The Tale of Despereaux (movie)

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.)

3 Responses to “The Tale of Despereaux (movie)”

  1. Vardibidian

    I vastly enjoyed the book, and haven’t seen the movie yet. Did you know that the director of The Triplets of Belleville had been signed to do the movie, and did much of the character design before leaving the project? There were bad feelings all around, and I think a lawsuit, or the threat of one. Anyway, I’m looking forward to seeing the thing.


  2. cj

    Yes! That is exactly how I felt! Really, really enjoyed it. Loved “watching” Mathew be a mouse again (I watched Ladyhawke the other day. One of my favorite movies that isn’t really a great movie). It captured many themes that I wish movies would use more often– honor, courage, etc. I left the movie feeling ready to go tilt valiantly at my own windmills, and make a big ol’ pot of soup! And I left needing to read the book because I felt that much had been left out (except that I’m a budget, and am waiting for the library to deliver it :).

  3. Jed

    V: I’m now halfway through the book, and still enjoying it. Be warned: the movie is very different in some pretty significant ways (including major changes to at least two of the main characters’ personalities). So when you do see the movie, you may be best off pretending it’s an alternate-universe version or something.

    I hadn’t heard about the Triplets thing before watching the movie, but as we were coming out of the movie, I said to myself, “That’s the most unusual animated movie I’ve seen since Triplets of Belleville.” (I don’t think there are strong similarities between the two movies, but there may be a few faint echoes.) Anyway, I came home and looked around online and found out about the connection and laughed.

    …The other movie everyone mentions in comparison to this one is Ratatouille. In addition to the slight surface similarities (a rat in a kitchen, a general focus on food and food smells, a vaguely European flavor), it occurs to me that there’s another similarity: both movies are structurally odd.

    CJ: Hee–Kam also mentioned the Broderick/”mouse”/Ladyhawke connection, though I think she found it slightly distracting. …Yeah, I think your description of being inspired by Despereaux captures something of the excitement I had about it too–despite my concerns, I think it was kind of an energizing movie in various ways.

    But my above notes about the book-vs-movie differences above apply in the other direction, too–if you go into the book expecting it to closely match the movie, you may end up disappointed. Among other things–so far, at least–there’s much less emphasis in the book on bravery and honor than there was in the movie. (Some, just not as much.)


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