Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Ciaran Hinds
Sam Fell, Rob Stevenhagen
Gary Ross, Screenplay
Will McRobb, Chris Vicardi- Story
Kate DiCamillo- Novel
From having seen the trailers for "The Tale of Despereaux" for the past few weeks, I fully expected the film to compete with the likes of "Wall-E" and "Bolt" for this year's Academy Award for Best Animated Feature.
Based upon Kate DiCamillo's 2004 Newbery Medal Award-winning novel, "The Tale of Despereaux" should have been prime fodder for such recognition.
I was hypnotized from the first trailer, in which I saw young Despereaux (Matthew Broderick), a unique little mouse with oversized ears and an abundance of intellectual curiosity.
While "The Tale of Despereaux" is certainly not a disappointment on the level of the downright awful "Delgo," it is a surprising disappointment in that I can only modestly recommend it.
In the film, Despereaux does the unthinkable and forges a very real bond with the very real human, Queen Pea (Emma Watson). He's promptly tossed into the dungeon, where he meets Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman), a tortured rat and also the Maid Miggery Sow (Tracey Ullman).
Screenwriter Gary Ross ("Pleasantville") and co-directors Sam Fell ("Flushed Away") and Rob Stevenhagen try in vain to maintain DiCamillo's tender, finely nuanced touch throughout the film.
Rather than giving the film the desired intelligence and grace, however, the approach merely makes "The Tale of Despereaux" feel uneven, occasionally awkward and a bit too slow to hold the attention of younger children.
DiCamillo's novel is an absolute wonder of children's literature. It is intelligent, sensitive and respectful of its young readers. It teaches without condescension, and guides without manipulating.
The film, on the other hand, only occasionally seems to trust this approach and other times falls into condescension and a touch of preachiness.
Then, of course, there's Fell and Stevenhagen's need to turn the action up a notch with scenes that are infinitely more drawn out in the film than in the book.
It doesn't work.
While the story often feels uneven and unsatisfying, "The Tale of Despereaux" IS truly beautiful to behold.
Again, I say "Delgo" this isn't.
While Ross's screenplay doesn't quite capture the wonderful spirit and energy of DiCamillo's novel, Ross does painstakingly make sure the film embraces DiCamillo's lessons about courage, moral integrity, forgiveness, redemption and soup.
"The Tale of Despereaux" likely features this year's definitive all-star cast. In addition to leads Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson and Tracey Ullman, the cast includes two potential 2008 Oscar nominees in Frank Langella and Richard Jenkins along with Ciaran Hinds, Frances Conroy, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Sigourney Weaver, Stanley Tucci and Christopher Lloyd.
"The Tale of Despereaux" is truly beautiful to behold, a lesser cousin to "Ratatouille." Tech credits are solid across the board, most notably William Ross's marvelously complementary score and Brad Blackbourn's moody lensing.
While I left the screening of "The Tale of Despereaux" shaking my head at the missed opportunity to make an animated classic, the film likely contains enough of DiCamillo's spirit and intelligence to please fans of the vastly superior novel.
© Written by Richard Propes
The Independent Critic