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Tuesday, April 7, 2009

The Tale of Despereaux DVD Review



On DVD: April 7th, 2009

The Tale of Despereaux opened in theatres on: December 19th, 2008

Rated G - Frightening scenes

Running time: 94 minutes

Sam Fell (dir.)

Robert Stevenhagen (dir.)

Matthew Broderick as Despereaux

Dustin Hoffman as Roscuro

Emma Watson as Princess Pea

Tracey Ullman as Miggery Sow

Kevin Kline as André

William H. Macy as Lester

Stanley Tucci as Boldo

Ciarán Hinds as Botticelli

Robbie Coltrane as Gregory

Richard Jenkins as Principal

Frank Langella as Mayor

Sigourney Waver as Narrator

Special Features:

• Exclusive Sneak Peek of Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey!

• The Making of The Tale of Despereaux

• An Interactive Map of The Kingdom of Dor

• The Top Ten Uses For Oversized Ears

• Despereaux’s Quest Game

Build-a-Boldo Game

• DVD-ROM Activities

Our reviews below:


The Tale of Despereaux DVD Review By John C.

***1/2 (out of 4)

After Roscuro the rat (Dustin Hoffman) lands in the Queen’s soup, causing her untimely death, soup is banished in the Kingdom of Dor and all the rats are sent to live in the dungeon. This sets into motion intertwining story lines following the rats, the mice, in particular the titular mouse Despereaux (Matthew Broderick), a servant girl, Miggery Sow (Tracey Ullman) and a princess, Pea (Emma Watson).

I have not read the book that this is based on, but I hear it is very different, only having the basic plot and character names in common. The book was written by Kate DiCamillo, who also wrote Because of Winn Dixie.

The Tale of Despereaux has beautiful animation, great voice work and an intriguing and intricate story line. So why did a lot of people not like it? Because it won’t appeal to 5 year-olds. The DVD package has a bright green and blue background and is mostly comprised of colors that don’t appear in the actual film. From the package it looks like it would be strictly for the Disney princess market, an audience that would likely not get past the first 20 minutes. A lot of the stuff, especially in the Rat World is slightly creepy, reminiscent of Tim Burton and surrealist paintings.

The DVD includes a 12 minute making-of featurette, the top ten uses for oversized ears, an exclusive 10 minute sneak peek at Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey, (which is tonally off from the rest of the stuff on the disc and I don’t even get why they included it), two games, that are too simple for the audience that will actually watch the film, and some DVD-ROM activities.

Please note: Despite the G rating, this is at times a very dark fairy tale. This is not for most kids under eight.


The Tale of Despereaux DVD Review By Erin V.

***1/2 (out of 4)

I had started reading the original book, (Also called The Tale of Despereaux), by Kate DiCamillo back when the movie was coming out in theatres. I also started reading the movie adaptation book. While I didn’t completely finish either, (they were due at the library), I got a taste of how they are similar and how they differ.

In The Tale of Despereaux, a rat named Roscuro, (Dustin Hoffman), sailed into The Kingdom of Dor one day, and unintentionally triggered a series of events that led to the death of the Queen, (Patricia Cullen), the banishment of all rats, and soup being made illegal. This results in the whole land falling into an overcast sadness, where the sun doesn’t shine, yet it doesn’t rain. The King sits playing his lute all day, while the Princess Pea, (Emma Watson) becomes a prisoner to this sadness and grief, remaining in her tower. Meanwhile, a mouse named Despereaux, (Matthew Broderick), has been born in Mouseworld below. He is a mouse that is smaller than the rest, but with unusually large ears. While other mice learn how to act like proper mice, (scurry, cower, etc.), Despereaux seems to refuse to conform. Instead, he shows no fear, wondering what is in the dungeon Ratworld below, and successfully steals cheese from the mousetraps without getting caught in them. He reads the books in the royal library instead of eating them, where he gets all kinds of ideas about knights, chivalry, and honour. Then, he breaks the biggest rule in all of Mouseworld. He meets the Princess Pea, and talks to her. Mice can never talk to humans. Why? Because it is a rule. He is brought before the mouse council, and sentenced to the dungeon - Ratworld. There he meets up with Roscuro, and the four main characters stories, (Despereaux, Roscuro, Princess Pea, and Miggery Sow’s - [who is a servant girl who longs to be a princess, voiced by Tracey Ullman]), all become interwoven with each others.

The voice acting is spot on by the stellar cast, as is the music by William Ross. The best special feature on the DVD is ‘The Making of The Tale of Despereaux’. [Total miscellaneous fact; In this feature, if you listen to 1 minute, 50 seconds from the end of this feature, it is the same music playing as in the teaser trailer for Disney•PIXAR’s Up, and on the intro on the Up website.] The map is interesting, but the others are more geared towards kids who are probably a little bit too young for this movie. Speaking of which, what is the ‘Curious George 2’ preview on here for? It doesn’t fit at all, and compared to the movie, the quality is practically unbearable...

I really enjoyed The Tale of Despereaux. It far exceeded my expectations, and I loved the painterly look to the animation. This is a movie that is made like a work of art. While it probably won’t appeal to the under 8 crowd, (or it will terrify them in parts), I hope that older kids and adults will give it a chance. This is a very well made, albeit slightly different, animated film. Despite the fact that I would have loved to see more ‘Making of’ extras, all in all, I would definitely recommend getting this DVD.


The Tale of Despereaux DVD Review By Nicole

***1/2 (out of 4)

Based on a children’s book by Kate DiCamillo, following in the footsteps of classic fairy tales, The Tale of Despereaux is a timeless tale about forgiveness. The story begins when Roscuro the rat accidentally triggers off a series of events that cause soup to be banned, and a kingdom to plunge into misery. Rats are now banished, and as a result, mice are not well received by people either. The mice learn to fear humans - except for one big eared mouse named Despereaux. He isn’t afraid of anything. Inspired by library books, Despereaux sets off as “a brave gentleman” to save a princess. Despereaux, being different, is banished by the other mice to the unfriendly world of the rats. However, when Princess Pea is in trouble, Despereaux, although being the littlest, turns out to be a very big hero.

Despite the fact that this is a G rated movie about mice and princesses, The Tale of Despereaux is not suitable for children under 8. The scenes in the dungeon, (Ratworld), are dark, and will frighten young children. However, this movie is excellent for it’s intended audience of 8 to adult. The animation is elegant and mature, with a painted appearance, and a more subdued colour palette. I especially like how the animation is inspired by famous painters. For example, the vegetable man, Boldo, was inspired by the paintings of Arcimboldo, the castle was inspired by Vermeer, and the Ratworld was inspired by Bosch. The voice acting in this movie is amazing, and William Ross’ score really adds to the film. I especially liked the story, which has a lovely message about forgiveness.

There are not a lot of bonus features on this DVD, but the ‘Making of’ featurette is really good. I really liked seeing Kate DiCamillo talk about her inspiration for the original book, and seeing how the animation was done. There are also two games, which are too easy for anyone over a certain age, as well as DVD ROM features. (But I do not understand why the DVD includes a 10 minute sneak peek at Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey, as the audience that would watch Curious George is too young for The Tale of Despereaux.) However, I would highly recommend owning The Tale of Despereaux on DVD. This is one movie you will want to watch again and again.


The Tale of Despereaux DVD Review By Maureen

***1/2 (out of 4)

The Tale of Despereaux is a wonderful adaptation of the best-selling children's novel with the same name. This has all the elements one would expect from a fairy tale - There is a Kingdom called Dor, a castle with a King, Queen, and Princess Pea, and a noble hero. Dor has a soup festival that draws visitors from far and wide. An untimely incident involving visiting rat, Roscuro, (voiced by Dustin Hoffman), and the Queen’s soup results in tragedy and the banishment of all rats and soup from the Kingdom. The Kingdom and the castle fall into a darkness and we are introduced to the rat world under the castle.

At the same time there is a parallel mouse world. Here we are introduced to Despereaux, (voiced by Matthew Broderick). He is a misfit with big ears and attitudes and beliefs that are not mouse like. Despereaux is banished from Mouseworld and ends up in Ratworld. Despereaux and Roscuro meet up and the story moves on from there.

Back at the castle the Princess Pea, (Emma Watson), is unhappy and eventually ends up in peril thanks to her servant girl, Mig Sow, (Tracy Ullman). The story does of course have a happy ending because this is after all a fairy tale.

I really enjoyed watching The Tale of Despereaux. The story is not watered down or made to look cute. The animation is quirky and sometimes dark, but visually very appealing, with an old world painting feel to it. The score by William Ross is really nice to hear. The voice acting is excellent and the narration works well. Overall, this is a sophisticated, animated adventure fairy tale that is wonderful to watch for adults and older children alike through not really suitable for children under 6-8 as some of the scenes may be too scary.

There are a lot of extras on the DVD including ‘The Making of The Tale of Despereaux’. This is a really nice feature. I’m not sure what the preview ‘Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey’ is doing on this disc. It looks awful when compared to the beautiful visuals of The Tale of Despereaux.

The Tale of Despereaux would be a nice addition to any family’s collection. Buy it for yourself and/or for a gift.


The Tale of Despereaux DVD Review By Tony

*** (out of 4)

Despereaux (Matthew Broderick) is a tiny mouse with huge ears who has been banished from Mouseworld because he is unable to cower and prefers to read storybooks rather than nibble them (“more a man than a mouse”). The kingdom of Dor is known for its soup, prepared by chef André (Kevin Kline) with the secret help of soup genie Boldo (Stanley Tucci). When the queen of Dor dies of fright after the gourmet rat Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman) falls into her soup, the king bans soup and rats, and locks Princess Pea (Emma Watson) in her chamber, attended by former peasant Mig (Tracey Ullman). As a consequence, the sun stops shining and there is no rain. When the princess is captured and brought down to the dungeon Ratworld, Despereaux comes to her rescue.

Based on an award-winning novel by Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux feels like a classic fairy tale. Co-directors Sam Fell and Rob Stevenhagen have had distinguished careers with Aardman and Dreamworks respectively. The artwork is a beautiful blend of styles. Much of the scenery and crowd scenes are reminiscent of the 17th C. Dutch masters. The rodents could have come out of the books of Beatrix Potter. The 16th C. surrealist G. Arcimboldo inspired Boldo, who is a collage of vegetables. Co-producers Gary Ross and Allison Thomas were inspired to have the fine voice cast act out their dialogue scenes together.

The DVD will get a lot of use from repeated showings, but is short on extras. Aside from a good 11 minute featurette, there are some lame games and a Curious George clip whose dumb story and crappy animation are painful to watch after seeing such a work of art.


Consensus: Based on the book by Kate DiCamillo, this is a smart movie that is beautiful to look at. The Tale of Despereaux is a wonderful movie that will be enjoyed by older kids and adults. ***1/2 (Out of 4)

You can read our interview with William Ross, composer of the music for The Tale of Despereaux, here.

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