Wednesday, December 17, 2008

THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX - less than the sum of its parts

THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX is a rather wilted new children's animated feature based on the popular modern fairy-tale from writer Kate DiCamillo. It has been brought to the screen by directors Robert Stevenhagen and Sam Fell, who was behind the brilliantly funny and fast-paced FLUSHED AWAY. And the screen-writers worked on the similarly engaging ANGUS THONGS AND PERFECT SNOGGING. The voice cast is superb. The fairy-tale is narrated by Sigourney Weaver and our hero is voiced by Matthew Broderick. The Princess is none other than Emma "Hermione" Watson and in smaller roles we have character actors of such calibre as Frank Langella, Richard Jenkins, Robbie Coltrane and William H Macy. The animation is stunning - everything looks hand-drawn, like a medieval fable come to life. And the movie is filled with the best of intentions. The message is that honesty, sympathy, courage and forgiveness are the keys to a happy life.

Why then does this film fall so flat? Why then is it such a painfully slow watch? Maybe it's because there's simply too much story to get through? Maybe it's because it is too careful to be politically correct and spends too little time on good old-fashioned action-adventure? Maybe it's because it's basically a rather trivial story - as acknowledged in the narrator's epilogue. It's the story of a rat called Roscuro who falls into a Queen's soup by mistake, causing her to die of shock. The King, grieving, bans soups and rats and his kingdom falls into darkness. The Princess, longs for sunlight and in her anger upsets Roscuro who has come to apologise. She also upsets her servant Miggery. So Miggery and Roscuro allow the rats to capture the princess, though they regret it almost immediately. Which is when a courageous little mouse called Despereaux saves the day! Kind of. What really happens is that the Princess forgives Roscuro, Roscuro forgives the Princess, Miggery forgives the Princess and the people forgive the King. Phew! Everyone gets soup, the mice learn not be cowards, and Miggery finds her dad. Aah!

I think you get the drift of how hard it must have been for the directors to balance all this material, and how Despereaux sometimes gets lost in the muddle. It's a shame, but there it is. This movie is so jumbled that it's less than the sum of its parts.

THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX is on release in the UK, US, Spain and Hong Kong. It goes on release in Hungary, Russia, Australia and Norway on Christmas Day. It opens in Chile, Croatia and Estonia on New Years Day. It opens in Brazil and Sweden on January 16th; in Turkey on January 23rd; in the Netherlands and Argentina on February 4th; in France on February 11th; in Belgium and Egypt on February 18th; in Denmark on March 6th; in Singapore and Finland on March 12th and in Germany on March 19th.

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