The Tale of Despereaux

MPAA rating: G
Genre: Animated
Based on the Newbery Award-winning children's book, the film follows book-loving mouse Despereaux (Matthew Broderick) and his comrades who emerge as unlikely heroes when Princess Pea (Emma Watson) is kidnapped.
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Christopher Lloyd, Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Robbie Coltrane, Stanley Tucci, Tracey Ullman, Frances Conroy, William H. Macy
Director: Sam Fell, Robert Stevenhagen
Running time: 1:34
Release: Opened Dec 19, 2008
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Editorial Review

"The Tale of Despereaux" opens with a lovable stowaway rat named Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman), frigate-ing his way to the not-so-enchanted Land of Dor. But the movie has so many subplots, it's not long before the viewer gets that sinking sensation that narrative bloat will overwhelm the film's ballast.

The watery "Despereaux" is based on the Newbery Medal-winning book by Kate DiCamillo ("Because of Winn-Dixie"). It's a movie that simply has too much of everything, except a storytelling technique that grabs kids and makes them forget they have to go to the bathroom. It's a beautiful film, but in the end, "Despereaux" is esthetically charmed but dramatically inert.

Why? Too many stories, none well told. The setup is simple enough: "Despereaux's" titular mouse is a big-eared outcast who has been an embarrassment since birth. He refuses to cower; instead he goes to school to learn, where he's treated as if he's developmentally disabled. His parents are mortified. The community is outraged. Out he goes.

Lest we mislead the reader that there's something straightforward about this film, there is also Roscuro's story to be told. He's something of an epicurean rodent who has come to the Land of Dor for the annual unveiling of a new soup. But when Roscuro inadvertently drops into the Queen's bowl, she drops dead.

Here's where we start parting company with "Despereaux." It's sad. Not in an elevating or cathartic way but more in a way that's faux-profound. There's a major striving for grandiosity, when you just want to know what the heck is going on.

As usual with these animated epics, much depends on the vocal performances, and it's a mixed bag. Matthew Broderick makes Despereaux sound like a white guy from the suburbs; Hoffman is terrific, just as he was earlier this year in "Kung Fu Panda." None, however, provides enough buoyancy to get one past the structural sandbar that "Despereaux" erects between its audience and any reason to care.

-- John Anderson (Dec. 19, 2008)

Contains moments of peril.