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TALE OF DESPEREAUX, THE

SYNOPSIS:
Once upon a time, in the faraway kingdom of Dor, a terrible accident caused by an adventurous rat, Roscuro (voice of Dustin Hoffman), leaves the king broken-hearted, the princess Pea (Emma Watson) filled with longing and the townsfolk despondent. Until Despereaux Tilling (Matthew Broderick), a brave and virtuous mouse with oversized ears, comes along. When banished from his home for not following the rules that society expects of a mouse, Despereaux befriends fellow outcast Roscuro and begins his noble quest to rescue Pea.

Review by Louise Keller:
Like the soup the royal Chef makes, in which there are umpteen ingredients, this cute and often charming animation is burdened by an over abundance of exposé as its characters and ideas are stirred overzealously together in the storyteller's pot. Based on Kate DiCamillo's fable about a little mouse with oversized ears who unwittingly becomes a hero, the film offers some pleasures as we enter the realms of the worlds of mice, rats and humans, but the screenplay is cluttered and confuses. Humour, fantasy and drama swirl together, but the blending is far from seamless.

It all starts when Roscuro (voiced by Dustin Hoffman), a rat who mingles with pirates, finds himself in a plate of vegetable soup about to be eaten in the Royal Palace on the Kingdom of Dor's annual Soup Day. When it comes to rats and cooking, comparisons with the brilliant Ratatouille immediately come to mind, just as Flushed Away put a fresh slant on our perceptions of an underground rat world. Hence, the integration of plotlines about an un-meek mouse, a bitter rat, a plump peasant girl and a fair princess swept up in an adventure involving forgiveness and redemption feels less than fresh.

An appealing high profile voice cast including Robbie Coltane, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci and Tracey Ullman inhabits the characters, but Sigourney Weaver's narration tells us more than we want to know. Instead of allowing us to discover things (and emotions) for ourselves, we are kept on a short leash. Matthew Broderick ably voices the little gentleman mouse Despereaux who draws cats on his mouse notepad, Kevin Kline embodies the temperamental French Chef Andre and Harry Potter's Emma Watson is the beautiful Princess waiting to be rescued.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
The awkwardly told story of a rat and a mouse, a princess and an evil kingdom of rats, is perhaps an okay entertainment for little ones, who may not need to follow the story but will enjoy the visual values. Although, on second thoughts, these aren't that smashing either, with the occasional exception of an action scene. And there is one moment that may scare the under 8s - which is nothing compared to the many moments that underwhelm the over 14s.

It all starts with soup: the magical faraway kingdom of Dor celebrates Soup Day in a big way, and the unfortunate incident that lands our friendly rat Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman) in hot soup leads to all the nasty things that follow, like the King banning soup, banning rats and somehow making the sun disappear as well as the rain. Dor is now a bore of a place, and for reasons not altogether clear, Princess Pea (Emma Watson) is closeted in her tower ... while the King plays melancholy guitar, oblivious to the world.

But the disparate ingredients for this cinematic soup don't manage to make it a tasty treat at all. Laboured and disjointed, the film has none of the charm of a Ratatouille or a Shrek, but seems derivative of them. The animation is bland, although Roscuro has some interest as a character, and the only saving visual grace is the film's production design, which offers interest.

The voices are all well used, but the motley accents tend to jar when put together in a fairyland setting; there's the cockney and the middle class and the posh English, as well as the fake French (the chef, Kevin Cline) and the different Americans (Dustin Hoffman, Matthew Broderick).

Sigourney Weaver's narration helps thread the story, but the film doesn't really satisfy, even though it has tries too hard to sell its moral message about living with courage not fear.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 0
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 2

TALE OF DESPEREAUX, THE (G)
(UK/US, 2008)

VOICES: Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Tracey Ullman, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, Ciaran Hinds, Robbie Coltrane, Tony Hale, Frances Conroy, Frank Langella, Richard Jenkins

NARRATION: Sigourney Weaver

PRODUCER: Gary Ross, Allison Thomas

DIRECTOR: Sam Fell, Robert Stevenhagen

SCRIPT: Gary Ross (book by Kate DiCamillo)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Brad Blackbourn

EDITOR: Mark Solomon

MUSIC: William Ross

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Evgeni Tomov

RUNNING TIME: 90 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Universal

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: January 8, 2009







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