradle instead of cowering like a real mouse. After that, its all his parents can do to keep their wits about them as Despereux violates all aspects of mouse culture - intentionally setting off no less than 27 mouse traps, refusing to cower or skitter, and fraternizing willingly with a real human being (the princess, whom Despereux meets one day after reading a tale of dashing knights and princesses in the library). Despereux is in the middle of fulfilling his "noble quest" for the princess when the mouse council bans him to Ratworld and the sewers, from whence no mouse have ever returned.
The rest is typical fairy tale status. Everyone goes home happy. Like I said, its a feel good movie with soup. Unfortunately there are just too many things about the storyline and directorial choices to make this a good movie. Side stories involving a palace servant girl and her father are somewhat touching but have almost no relevance to the main story, Despereux isn't even present for a significant chunk of the film (at two seperate times in fact) and his adventure is relatively short and unexciting. In many ways, it feels like the narrator comes in to put the story back on track, but it inevitably gets off on a tangent again. A nice thing about Despereux is that the story perpetuates things that everyone should acknowledge - honesty, integrity, understanding, caring and most importantly forgiveness. For kids especially, these themes are presented in a really postive and entertaining way, and for those of us that are older, its a good reminder of what is really important in life.
Last notes: I've already said that Despereux is kinda funny and mostly entertaining, but the best aspect of the film is how fantastic the animation is. The detail on both the characters and the set is very well done and visually stunning, specifically the mice. And, might I point out, it was done by Framestore Animation (NOT PIXAR OR DREAMWORKS!). I do feel (and my family agrees) that they ripped off Pixar's food critic Anton Igo in their portrayal of the Rat leader Botticelli. But you will have to see that for yourself, should you choose to flip a coin on this movie.