"The Tale of Despereaux" is filled with the kind of high-minded earnestness that you just don't see much in children's entertainment anymore -- and for good reason.
The story, from Kate DiCamillo's book, concerns a brave, bookish mouse who doesn't fit in with the other mice; a kind-hearted sailing rat who gets stuck in a dungeon with his conniving brethren; a palace servant girl who will do anything to be princess; a grimy jailer who pines for the infant daughter he had to give up years ago; a king who withdraws from the world after his wife's death; a princess who wishes the joy would return to her world; a genius chef who draws inspiration from a magical vegetable spirt; and a kingdom that really, REALLY loves its soup.
The voice cast features a ton of recognizable names, including Matthew Broderick (as Despereaux the mouse), Dustin Hoffman, Sigourney Weaver, Emma Watson, Kevin Kline, Tracey Ullman, Stanley Tucci, Robbie Coltrane, William H. Macy, Frank Langella, Christopher Lloyd and Bronson Pinchot.
As you might guess, the plot gets a little convoluted. Four main storylines eventually get resolved together at the end, But not without a few liberties to cram it all into less than 100 minutes. Many of the plot turns seem arbitrary rather than organic, and the climax depends an out-of-character change of heart by Roscuro the rat that (of course) turns out to be only temporary.
On the other hand, the animation and production design are particularly lavish and painterly, and that, along with the sight of talking rodents and some mild swashbuckling adventure, should be enough to satisfy many kids. But the rest of the family would be better served by something with a little more humor and bit, like the work of Pixar or even some of the Dreamworks animated features.
The absurdity of Boldo the vegetable man leading the charge into the dungeon.
The design for Boldo is based on the work of 16th century painter Giuseppe Arcimboldo.
Kate DiCamillo's novel.
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