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TOP 100 MOVIES in 2008!
Directed by Sam Fell, Robert Stevenhagen
The tale of three unlikely heroes - a misfit mouse who prefers reading books to eating them, an unhappy rat who schemes to leave the darkness of the dungeon, and a bumbling servant girl with cauliflower ears - whose fates are intertwined with that of the castle's princess.
Somehow, The Tale of Despereaux got lost in the holiday movie shuffle, but it's head and shoulders above not only all the other kids' films I've seen this year, but far above most of the entertainment meant for adults.
It's got a stellar cast and a sparkling script that feels at once fresh and as old as time. It makes no bones about being a fairy tale, and as such it is deeply satisfying to watch and full of deep insights into human nature at both its best and worst.
There are no wasted words or characters in Despereaux. When you meet someone, you quickly gain confidence that their story will matter. And there are some great characters here, from Roscuro the Rat (Hoffman) whose exciting trip to the soup-obsessed kingdom of Dor ends in a life-altering tragedy to the little mouse who can't master the concept of fear who gives his name to the title.
This is simply one of the best kids' movies I've ever watched, and reminds me of the darker, meatier Disney films of that studio's heyday, before the overly bright and overly simple fare of Mermaids and Lions.
The use of Sigourney Weaver's soothing voice as a storyteller is a lovely touch too, especially because it helps us through the parts of the story that stand out as unusual in a fairy tale.
We are told about Despereaux immediately, for example, but are also told that we will not meet him until certain other elements are in place.
It's a rich, rich story with multiple threads woven perfectly. From the Princess who watches the sky for rain (Harry Potter's Emma Watson) to the evil Mayor of Rattown (Frank Langella) to the former pig-girl who longs to wear a crown (Tracy Ullman), the voice casting is terrific, and every single person (or creature) is valuable to the final outcome.
The animation is beautiful as well, every scene framed like it was shot by a masterful director who somehow can capture the performances of drawn characters in light and shadow, and in all the shadings of their personalities to tell the story.
It is a scary film, so I'd recommend thinking seriously about whether or not to take very young or impressionable children to see it. If your kids have problems with frightening stories, it might not be the best choice; the less challenging Hotel For Dogs might be a better pick.
But if your kids are smart and relatively fearless, or if you are looking for something to entertain and make you think, and take you back to a more fantastical vein of storytelling, Despereaux is a superb film.
4 out of 4 stars!