In a digital world where Pixar and Shrek rule supreme, many undercutting CGI hopefuls dare to make the voyage to theaters, in hope that they will somehow be able to pull off a Goliath sized upset and make a dent in the already saturated box-office. While Space Monkeys, Igor and Star Wars: The Clone Wars all tried their hand at it, each failed miserable. Now, with the end of the year looming, Universal takes on the dominating forces with their own The Tale of the Despereaux.
The film, which is presented in CGI animation, tells the life story of an adorable, tiny mouse. Graced with over sized ears, Despereaux always looked different to those around him; but no one expected the guy to be so stubborn. Refusing to live his life cowering, Despereaux befriends a Princess named Pea and learns to read (not eat) books. Through his reading, he is introduced to extraordinary stories of knights, dragons and fair maidens. By doing all this, Despereaux finds himself banished from Mouseworld for being far more than an ordinary mouse. In desperate need of protection, he seeks safety in the hands of Roscuro, a powerful rat who wants to hear the tales which Despereaux has read about. But when the Princess dismisses Roscuro’s friendship, a series of events leads to an unfortunate kidnapping. Now, with the power to influence an entire kingdom, a tiny mouse must muster up the willingness to forgive and forget, thus proving that the way you look will never fully reveal exactly who you are.
While animated films are known for their moralistic characters, coming of age stories and life lesson endings, there is always part of me that hopes for a little change. Whether it be any of the three common aspects, that is irrelevant; however, what isn’t, is that the expected is growing old, even for the young ones. No longer do amazing visuals and innocent characters work, but rather a sense of the unexpected. Take Shrek for example; sure the characters were cute, but the story was strong and unique, giving audiences an experience they had never seen before. The same goes for Pixar’s hit Wall-E. Viewers are smart these days, wanting more bang for their buck, and sadly, The Tale of Despereaux doesn’t provide that much needed spark.
The mishaps are present from the very beginning as audiences are introduced to Despereaux and his anti-mouse ways (all of which was shown in the film’s over-revealing trailer). Though humorous, and somewhat enjoyable, the film fails to materialize on its opening as it tries too hard to be different. Instead of playing out the story and taking strides as they come, Despereaux and company jump out in the beginning, finding themselves in the head of the pact, but running out of air at an alarming rate.
The characters, other than Despereaux, are uninviting as they all come across as unemotional and one-dimensional. Rarely do they show a hint of excitement and never do they seem at peace with where they are. This with the amazing talent of Dustin Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Kevin Kline, Frances Conroy, Frank Lengella, Christopher Lloyd, Emma Watson and the list goes on and on and on. But sadly, other than the work of Matthew Broderick as the dreamer Despereaux, no one really causes a stir with their given role. Their delivery is often flat as it lacks the necessary emotion, failing to connect with the audience and becoming satisfied with simply going through the motions and delivering a series of anticlimactic lines that hinder the overall film, dragging it through the mud for an uneventful adventure of heroism and self-discovery.
On top of that, the ending, which seemed to be decades ahead, comes swooshing in with no warning or indication, making you wonder what exactly went on in the editing room. Was the film running too long and in desperate need of a cut? Were there some unfinished scenes that couldn’t be completed in time? Or was it simply the story’s path that seemed so incomplete? Sadly, we will never know the answer; but one thing we do know is that in the competitive world of CGI animation, The Tale of Despereaux just doesn’t make the cut.