A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 319 – The Tale of Despereaux

The Tale of Despereaux – January 13th, 2011

It has been years since I read the book this movie is based on. It won a Newbery Medal, which is usually considered a rather big deal in children’s literature. I haven’t agreed with every winner of the Newbery (Crispin: The Cross of Lead was a big snore to me) but in general the winners are excellent books. And I liked the book this movie is based on. I enjoyed it and thought it was a well told new fairytale type story, with a brave mouse and a princess and a kingdom in mourning. But as I’ve mentioned, there are lots of new children’s books all the time and going back to reread something is a luxury. So it’s been years. But I’m pretty sure there was no walking vegetable man in the book.

Seriously. Did Stanley Tucci just really want to be part of this project and so they made him a part? I don’t remember Boldo at all. I think I’d remember a walking vegetable spirit who lives in a cookbook. Maybe I’m wrong, but I don’t think I am. And much as I enjoy Stanley Tucci, and great as it was to see clips in the making of short showing him and Kevin Kline acting out their scenes together, Boldo just doesn’t fit for me. And I really did enjoy the original story, but even with the years in between my reading and now, I can tell it’s been much changed and something seems to have been lost.

The book, if I recall, is divided into four little stories that come together to tell the overall tale, woven together. It has the effect of making it like a mini epic (which I realize is a contradiction in terms, but I can’t think of how else to express it). Specifics are long gone from my memory, but I was left with the impression of something grand, but something grand told through little details and little characters. And I can tell that the movie was attempting to do that. It tried really hard. And I do very much like the mouse village and the rats in the dungeons. There’s just something a little off, and I have to assume it has to do with how all the various bits and pieces of story have been incorporated into a single linear plot. I get why it was done – non-linear plots can be a hard sell in book format, let alone a children’s movie – but the way the story was told was so integral to its mood and tone.

Then too, it’s obviously missing a lot of narrative detail. This is a thing for books made into movies. If the book relies heavily on its narrator to be a storyteller, then there has to be a way to incorporate that into a movie. Either the narrative has to be incorporated into the visuals and dialogue and whatnot, or there has to be a narrator, or some combination. In this movie they kept some narrative voice, done wonderfully by Sigourney Weaver. And I think that was a good direction to go in, but it ended up feeling like the narration was a means to truncate bits I wanted to see. For example, there’s a storyline with a servant, Mig, and her father. And it’s rather key to Mig’s personality and character arc and Mig is rather key to the whole plot of a kidnapped princess held captive by rats. But instead of using the medium of film, which is visual, to show us Mig’s background and relationships, we have it all spelled out to us by the narrator over a few basic scenes of Mig as a girl and as a baby that only reveal fact, not emotions. Still, I would rather have the narration than not, because it does help the story to maintain some of its tone. I just wish a better balance had been made.

For all my nitpicking, however, I do think it is an absolutely lovely movie that managed to keep a lot of what made the book fun. Despereaux is a fantastic unlikely hero – a brave knight in the body of a tiny mouse with huge ears. He really is the heart and soul of the story, as he should be, what with his name in the title. I did love his backstory, drawing cats in his schoolbooks and not cowering at the sight of a carving knife. He was well done, which makes me very happy indeed. Roscuro, whom I recall as being a little different (and whose character arc is also spelled out to us) was great too, played nicely by Dustin Hoffman. Really, I loved the whole cast and I greatly enjoyed the visuals (really, they’re gorgeous) and I wish I’d loved the movie as a whole, but while it’s perfectly nice, it’s missing something. Garlic, perhaps. Except I think the vegetable soup knight had some, so maybe it had too much.

January 13, 2011 - Posted by | daily reviews | , , , ,

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