The Tale of Despereaux: The Movie Review
Move over, Mickey; there's a new mouse in town.
Kate DiCamillo's best-selling Newbery Award book The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread has been brought to the big screen by Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen in a lively version that makes the bare bones of DiCamillo's wonderful book accessible even to very young viewers.
Despereaux Tilling is a born romantic, a young mouse who falls totally in love with a captive princess and vows to become her champion despite his diminutive size. The little hero prefers reading fairy tales to nibbling them and steadfastly refuses even to consider learning to scurry. Cowering like a proper mouse is just not in his nature, which eventually brings about his banishment from Mouseworld and his literal downfall into Ratworld, the dark nether regions of the castle's dungeon. Aided by a sunlight-loving rat named Chiaroscuro, a hardhearted dungeon keeper who mourns his lost daughter, and Miggery Sow, a lumpen dim bulb of a chambermaid with a dream of becoming a princess in her own right, Despereaux and Roscuro finally defeat the forces of darkness and evil and restores light and love (and fine soups) to the kingdom.
The animation is delightful, especially the facial expressions of the picaresque anti-hero Roscuro, but the real standout is the cast of actors who voice these characters. Roscuro is spoken by Dustin Hoffman, Despereaux by Matthew Broderick, and the lovely but forlorn Princess Pea by Emma Watson (a.k.a. Hermione Granger). Although she is technically the ingenue lead, Emma Watson's Princess Pea is definitely upstaged by Tracey Ullman's Miggery, whose clueless princess ambitions and humble happy ending almost steal the show. The other players are equally engaging, especially Frank Langella (Nixon of Nixon/Frost) as the mouse mayor and Sigourney Weaver, who ably narrates the tale.
Granted that the movie covers over the nuances of the book with a veneer of high-tech cuteness and a plenitude of chase scenes, the basic theme of forgiveness and heart still comes through perceptibly, if a bit dimly. The movie is rated G and is suitable for all but the most rat-averse viewers.
Kate DiCamillo's The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread in its original form is a great read-aloud for all ages on its own, but for those impatient souls who prefer an abridged version, the story is also available in movie tie-in version, The Tale of Despereaux Movie Tie-In Junior Novelization, which features ample stills from the movie as illustration. Picture book-sized excerpts from the movie are also available as The Tale of Despereaux Movie Tie-In: The Deluxe Storybook, The Tale of Despereaux Movie Tie-In Reader: No Ordinary Mouse, The Tale of Despereaux Movie Tie-In Storybook: A Hero's Quest, and The Tale of Despereaux Movie Tie-In Storybook: The Mouse and the Princess for the youngest fans.