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The Tale of Despereaux is a 2008 computer-animated film directed by Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen. Loosely based on the 2003 fantasy book of the same name by Kate DiCamillo, the movie is narrated by Sigourney Weaver and stars Matthew Broderick and Emma Watson. Released on December 19, 2008 by Universal Studios, the film was rated G by the MPAA and was sent by Universal Pictures as a contender for the possibility of being nominated for the Oscar for Best Animated Feature, though it did not get the nomination.

Plot

The film opens with a ship sailing into the kingdom of Dor, known for its 'Royal Soup Day.' Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman), a rat, is aboard with a human companion, Pietro.

Roscuro is mesmerized by the aroma of soup being prepared in the castle's kitchens and he escapes Pietro to find the source. In doing so, he finds the castle banquet room and falls into the Queen's soup after she takes the first bite. The Queen then has a heart attack, falls headfirst in her soup bowl and eventually drowns with no one noticing. Meanwhile, Roscuro is being chased about the castle. The chase finally ends when Roscuro falls into a vent and plunges into the dungeons.

The king in his grief orders soup to be forbidden and rats banished, and the town falls into eternal darkness and famine. Roscuro meanwhile, meets Botticelli (Ciaran Hinds), the brutal leader of the rat world.

A few years later, an adventurous mouse, Despereaux Tilling (Matthew Broderick) is born, and becomes friends with the lonely Princess Pea (Emma Watson). Upon finding out that Despereaux has broken the law by speaking with a human, the Mouse Council banishes him to the dungeons, from where he is saved by Roscuro. Despereaux tells Roscuro of the princess's gloom, which touches the rat.

Roscuro approaches the princess to apologize, but she is terrified of him and he is chased out. Hurt, he decides to kidnap the princess. He enlists the help of a servant girl, Miggery Sow (Tracey Ullman), whom he later double crosses, and locks in a cell.

Meanwhile, Despereaux realizes that the princess is in danger. Back in the rat colony, Roscuro sees the apologetic sincerity in Pea's eyes and regrets his actions, but is unable to stop the rats, to whom he has given her, from clambering over her. Here Despereaux comes to the rescue, letting loose a cat. Roscuro causes Botticelli to run into the cat's cage for a fatal end. The battle over, he finally apologizes, and is forgiven.

In the end, Mig is rescued by the jailer, who is revealed to be her father, and Roscuro is reunited with Pietro. The princess and the king decide to soothe their grief by relying on each other for support. Despereaux, reunited with his family, remains close friends with the princess.

Cast

Princess Pea (Emma Watson) and Despereaux (Matthew Broderick)
  • Matthew Broderick as Despereaux Tilling, the protagonist of the film. He is a brave but nonconforming mouse who does not run from danger as a mouse should. Despereaux is born 20-30 minutes into the film. When Princess Pea is placed in the dungeon and kidnapped by the rats, Despereaux must rely on his courage and wits to save her.
  • Dustin Hoffman as Roscuro, a rat who once lived at sea, and is currently working for Botticelli. Later in the film, he runs into the princess; much to his terror, she tries to have him killed. He then plots to kidnap the Princess, and manipulates Mig into helping him. He eventually realizes the error of his ways and helps Despereaux defeat the villainous rats.
  • Emma Watson as Princess Pea, a human princess who befriends Despereaux.
  • Tracey Ullman as Miggery "Mig" Sow, Princess Pea's servant girl. She feels discontented with her role as a slave, and wants to become a princess herself, something that Roscuro uses to his advantage.
  • Kevin Kline as Andre
  • William H. Macy as Lester
  • Stanley Tucci as Boldo
  • Ciaran Hinds as Botticelli, the leader of the rat world, and the story's principal antagonist. During his first run-in with Despereaux, he tries to have him killed by way of his unnamed pet cat. Later on, when the princess is kidnapped, he orders the rats to eat her. He is defeated when he gets eaten by his own pet cat.
  • Robbie Coltrane as Gregory
  • Tony Hale as Furlough
  • Frances Conroy as Antoinette
  • Frank Langella as Mayor
  • Richard Jenkins as Principal
  • Christopher Lloyd as Hovis
  • Sigourney Weaver as The Narrator
  • Patricia Cullen as Queen
  • Sam Fell as Ned/Smudge
  • Bronson Pinchot as Town Crier
  • Charles Shaughnessy as Pietro


Production

This was Universal's first animated film to be filmed in a 2.35:1 widescreen format. Its production was marred by disagreements and malpractice, or accusations thereof, between the French, British and North American staff involved. Sylvain Chomet was employed by Gary Ross and Allison Thomas as director early on, before the film was approved for funding by Universal Pictures, with pre-production (including character design, the first drafts of the screenplay written by Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi and the addition of the original character of Boldo the soup spirit) taking place at his studio Django Films in Edinburghmarker. He came up against creative and ethical differences with the producers, was found to be using budget intended for Despereaux to fund his own traditional animation film The Illusionist, which was being developed simultaneously on another floor of the same studio, and was eventually fired from the project and thrown out of the studio space allocated to Despereaux. Mike Johnson was also hired as director before the role eventually went to Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen, who, reportedly, had not read the original novel and directed the film, made at Framestoremarker in Londonmarker, via speakerphone and e-mail.

Music

The score to The Tale of Despereaux was composed by William Ross, who recorded his score with the Hollywood Studio Symphony at the Sony Scoring Stage.

Home video release

DVD & Blu-ray on April 7, 2009. The Blu-ray release also includes a standard-definition DVD of the film in addition to the Blu-ray disc.

Reception

The film received mixed reviews from critics. Rotten Tomatoes reported that 55% of critics gave positive reviews based on 87 reviews. Another review aggregator, Metacritic, gave the film a 53/100 approval rating based on 23 reviews.

Many critics praised the film for its excellent animation and the title character for being charming, but has an unoriginal and scrambled story. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times awarded three stars and wrote in his review that "The Tale of Despereaux is one of the most beautifully drawn animated films I've seen...", but he also wrote "I am not quite so thrilled by the story..."

The film opened #3 behind Seven Pounds and Yes Man with $10,507,000 in 3,104 theaters with an $3,385 average; by Tuesday, the film was in 2nd. As of January 27, 2009, the film has made US$70,897,254 worldwide.

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