No doubt you despise anybody who would leave a child behind, raise a kid without the help of a collaborating village, or simply fail to encourage any random youngster, the hope and future of our currently teetering republic. So why should we spare scorn on those who would shortchange our children from rich imaginative lives? I mean particularly to berate those responsible for The Tale of Despereaux, villains who charge our tykes money to see work that’s both derivative and bad. More to the point: J’accuse Desperaux producer, Gary Ross.
One might imagine that the animation department of any studio would be where the most creative folks were kept. Sadly, it’s no longer so nowadays (bar a few exceptions). Today, the drawing board is where any bold original strokes are destined to be reduced to formulas. If someone makes a penguin film, all the others follow. For every Shrek, there’s a Happily N’Ever After; each A Bug’s Life gets an Antz. Now, after Pixar’s ingenious Ratatouille, apparently rodents are all the rage, and mistrusting its Newbery Medal-winning novel source, Ross unimaginatively juxtaposes rats and soup with a Frenchified chef so familiar you’ll experience dej vu. (Particularly, when the rat dictator appears, try not to think of Ratatouille‘s Anton Ego.) This is blatant cartoon kleptomania.
Compound that with Hollywood gimmickry, like strewing about big-name actors’ voices to compensate for the surprisingly discomfiting plot. You might imagine Sigourney Weaver, Stanley Tucci, and William H. Macy would lend this film a little glow, but mostly Despereaux feels off. The queen’s death, the princess’s delivery to verminous hordes, and the maid’s drooling avarice come off more perverse than villainous. Worse, in Ratville’s dungeon ghetto, we meet a Semitic set who “never see the sun.” It’s misanthropic orientalism tailor-made for the kiddies.
But the creepiest offense is Despereaux‘s tedious plot. Your charges will be mesmerized into numb stasis, but only by the talky, moralistic story that creeps up on its own obviousness. This is a film meant for school librarians to screen on rainy days. As a holiday treat, it’s three whiskers short of a lump of coal.