The Tale of Despereaux

4 out of 5 stars

Time Out says

4 out of 5 stars
Could this be the best film ever made about a national soup ban? Aardman alumni Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen bring old-fashioned fairy tale dynamics and an inviting fireside warmth to this adaptation of the bestselling children’s book by US author Kate DiCamillo. A lengthy prologue sets the scene, where the enquiring mind of ship’s rat Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman) gets the better of him on Soup Day, and he falls into the queen’s painstakingly concocted broth and causes her to die on the spot. By decree of the king, both soup and rats are outlawed, which draws a veil of gloom over the land and inadvertently spawns the ugly, underground Ratworld. It’s up to tiny mouse, Despereaux (voiced by Matthew Broderick), to revive the fortunes of this once-picturesque township.

Stylistically, the film uses brushed, pastel tones to reference classical painting, the most direct example of which is the Arcimboldo-inspired kitchen helper whose body consists of fruit and vegetables. Also, older viewers won’t have to rely on another tired barrage of pop-cultural references, beat-boxing squirrels or hackneyed Shrekisms, and can instead grapple with the film’s surprisingly complex subtexts: ideas of regional conflict, unreasonable abuse of the law and political scaremongering.

There are a few problems, mainly with the narrative which keeps doubling-back on itself to introduce new characters. And while it’s not animated with the breathless pizazz of a Pixar, ‘Despereaux’ is all the more affecting and dramatically successful for its contemplative pace and measured delivery of information. A lovely film.

By: David Jenkins



Release details

Release date:
Friday December 19 2008
93 mins

Cast and crew

Sam Fell, Robert Stevenhagen
Gary Ross
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