Sunday, December 28, 2008

The Tale of Desperaux - Movie Review

THE TALE OF DESPERAUX (***) - Starring the voices of Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Ciaran Hinds, Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, Tracey Ullman, Christopher Lloyd, Frank Langella, Tony Hale, Frances Conroy, Richard Jenkins and Robbie Coltrane.
Directed by Sam Fell & Robert Stevenhagen.

This movie was more thoughtful than I expected, more dramatic, which I appreciated. It would be more at home with Disney's old-school classics than most animated movies of the past ten or twenty years. As such, it was one where my five-year-olds squirmed through most of the movie. But for older kids, it's a rich tale, and the animation alone is quite beautiful, more closely resembling paintings come to life than anything else.

It's based on a book, and it feels like it throughout. After all, what original screenplay would have a side character that swirls to life embodied by the fruits and veggies that happen to be in the room?

It's an ensemble story, taking place in three worlds. There's the Kingdom of Dor, where the humans are. There's Mouseworld, hidden behind the walls and under the floors of Dor, and then there's Ratworld, a dark place in the underground sewers. It starts with Roscuro (Hoffman), a sea-faring rat who loves the smell of the soup coming from Dor. (I know many will compare this to Ratatouille because of that, but really, the book was written years before that great Pixar movie, so, be fair.) After Roscuro's nose gets him into trouble and sets off a chain reaction of tragedy, he finds himself plunged into Ratworld, led by the creepy albino rat Botticelli (Hinds). Dor becomes a gray kingdom, where rats and soup are declared illegal, and the princess (Watson) looks out her window every day, praying for rain to return to her land.

Meanwhile in Mouseworld, Desperaux is born, a tiny mouse with big ears and an unparalleled sense of adventure. Mice are supposed to be full of fear and anxiety; what's wrong with this child?

The movie opens up a tapestry of characters. We see a scullery maid in the corner at the end of the scene, and hey, what do you know, she has a part to play in this story too.

My main issue would be probably be with pacing. Some characters cried out for more development while other scenes lagged and went on too long, but it still takes some unexpected turns, and I appreciate any movie where I don't know what the next scene will hold but I'm looking forward to it.

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