The Tale of Despereaux, or How to Be Blueballed by a Movie for Kids

A disclaimer: First let me say that I understand that this movie was based on a book.  I have not read said book and therefore do not know what may or may not have been done better there.  But I was rather excited to see this movie.  And I was not so very excited upon walking out of it.  I initially blamed my issues with the movie on the author of the book because they seemed like story issues to me.  However, since who knows what was hacked together in an editing room or changed at the whim of 4 different producers, and I believe the book has a rather loyal following and I have still not read it, I will just say my piece and that I am talking about the movie.

1. Speaking for everybody, I’ll say it… what the fuck was up with the soup?

Okay, so you got some cute hats out of it, but what the hell?  The obsession with soup really had very little bearing on, well, anything else in the movie and was a very strange choice to explain how things got messed up in the town (also called Soup?) in the first place.  I suppose they had to choose something to make everyone all depressed and make it not rain (and could you tell me why soup=rain?  Didn’t think so), but just because you have to choose something doesn’t mean you should just choose anything.  I kinda want to care about it, not just be wondering why I’m watching it.  And this issue of “why???” is very representative of the other issues of random choices throughout the movie. 

2. Where the hell was Despereaux???

In a movie titled The Tale of Despereaux (y’know, as in a tale all about him), why wasn’t he even born for so long and why was this other rat guy presented as our hero right at the beginning?  And, for that matter, why did we keep getting introduced to new and important characters when it felt like the movie was already 3/4 over.  Upon trying to find the name of one of the characters, I have discovered that the book seems to have been written in 4 parts, the first 3 each following a different character.  Well, it didn’t work in the movie.  The cute character that I wanted to see was almost a secondary part in his own movie!

3. Don’t blueball your audience!  Follow through on things that you spend time setting up!!!

This is really my big beef with this movie.  There were so many missed opportunities and it really felt like most characters and mini-plotlines were only halfway developed.  Everything was half-cocked.

3. A. Missed jokes (and in an animated kids movie, do you really want to let any of them get away?)

You guys need to work on your physical comedy.  For example, when all of the guards were running around chasing the rat at the beginning (Roscuro voiced by Dustin Hoffman), they would throw an axe or spear or spiked chain and unintentionally hit a fellow guard running from the opposite direction.  Then there would maybe be a quick take of the injured guard doing the animated and helmeted equivalent of mugging a big “Yowee” to the camera.  If you’re going to go the slapstick route, then go the slapstick route!  In the same scene, a guard smacks his mace (And take a moment to appreciate that it’s a mace!  This is brutal!) down on the foot of another guard while trying to hit the rat…and…and…nothing.  There is absolutely no follow up.  And yes, it bothered me.  Why take the time to show that, if you’re not going to show the injured guard hopping on one foot or trying to hit the mace-weilding guard back?  I get that it proves the rat escaped, but it’s a little macabre if they’re all just going around really hurting each other and you don’t finish the joke.  That’s why the coyote is funny.  He doesn’t actually die.

3. B. Who exactly was your bad guy?

So there was this pretty interesting turn of events (or you might just say the plot meandered around in a way you wouldn’t have thought possible) involving the rat from the beginning, Roscuro (not the title character, remember).  Roscuro is the one who saves Despereaux from being eaten by a cat and they’re friends, maybe he’s going to become a mentor or something to the little mouse, and Despereaux convinces him to go to the Princess to apologize for wrongdoings in the past (Roscuro is sorta kinda the reason that her mother died and there is no more soup and it doesn’t rain anymore).

Okay, the fact that it is taking me this long to try to explain one small part of the movie should throw up some big red flags, people.  Plot plot plotty plot plot.  Anyhoo…

She freaks out and refuses to listen to him.  He is hurt by this and the narrator says something about his heart shrinking that sounded exactly like the Grinch to me.  He is spurned and turns from a good guy into a bad guy.

Okay, you want me to go with all of this, I will go with all of this and I even thought it would be kind of cool – Despereaux’s friend turns into his enemy and the two of them must duel at the end or something.  Totally with you there for some good epic storytelling.  The person that can hurt you most is the one you trusted etc…

Well, no.  That’s not what happens.  He only sorta kinda turns into a bad guy, but not really, and I sorta get why it happened, it just never felt fully realized any which way and everything just got really complicated.

And speaking of bad guys…

4. Ripping off a certain very successful computer animation studio

Badly done, peeps, badly done.  The super-bad-evil rat walked and talked (and looked, for that matter) exactly like the super-bad-evil (supposedly) food critic from Ratatouille.  In my opinion.  I know that one was a rat and one was a human, but we’re talking exact likeness to a human from a movie that was also all about rats, so come on.  I know that studios battle over the same subject matters usually around the same times, but this was poor form.  For most of the movie I thought that this bad guy (Boticelli, maybe?  It was really hard to catch names with so many damn people/animals being introduced) was also voiced by Peter O’Toole and that they had literally gone for the exact same portrayal.  Then I also would have felt a little sorry for Peter O’Toole for always being typecast as a tall, lanky, long-faced, hunch-shouldered bad guy.  But no.  This just seems to be a very interesting coincidence (all bad guys look like that, right?).

5. Don’t be lazy – Please don’t jump cut without telling us how you got there.

Audiences are not stupid.  I agree.  I think that you have to show a lot in movies for things to make sense.  Continuity.  But do we need to show everything?  If someone is running toward a doorway, do we need to see them open it to know what they’re going to do?  Whereas, if they’re walking down the street and then suddenly in a car, we probably want to see how they got there.  But it’s sort of artistic license to a degree.

Not when you need to explain how someone got out of a sticky situation!  It’s part of the plot.  Roscuro (notice how I keep talking about him, and yet he’s not the main character, right?) is running from the guards (uh oh, that part again.  Bad sign.) and he gets trapped in a corner.  It’s on a window ledge.  I can’t remember if he sees a broom handle against the wall or something.  He might, but I know it was on the wrong side of the glass.  Then, all of a sudden, he’s running along the ground, safe in another room, the guards long behind him.

How the hell did he do that?  This is plot we’re talking about, not just a little detail to be dropped.  Y’know, plot – You like plot!  You like it a lot!  This is not artistic license.  You wanted us to be caught up in the chase – well, we were, and now we don’t understand what the hell just happened.  Seriously, did you run out of time or something?  Money?

This can also be filed under the category of not following through, it just represented a different sort of avenue.  

6. Not using enough of the blind mouse living in what I shall describe as a bell jar

As we were watching the credits, I heard the woman next to me describing to her family some differences between the movie and the book (of which she seemed to be a big fan).  One I heard was that, apparently, the blind, thread-chooser character guy (who was reminiscent of the Three Fates to me, what with the each person getting their own string and string cutting and such) had a much bigger and longer part.  He was awesome!  You should have used him more.

7. There’s a dragon in the poster!!!!!

What is wrong with you people?!  Don’t put a dragon in the poster like there’s going to be an awesome fight with a dragon, when he doesn’t show up in the movie as more than a dragon in a story read by a mouse.  If he became a huge part of Despereaux’s imagined life, sure, he can be imaginary, but he was vanquished pretty damn fast by another imaginary character in a 5 minute segment.

Blueballed again!

8. One of these things is not like the other: Pick your rules!

Okay, it’s a magical world.  Mice and rats can talk.  There are kings and princesses.  (BUT NO DRAGONS, I might point out… were I so inclined… nope, not bitter about that at all)  Soup = Rain throughout the land.  And, of course, there’s the strange French ghost/spirit/advisor/thing made of floating vegetables who’s actually responsible for always making the soup perfect.  What’s that?  The floating veggie man doesn’t quite seem to fit, you say?  Again, I say, what the fuck? (and again, the soup provides weirdness)

If it’s anything goes, then have it really be anything goes.  The only thing to hint at strong magic is this strange vegetable man who comes from swirling dust motes out of a cookbook.  He’s a fun character, I will give you that, but he comes out of nowhere and doesn’t seem to fit with everything else.  What are the rules of your world?  Pick ’em, and stick to ’em.

9. Trivializing being eaten alive by rats

At the end, the Princess (nee’ Emma Watson) is captured by the rats, who are sort of all evil except for Roscuro – who was maybe evil for a little while, but his heart wasn’t really in it (see 3. B. above).  She is taken, all tied up, into the rat colosseum (which is pretty freaky) and Despereaux barely stops her from being eaten alive by all of the rats there.

This is a great and very high stakes way for him to save a princess and follow his noble heart just like in the books he so loves and… wait, let’s go back for just a moment and let me say that one more time:  SHE IS ABOUT TO BE EATEN ALIVE BY RATS.  This is the stuff of 1984!  How is this appropriate for children?  Okay, yes, I read and saw some pretty messed up things when I was younger and I don’t think kids should be shielded from the darker side of stories, but this moment is just kind of glossed over.  Again, it doesn’t seem to fit with the rest of the movie.  I suppose if they made a big deal out of it, then it really might be too scary for kids, but it just felt weird that this horrific thing was about to happen, and no one seemed hardly to take notice.

10. What I liked about the movie 🙂

I really truly wanted so badly to like this movie.  I just (obviously) came out having some issues with it.  But here’s what I did like:

DESPEREAUX! 

He’s absolutely adorable and he has such great heart.  The fact that he is totally okay with being different and follows his dreams with bravery really made him such a great character.  That’s why I wanted to see more of him!  That and the Dumbo ears.  It’s all about the Dumbo ears.

 

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