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Movie Review

The Tale of Despereaux

Reviewed by: Dymphna Meeds
CONTRIBUTOR

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Kids, Family
Genre:
Animation, Comedy, Family, Adventure, Fantasy
Length:
1 hr. 34 min.
Year of Release:
2008
USA Release:
December 19, 2008 (wide—3,000 theaters)
DVD: April 7, 2009
Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures Copyright, Universal Pictures
Relevant Issues
Copyright, Universal Pictures
Fear

Fear, Anxiety and Worry… What does the Bible say? Answer

How can I help my child to trust in God's care when she is afraid at night? Answer

Animals

Mouse in the Bible

Dragons in the Bible

Animals in the Bible

Royalty

Kings in the Bible

Queens

God’s forgiveness

How can I be and feel forgiven? Answer

If God forgives me every time I ask, why do I still feel so guilty? Answer

Forgiveness of sin

Poverty

POVERTY—What does the Bible say about the poor? Answer

Poor in the Bible

Self-image

I’m ugly. Why was God so unfair to me this way? Answer

Depression

Are there biblical examples of depression and how to deal with it? Answer

What should a Christian do if overwhelmed with depression? Answer

Kids
Kid Explorers
Adventures in the rainforest! Learn about the Creator of the universe by exploring His marvelous creation. Fun for the whole family with games, activities, stories, answers to children’s questions, color pages, and more! One of the Web’s first and most popular Christian Web sites for children. Nonprofit, evangelical, nondenominational.
Featuring: Emma Watson, Dustin Hoffman, Matthew Broderick, Frank Langella, Sigourney Weaver, Christopher Lloyd, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Stanley Tucci, Richard Jenkins, Ciarán Hinds, Tony Hale, Frances Conroy, Tracey Ullman, Bronson Pinchot, James Nesbitt, Sam Fell, Daniel Riordan, McNally Sagal, Patricia Cullen, Jane Karen
Director: Sam Fell, Robert Stevenhagen
Producer: Framestore Feature Animation, Larger Than Life Productions, Relativity Media, Universal Animation Studios, Universal Pictures, Laia Alomar, Robin Bissell, Celia Boydell, Ryan Kavanaugh, David Lipman, Gary Ross, William Sargent, Tracy Shaw, Allison Thomas
Distributor: Universal Pictures

“Small hero. Big heart.”

“When someone has grief, they need to take it out some way. They need to find someone else to blame it on.”

In the kingdom of Dor, this cycle of hurt and blame is exactly what happens. When a kind and friendly rat named Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman from “The Messenger,” “Mr. Magorium’s Wonder Emporium,” “Meet the Fockers,” “Rain Man,” “Wag the Dog”) accidentally falls into the Queen's soup; she dies of fright on the spot. Thus, the king banishes all soup and rats. Upon this proclamation, the light left the land and no rain fell. Yet, through all the darkness, one person continued to hope. Princess Pea (Emma Watson from the “Harry Potter…” series) longs for light, rain, soup, and even rats again. Little does she know that the very person… er, mouse to do it is just being born. After all, as fairy tales tell one, “A hero doesn't appear until the world really needs one.”

From an enjoyment point of view, I was a little leery about how far this movie would stray from the book. However, they did a pretty good job keeping them similar. The animation was beautiful, and many aspects were wonderful. Although I wasn't enthralled in this movie, the little four year old with me loved it and didn't want it to end. So I do believe that children will enjoy it, if they aren't scared.

Positives

Desperaux (Matthew Broderick from “The Producers,” “Deck the Halls,” “Good Boy!,” “Inspector Gadget,” “Ladyhawke,” “The Stepford Wives”) is said in the beginning to “love honor and justice and always told the truth.” And throughout the movie he lives up to those high standards. He longs to be a knight and fight for justice, truth, and bravery. And he truly upholds all these virtues throughout the movie and risks his life for his “quest.”

Roscuro breaks out of the rat stereotype by loving the light and talking to people in a friendly way. When the head of Ratworld, Botticelli (Ciarán Hinds from “Munich,” “Oscar and Lucinda,” “The Phantom of the Opera,” “Amazing Grace,” “The Nativity Story”) tries to turn him into a “real rat” by taking him to arena games and feeding him living creatures, Roscuro turns away. When Desperaux is about to be eaten by a cat, Roscuro saves his life. Slowly, we watch their friendship grow, and he also decides to be a knight trying to save Princess Pea. *SPOILER* Although he let's his revenge take a hold of him for awhile, in the end, Roscuro is willing to do the right thing. *SPOILER END*

Princess Pea refuses to lose hope throughout the whole movie. She is also shown as a sweet and wise girl. Although she makes a few mistakes, she repents later.

Miggory Sow (Tracey Ullman), a young servant girl, longs to be a princess. In the end, she learns that every little girl is a princess in the eyes of her daddy. We also see how hard it is on both the parent and the child when families are split apart.

Grief is shown as something that is normal, but must be dealt with in the right way. The King is so engrossed in his own grief that he doesn't care for anyone at all, not even his daughter. We see how that has an effect on everyone.

In a similar light, this movie shows how one person's choice effects everyone around them. The king hurts Princess Pea by ignoring her, and then she accidentally hurts Miggery by insulting her, as well as Roscuro. Thus, one sees how important it is to follow Christ's example with our actions.

However, we learn that grief is not the strongest emotion one can feel; it is forgiveness. Roscuro tries to right the wrong he committed accidentally to Princess Pea by asking forgiveness. However, she screams when she sees him and doesn't accept his apology. Thus, his heart turns hard, and he plots against her, along with Miggery. *SPOILER* But in the end, Roscuro realizes what is right and saves Princess Pea. All the characters ask forgiveness for what wrong doing they did, and everyone is reconciled with each other. *SPOILER END*

Although he is small, Desperaux is confident in himself. In fact, he believes himself to be a giant. Along with Roscuro being a noble rat, this movie shows that appearance and name isn't everything. What matters is what we choose in our actions; if we follow Christ or our own longing.

Bravery is upheld as a noble and good thing. Desperaux also learns to read books instead of eating them, thus teaching the importance of reading.

Negatives

The biggest problem with this movie, as in so many other cartoons, was violence. Two characters push each other around, the Queen dies dramatically, several times knights chase Roscuro and throw weapons such as an axe or malice at him, a knight is hit in the head with a weapon, and another one is hit on the foot. Several characters fall a long ways into the dungeon; a coin almost runs mice over, Desperaux runs through mousetraps multiple times, crabs fight, a dragon attacks a knight, knights fight one another, a platform falls on some people, a human throws Desperaux, rats attack other characters, Miggory rips up Princess Pea's picture and steals a butcher knife from the kitchen to use on her (or to threaten her). Princess Pea is tied up and forced down to the dungeon. A man is stabbed in the foot by a needle, and Desperaux sword fights different rats.

By far the scariest parts of the film are when the rats have their “games.” Once Desperaux is thrown in the arena, and they watch him battle a cat. Another time, Princess Pea is dragged in and all the rats chant “Eat, eat!” and try to eat her. *SPOILER* Botticelli dangles Desperaux over the cat and contemplates on letting the cat have him or eating him. However, in a turn of events, Botticelli is pushed into a helmet with the cat, resulting in his off screen death.

Scary and dark images are, also, all around the castle. Many times skulls and bones are shown. The rats’ food is particularly nasty. Once we see a pile of dead things and rubbish, and other times wiggling worms are shown. A blind rat looks rather creepy.

Miggory's uncle is verbally abusive to her, although this is shown very briefly. He, also, sells her for money. Desperaux's father Lester (William H. Macy) never tries to save his son's life. Although this is shown in a bad light, it is still tough, especially for parents at the movie with their children.

Although Desperaux is trying to do the right thing, he does break many rules and does some foolhardy things as well. We should not obey rules that are against our faith, but we shouldn't be disobedient always, either. There is also a fine line between being brave and being unsafe in our decisions.

Something that looks like wine is poured into a soup. A drunk rat falls down on the street. Knights drink wine.

Andre the chef (Kevin Kline) has a type of vegetable spirit who helps him cook called Boldo (Stanley Tucci). A rat is shown charming a worm up like a snake. When Desperaux returns to the mice to ask for help, they think he is a ghost. The soup in the kingdom acts a bit like magic, making the light return when nothing else did.

Several characters call others names. Christmas is said to be nothing compared to Soup Day.

Although this is not one of best animated movies I have seen, ‘Desperaux’ displayed voice and artistic talent. Be aware that this movie should have been PG for violence, but otherwise is a pretty family-friendly movie.

See list of Relevant Issues—questions-and-answers.


Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Comments below:
Positive
Positive—I was able to catch a preview screening of “The Tale of Despereaux” last week and wanted to highly recommend it! As a single, Christian father, it's often been very challenging for me to find movies which are both positive and entertaining. I'm not always a big fan of animated movies (though Pixar usually keeps me engaged), but my son loves them—so I've seen dozens.

To me, this had that classic feel of the hand drawn animated movies I watched as a kid, combined with a nice story about forgiveness, sadness, redemption, love, faith, hope, and the importance to truth. It also wasn't loaded with fart jokes or people falling down stairs!

I haven't read the book, so I can't attest to its accuracy, but I would highly recommend this to families looking for a wholesome (I think it's rated “G”) movie this Christmas that reflects values Hollywood typically shuns.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Scott, age 31
Positive—A most charming movie set in classic prose and style of old fairy tales. The animation is on par, if even better than, all the other Pixar movies. Many details are added to create a sense of reality in this tale. What few elements appear too dramatic or harsh, are, in fact, the beauty of this movie. Here is finally a movie which will not completely disguise or gloss over the suffering of life. As such, you will see despair in people's faces, you will see pain, death as a fact of life which must be dealt with, difficult decisions (such as giving up a child for adoption) when no other choice seems available.

This is a movie much less about the special effects or characters, and much more centered on defining and pursuing those worthy and enduring virtues: courage, integrity and forgiveness. Very few movies of any kind place these virtues on a correct pedestal, and fewer still find forgiveness to be that culminating act upon which all else bow. Yet, this little tale achieves all this and more, allowing us to see the world and its suffering, while still offering us an ending in which light, happiness and reconciliation can occur—where forgiveness is applied. My 4 year old was not scarred and liked it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Joel Weber, age 36 (USA)
Positive—This movie is about hope, courage, bravery, laying down one's life for another, and forgiveness. I took our 15, 3, 6 and 8 yr. olds to see this today, and everyone of us loved it. There is no such thing as the perfect movie, but this movie was truly close. We are VERY picky about what our kids are exposed to. I did think that the “area” scenes were “too much”—although it did not seem to bother the children. It was a great movie, and we really enjoyed it. It gave a good message.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Claire Guthrie, age 38 (USA)
Positive—My friend and I watched this movie because we thought it looked cute—not because we thought it looked Biblical—but we were in for a surprise when we got both! The contrast between darkness and light is AMAZING in this film. Clearly, darkness represents evil and light represents good. Roscuro is a rat who seeks out the light (the rest are happy to muddle in their darkness) and finds out that forgiveness is the strongest emotion anyone can feel. Despereaux is banished to the sewer and yet returns—essentially overcoming the grave as no other mice have ever returned from there. The entire movie is focused on seeking truth and justice and being brave enough to stand up for what you know to be true. We were blown away by the line “When you have hope, you are nobody's prisoner.” In the end, Despereaux brings light to the darkness of Ratworld and the darkness is overcome—thus setting the world back as it should be. If that's not allegory, I don't know what is :)
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Jess, age 24 (USA)
Positive—My friend and I watched this movie because we thought it looked cute—not because we thought it looked Biblical—but we were in for a surprise when we got both! The contrast between darkness and light is AMAZING in this film. Clearly, darkness represents evil and light represents good. Roscuro is a rat who seeks out the light (the rest are happy to muddle in their darkness) and finds out that forgiveness is the strongest emotion anyone can feel. Despereaux is banished to the sewer and yet returns—essentially overcoming the grave as no other mice have ever returned from there. The entire movie is focused on seeking truth and justice and being brave enough to stand up for what you know to be true. We were blown away by the line "When you have hope, you are nobody's prisoner." In the end, Despereaux brings light to the darkness of Ratworld and the darkness is overcome—thus setting the world back as it should be. If that's not allegory, I don't know what is :)
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Jess, age 24 (USA)
Neutral
Neutral—We viewed this movie with our two children 7 and 3 years old. This movie is morally better than 99.99 percent of movies that target children. But it is not perfect. The part where Despereaux is thrown into the “gladiator” ring with a large, violent cat, surrounded by chanting rats, disturbed our three year old. I would recommend this film for children 7+ years old to see once, but I do believe the themes are too dark and depressing to watch on a regular basis. One part in particular that could be imprinted on impressionable minds and hearts is where Despereaux's parents turn him over to the “council” to be basically murdered. As he is being led to his “death” the mother is repeating, “My baby, my baby!” and the father basically encourages her to let it go, due to his concern over, “fitting in” with the other mice. I wouldn't want my children to be persuaded to think I would take that passive of a role, if their life was in danger. So, beware of the subtle messages. Overall, the thought and detail in the visual aspects of the movie are phenomenal.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Heather, age 31 (USA)
Neutral—“The Tale of Despereaux” is a very cute movie. Despereaux Tilling is an adorable little mouse who decides being brave is better than being scared, a good lesson for children and adults. This movie also teaches the power of forgiveness and that light is better than darkness. Three things I disliked about the movie:

1. I thought it was a little too scary for young children. There is a dark dungeon with bones and skulls, a very evil rat, and a dragon with three heads. If your child is easily frightened or is scared of the dark, I would skip this one.

2. I didn't like the vegetable character. He is created by a wind blowing through the pages of what looks like a magic book or a book of spells. This might not bother most people, but I found it unnecessary and disturbing, since spells are witchcraft, and God hates witchcraft.

3. I was disappointed that the movie didn't follow the book more closely. The book is wonderful (as are all of Kate DiCamillo's novels) and won the John Newbery Medal. Several things that are changed in the movie are the characters of Roscuro the rat and Despereaux's parents, the vegetable creation is not in the book (and doesn't seem to have much of a purpose in the movie), and the rat amphitheater and cat is not in the book. There are many other differences.

All in all, it is fun, and I think most children will enjoy it. There were many children in the theater I saw it in.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Sarah C., age 18 (USA)
Neutral—had a lot of rule breaking and violence, but the ending was rather touching. I found myself genuinely wanting to see how it would end about halfway through.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Cameron, age 30 (USA)
Negative
Negative—We took our daughters to see the movie on its opening day and were rather disturbed by some of the themes that were included. The previews make the movie look light hearted and positive but the overall tone is dark and pretty creepy. Apparently the town has an annual celebration called “Soup Day.” The narrator opens the movie by saying that in this town, “Christmas was nothing… well, it was still celebrated, but not like Soup day.” Shortly after the movie begins, the queen dies in her soup, and the town enters a deep depression. Her death is blamed on rats and soup.

Little Despereaux is introduced, but because he is not a cowardly mouse, he is banished and lowered into a rat dungeon by a very frightening looking character to be eaten alive by rats, but not before he is thrown into a gladiator-style arena full of rats and expected to battle a crazy cat for entertainment. The rats are shown feasting on dead animals and seem to have little regard for anything but themselves and their appetite for flesh.

At the end, the princess and a servant with a psychopathic obsession with the princess (at one point, she is pretending to be the princess, slashes the princess's picture to shreds, and then plans to kill her with a butcher knife) are imprisoned in the rats’ domain. The princess is then tied up by rats and rolled out into the arena to be feasted on by the hoard of vermin.

The friends we went with have older children, and they really enjoyed it and said the story ended fine and well with a good lesson in regards to forgiveness and such. But we and our young daughters exited the movie 3/4 of the way through because my youngest became very frightened. Maybe a good movie for older kids, but definitely not the light-hearted rated-G movie that the previews advertise it to be. I was certainly not comfortable with the themes of revenge, murder, violence, and death that were used in an effort to communicate the importance of forgiveness. I would definitely rate this movie as PG.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Lindsay Barnes, age 33 (USA)
Negative—The name of our Lord is taken in vain two times. This is number three of the ten commandments. Do Not Go See it.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Christy, age 29 (USA)
Negative—This movie should have been rated PG-13. My wife and I took our two boys ages 3 and 7, and we ended up leaving before the movie was over. My 7 year old has had nightmares for the past two nights. This movie begins out pretty innocent, but quickly got real bad. I definitely would not recommend this movie. …
My Ratings: Moral rating: Extremely Offensive / Moviemaking quality: ½
—Gary, age 38 (USA)
Negative—We took our 4 year old, and she became terrified of the movie after about 45 minutes of watching it. It is very dark movie—lots of shadows and many characters appear very menacing. We left the theater. My husband enjoyed it and was disappointed about not seeing the end because he felt it was good story-telling, and the movie was made well. I do believe it should be rated stronger than G.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—Michelle, age 33 (USA)
Negative—After reading and loving the book, my family and I went to see this, and we were all disappointed. It did not follow the book, and they completely lost the essence of the characters on film. We were all very bored throughout the movie. I would not recommend this to anyone that has read the book.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Melissa, age 38 (USA)
Negative—This movie was probably for older kids, because it was not good for my 3 yr. old. There were many violent actions. I thought, for animation, it looks so cute on the preview. It did not turn out the way we expected. The end came very quickly to bring everything back to normal.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3½
—David April, age 34 (Canada)
Negative—This is a bad movie not because of any moral problem but because it is just a bad movie. The story is slow. There is very little funny, and the characters that do the voices just don't blend well with the actual characters. I just would not waste my time watching this again, ever!!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Excellent! / Moviemaking quality: 3½
Larry Barber, age 46 (USA)
Comments from young people
Positive—This was a fantastic movie. Some of my family members and I read this book and then watched the movie when it came out. The movie was a little boring and slow paced, but excellently done and in no way offensive to Jesus Christ. There are a couple of parts that small children might find frightening, like when Despereaux lands in the dungeon and looks straight into a skeleton. Also, the rats might be frightening, because of their bloodthirsty attitude. That's about it. I think all the cast of the voices did a really good job, and I would recommend this movie to anyone!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Kat, age 14 (USA)
Negative—I went to this movie with my younger brother. He loved it, but I thought it was very poorly done and dark! Nothing about it appealed to me, at all. I wouldn't advise wasting your money on this!
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 1
—Anna Rose, age 17 (USA)
Neutral—Personally, to me, this movie was boring. But that could just be because of my age. I believe this movie would be better for kids 8 years old and younger. Though this movie should have been rated PG because of its constant action and some scary looking/acting rat villains. Overall, I thought the entire film was just okay.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Emily, age 11 (USA)