What do you get when a mouse simply refuses to be timid… scared… mousetrap-shy… in fact, all the things a mouse should be? You get Despereaux!
When all the other well-brought-up little mice crawl under their desks when their teacher holds up a picture of a cat, Despereaux just looks curiously at it. His principal and parents are growing concerned: what will happen to a little mouse who won’t flinch or cower? Especially when he is smaller than most, and has such big ears. Well, one thing is certain: what will happen to Despereaux will never happen to any other mouse (unless it has happened once before…)
Though some reviewers insist The Tale of Despereaux departs from the book almost immediately by recreating Despereaux as fearless, when I read the book, it didn’t seem to be as large a departure as they made out. Despereaux is like all of us: afraid of some things and not others, but for the right reward willing to face his fears (in Despereaux’s case, his reward is the friendship of the Princess Pea.) Yet, truly, the movie makes what was surely a beloved and unconventional story more regular movie fare. For instance, in the book it is the queen, rather than the whole kingdom, who loves soup. The filmmakers cinematize that simple taste into a national emblem: people have parades for soup, carry signs for soup, which is much more fantastic and filmable than the queen’s quiet affection. Still, the book and movie come together again at the death of the queen which causes the king to ban soup, bowls, spoons, and, of course, rats. (Rats?? What rats? I thought this was a story about a mouse. To borrow the tone of Despereaux author Kate DiCamillo: rest, dear reader. All will be clear when you read this story or watch its big-screen version.)
All in all, when I watched The Tale of Despereaux, I could not help but forgive the writers and producers for their practical changes. Featuring the voice talents of Matthew Broderick, Emily Watson (better known as Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger), Dustin Hoffman, Sigourney Weaver, Christopher Lloyd, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin Kline, and many more, The Tale of Despereaux is definitely in the same class with other animation favorites (of mine, and of the world) like Toy Story, Flushed Away, and, of course, Wall-E. It earns its status through great drawing, quirky characters, and a charm of story that is hard to put your finger on but ensures you will walk out of the theater smiling.