I'd been seeing somewhat intriguing previews for this new animated movie The Tale of Despereaux, so it was already on my list, so when Kam suggested seeing it Friday night on the spur of the moment, we jumped in the car and just made it to the theatre before the movie started.
There's a phrase that my co-editors and I have sometimes used in discussion of stories: a "brilliant mess." I think that applies to this movie too.
It's visually great; it does stuff I've never seen in an animated movie before; it has compelling characters and situations; it's richly imaginative. It's got stirring stuff about courage and chivalry and honor and truth and right and quests and derring-do; and books and stories feature prominently as inspiration to the characters. It's got laugh-out-loud funny bits and very sad bits.
But it's also got a weird structure, and a chronological sequence that doesn't make a lot of sense in places, and big plot holes, and implausible-to-me character moments, and jarring changes of tone. After a fun and charming opening sequence, there's a sudden tragic moment that sets the whole plot in motion. After a great first couple of minutes, in which the narrator makes quite clear that she's totally unreliable (or else tongue-in-cheek), most of everything else she says is pretty straightforward. The protagonist doesn't appear until well into the movie, and another main character is introduced surprisingly late. I was never entirely clear on how much actual magic we should expect. And so on.
The movie is totally worth seeing, especially if you like your heroes courageous and honorable. It's got a great voice cast, though I didn't recognize most of their voices during the movie itself. It's really pretty amazing in a lot of ways, or else we just happened to be in just the right frame of mind to appreciate it.
But it's nonetheless kind of a mess.
I'm now very interested in reading the book that the movie is based on, especially since I gather (from reviews and such) that several of the things that didn't quite work for me in the movie are handled better in the book.
(P.S. added the next day, before posting this entry: On Saturday, I stopped by the bookstore and picked up the book. It's totally charming so far, and quite different from the movie in various ways, but I'll talk about it in a separate entry.)