The Tale of Despereaux (2009)

Rated G. Our ratings: V- 2; L- 0; S/N-1 . Running time: 1 hour 34 min.

In righteousness you shall be established;
you shall be far from oppression, for you shall
not fear;
and from terror, for it shall not come near you.
Isaiah 54:14

Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.
Colossians 3:13

Unlike the other mice, Despereaux would rather read a book than eat its glue and pages.
2009 Universal Pictures

Based on Newberry Award winner Kate DiCamillo’s books, the beautifully animated new style fairy tale The Tale of Despereaux, with its thimble-sized hero should be of interest to adults as well as its obvi ous audience, children.. Although the tiny mouse with Dumbo-like ears lends his name to the tale, three other characters are of almost equal importance—a sea-faring rat; a pug-nosed farm girl turned servant; and the usual beautiful princess.

Roscuro (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) is the first that we meet. Apparently the companion of the seaman on whose shoulder he perches, Roscuro’s keen nose, as soon as they come ashore, immediately picks up an appealing odor. It is the scent of the soup that the royal chef Andre (Kevin Kline) is stirring up for the annual spring festival of the city. All of the city is invited, but when at last the soup is ready, panic ensues when Roscuro, almost drooling from his perch above the head table, loses his balance and falls into the Queen’s bowl. She is so shocked and terrified by the rodent that she dies on the spot, whereupon the grief stricken king banishes both rats and soup from the kingdom.

Far below the dining hall little Despereaux (Matthew Broderick) has been growing up, but under a cloud, not only because of his tiny size and huge ears, but also because he lacks what his society regards as most vital for survival, fear. At school he does not cower when shown a picture of a cat, and instead of eating the glue and pages of a book, he reads it—and becomes infused with the dream of becoming a knight, filled with courage and honor. His final transgression is that he enters the bed chamber of Princess Pea (Emma Watson). who is grieving for her mother, and seeks to comfort her. His parents and others are horrified that he has spoken with a human being. Little wonder then that the elders banish him, sentencing him to be lowered into a deep pit where dwell the banished rats.

In this lowest stratum Roscuro has been dwelling, harboring his deep resentment, no, hatred, for the royal family that has banished him from the surface world. He has found some solace in the ray of sunshine that manages to penetrate the darkness of one room, and it is he who rescues Despereaux from certain death in the arena. However, he also conspires with the day-dreaming Miggery Sow (Tracey Ullman) to kidnap the princess as part of his plan for vengeance. Miggery works on a pig far, where she longs to be a princess, and when she is sold along with some pigs to the royal family, she not only mops the castle’s floor, but also waits at times upon the princess. Quickly becoming jealous, she is willing to conspire against her mistress.

How all this works out takes some close attention on the part of the viewer—I suspect that those who have read the books will have a less difficult time than I did in keeping up with the plot twists. There are plenty of spiritual values in the film, so adults, especially parents and grandparents whose children will probably be watching the film over and over again, are presented with opportunities for discussion with young viewers

The DVD’s Special Features include the usual “Making of” feature, in which we learn that directors Rob Stevenhagen and Sam Fell, wanting to tap into the energy of the ensemble cast, had them record the dialogue together, rather than, as is the usual case, of recording each voice at separate sessions. However, what children will enjoy are the Interactive Map, in which one can explore all the areas of the Castle and Rat World; and two games that require the TV remote. The games are fun as the viewer helps Despereaux make the right choices in climbing up out of his dungeon and sallying forth on his quest; and the second game in which we help Chef Andre assemble the Vegetable Man Boldo is good for some laughs.

Adults who are film fans could make up their own game with guests by playing “Who’s that star?” as they watch part of the film. Besides the voice talents already identified, there are Stanley Tucci, Robbie Coltrane, Frank Langella, Richard Jenkins, Christopher Lloyd, William H. Macy, and Sigourney Weaver. Wow! If you do use the DVD in this way, be sure to show your guests the delightful short section on Ten Uses for Big Ears, which starts with No. 10 and proceeds to No. 1—some of the advantages of big ears will surprise you! There are also some DVD-Rom features requiring a computer, but my computer’s DVD player is not functioning, so I could access these. All in all, this is a DVD that is richly rewarding and should be in the collection of anyone, including church leaders, who deal with children..

For Reflection/Discussion

1. Compare this fairy tale to familiar ones: how is it similar in that it is concerned with the outsider or those at the bottom of society? Who is “in” in the film, and who is “out” ? How do we see in the Scriptures that God sides with those on the bottom or the outside?

2. Although one character is singled out as the hero, how do the other characters relate to Despereaux and each other?

Despereaux Roscuro Princess Pea Mig Sow The Jailer 3. Who are some of the people who have affected your life, for good or ill?

5. What seems to be so important to the mice that Despereaux lacks? How is this good from our standpoint, but bad according to the other mice? Where does our little mouse get his idea of knighthood courage and honor? Are there stories or books that have inspired you in a similar way, and if so, what ones?

6. Mouse society is built on fear in order to survive: why is this not a good basis for a healthy society? How is fear used by some people today to get what they want? How have even Christian leaders sometimes used fear to “save souls” ?

7. What often happens to those who go against the accepted beliefs of their society, as in the case of Despereaux? Can you think of others who have also suffered similar fates? What about Jesus?

7. How many times do we hear “I am sorry” in the film—and who says it? How is this among the most important words that we can say? How is our faith built around these words?