Based off of the children novel of the same name, The Tale of Despereaux received a bit of a mixed reception when it arrived in theaters. Despite packing in the stars with such voice performances as Dustin Hoffman, Matthew Broderick, Kevin Kline and Tracy Ullman to name a few, the film didn’t attract much of an audience. Still, the film could hardly be considered a failure as it made its budget back and then some and while critical reception wasn’t always the greatest, it did end up being a middle-of-the-road affair, with an equal number disliking it as those that did enjoy it.
Get ready for an all-new animated classic that families will enjoy together for years to come! In The Tale of Despereaux, the world’s bravest mouse embarks on a noble quest that leads to discovery, courage, honor and ultimately redemption. Journey along with Despereaux as he encounters an unforgettable group of colorful characters and learns about life’s important messages in this charming and fun-filled story. Based on the heartwarming children’s bestselling book and featuring the incredible voice talents of Matthew Broderick, Emma Watson, Dustin Hoffman, Sigourney Weaver, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Tracy Ullman, and Stanley Tucci, The Tale of Despereaux has something for everyone – excitement, adventure, and a hero for boys, a princess and a love story for girls, fun and entertainment for adults and kids alike! For people of all ages, this is a timeless story about finding one’s place in the world.
From the cover of the box you’re immediately told that this movie is about a small mouse with large ears, yet the problem with this is terribly evident just ten minutes into the film. What is the problem, you ask? Well the film opens with a rat instead and it’s not until we get around the twenty-minute mark do we even see the star of the film. I’m all for building up the story with subplots and gradual introductions, but really? This film was difficult for an adult to pay attention to, let alone a five year old.
That was really the films biggest problem. The animation was fine (nothing special, mind you, and maybe a tad bit too “smooth” in some places [i.e., the texture of the environments was rich and detailed, yet the humans in the film were very waxy]), and the voice acting was decent for the most part, but nothing about the story really was all that compelling. It simply went on far, far too long for its own good. When it came to adapting the children’s book into the movie they could have easily left some things out, as incidental stories like the farm girl or the soup fairy guy (seriously, what the heck was that about?) are really nothing that are required to move the story along and really just further drag it down.
And I just really come back to that opening. The first few minutes of the film are what wraps you up in a film and there was absolutely jack all in that first twenty minutes of the film that ultimately mattered. It could have been condensed into five or ten easily if they cut out some of the needless exposition on the rat and the soup day festival. For a children’s story this film simply had way too many layers and side-stories to wade through to really be compelling in the least. Which is a shame as the story itself is cute when you condense it into a paragraph, but when it’s blown out into an hour and thirty-four minute escapade, things get a wee bit tedious.
As is the case with a lot of children’s stories there are some rather dark elements to the story. The only element that remains in the film, however, is the heart attack of the queen early on in the film; the film softens the rest of the story, with a few other deaths and tail dismemberments left out. For the better, I’d say, as there’s something less shocking about all of that when you read it—visualizing it is a whole other issue. Still, the film had no qualms with removing these elements of the story and re-arranging others, so how they managed to screw with the pacing of the film so greatly I don’t fully understand.
Underneath it’s a cute little story, but it’s so overburdened with characters and excess plot points that there’s too little to keep the audience awake. Bed time stories are ones that are best read over the course of several nights and The Tale of Despereaux sadly keeps this element intact for the movie adaptation. Worth a Rental if you have children and want to get them to fall asleep, but otherwise this film really just doesn’t have very many redeeming qualities.
For some strange reason both the DVD and Blu-ray editions of this film have different extras in terms of games and other kid activities on the discs. But for this review I’ll be tackling the Blu-ray extras, all of which are included in high-definition. The set itself arrives in a standard Elite Blu-ray case with a standard slipcover o-ring on the outside and an advertisement for the Blu-ray format on the inside. There’s also a coupon for free Kodak prints as well.
Video for the film arrives in a VC-1 encoded transfer and it looks, as you’d expect from an all-digital, all-CGI film, fantastic. The level of detail on the environments is spectacular, but facial close-ups for the humans are less than spectacular as there simply isn’t any detail there to begin with. Aside from that the film is a pretty standard fair in the technical department, with a solid DTS-HD MA 5.1 track being included that remains in the front channels for the most part, but during the thunderstorm things really kick up in the surrounds. Also included is a DTS 5.1 track as well as English SDH, Spanish, and French subtitles.
First up on the extras docket are the Picture-in-Picture extras that include a behind-the-scenes look at the film as well as some animatic sequences as well. Next we have a Sneak Peek of Curious George 2 (10:21, 1080i), which I assume is supposed to be awesome, but I take no real joy in watching this piece. Next up are some Deleted Songs (4:36, 1080p), exclusive to the Blu-ray release and in storyboard form, as well as a general Making Of (11:41) that is available on both DVD and Blu-ray. Scene Progressions (35:08, 1080p) is our second Blu-ray exclusive and shows the scenes in the film through various stages and I have to say unless you’re an animation major, you are going to be bored by this piece. Very interesting if that’s your field, but even though I’m a bit of an animation buff, it was tedious to sit through.
Top Ten Uses for Oversized Ears (1:20, 1080p) is another cross-release extra, while we finish up the set with a pair of games for kids. First is Make Your Own Soup Game and then Card Creator, neither of which I was entertained by because I’m not five (in body, anyway. I certainly regress to that age mentally at times…).
Overall it’s a solid release but the best extras are nothing kids will be entertained by and the film is nothing most people will be entertained by. It’s simply a dull and lifeless affair for the most part, which is a shame as the general core of the story is a cute tale. Rent It.
The Tale of Despereaux arrives on DVD and Blu-ray on April 7th.