"Despereaux" a dreary mouse tale

Sun Dec 14, 2008 10:25pm EST
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By Michael Rechtshaffen

LOS ANGELES (Hollywood Reporter) - There's a fitting aura of gloom and despair surrounding "The Tale of Despereaux," a decidedly unfrilly fairy tale about a tiny mouse with large ears and a larger heart who finds redemption in a kingdom of darkness.

Although the artfully rendered computer-generated animation is quite lovely, the less-than-enchanting scripting is another story.

In making the leap to the big screen from Kate DiCamillo's Newbery Medal-winning 2003 novel, "The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread," a considerable amount of magic and charm appears to have gotten lost in the translation.

What remains -- particularly the rodent and the soup part -- can't help but invite comparisons to "Ratatouille," and not in a favorable way.

Given the absence of fresh animated fare, families might still initially take the bait, but the picture's murkier recesses could prove too intense for the kiddies. The picture opens on December 19 via Universal.

Co-directed by Sam Fell, who went the rat route with the entertaining "Flushed Away," and first-timer Rob Stevenhagen, the film centers on one Despereaux Tilling (voiced by Matthew Broderick), a brave little mouse whose un-mouse-like behavior -- he's known to converse with humans and prefers to read books rather than eat them -- lands him in big trouble.

He's banished from the Mouseworld and sent to the much darker Ratworld, presided over by the sinister Botticelli (Ciaran Hinds), who bears a strong resemblance to Nosferatu (or would that be NosfeRATu?).

Fortunately, he's shown the ropes by another recent arrival, Roscuro, a Ratso Rizzo sort of a rat, voiced, natch, by Dustin Hoffman, while finding himself smitten with the fair, human Princess Pea (Emma Watson), who's a virtual prisoner in her father's grim castle.   Continued...

<p>Cast member Emma Watson poses with the character of Despereaux at the premiere of the movie "The Tale of Despereaux" at the Arclight theatre in Hollywood December 7, 2008. REUTERS/Mario Anzuoni</p>