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Blu-ray Review: The Tale of Despereaux

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The Movie

The Kingdom of Dor is an enchanted land where the peasants are happy, people don’t question talking mice, mysterious cooks materialize out of vegetables, and soup is not just food, but a way of life.

The happiness of the people of Dor is short-lived, though, when a well-intentioned rat named Roscuro (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) gets a little too close to the good smelling soup, and in a string of unfortunate events causes the demise of the queen of the kingdom. Because the queen drowned in her own soup, and because the accident was caused by a rat, soup and rats are banished from the kingdom. Dark grey clouds roll over the countryside and cover the kingdom in gloom and anguish.

Roscuro, the rat who ruined everything, is now shunned and takes league with the rats who dwell below the city. He is befriended by the leader of the rats (voiced by Peter O’Toole). This is nowhere near the performance he gives as Anton Ego in Ratatouille, but it’s a valiant effort. He’s never on screen enough for us to really get to know his character, but the same goes for just about every character in this film.

Despereaux, the character the film is named after, is voiced by Matthew Broderick. Despereaux is a curious mouse who was born with unbelievably large ears. His parents are worried because, unlike all the other mice-folk, Despereaux isn't scared of anything. He toys with mousetraps and doesn’t even cower when he sees a drawing of a fearsome cat in school. A mouse that isn’t timid? The mice of Dor have never heard of such a thing.

Because of Despereaux’s rambunctious and curious behavior, he lands smack in the middle of an adventure that may lead to helping a princess, curing the depression of a king, and saving the kingdom from gloom and despair.

The Tale of Despereaux is light-hearted, and stuffed with bright, colorful characters to wow the kiddies, but it’s seriously lacking in the story department. It’s hard to watch an animated feature like this and not compare it to the likes of Pixar.

The film tries so hard, but in the end it introduces so many characters that at some points in the film you have no idea what is going on. For example the cook of the kingdom, the best soup maker in all the land, for some unexplainable reason has a sidekick cook that is constructed entirely of vegetables. Confused? I was, too – especially when no backstory is given on this character who actually helps Despereaux in a key moment of the climax.

While Despereaux is given main billing, the film switches back and forth between stories so much that you forget he’s the lead. There’s just too many needless storylines going on, and your attention is drawn away from the pertinent information.

The Tale of Despereaux seems to give off an air of incompleteness. It feels haphazardly thrown together. The plot and subplots don’t mesh, and all you’re left with is a lukewarm animated feature that can’t stand up to even the most mediocre DreamWorks animated films.

Quality

The Tale of Despereaux is presented in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio.

The video quality is crisp and clear, but the animation never comes close to replicating the quality of Pixar’s best work. The people especially seem stiff. The princess’s face is at most times void of emotion, but on the other hand you can tell a lot of attention was paid to Despereaux. During the close-ups of the brave little mouse, you can see each individual hair that outlines his face and body clearly. It reminded me of the beautiful job Pixar did on Scully’s hair in Monster’s Inc.

The 24-bit DTS-HD Master Audio track here doesn’t disappoint. Each channel is used to its fullest capacity. While the film is mainly dialogue (no huge explosions or thundering bass), you will still be pleased by what it has to offer. Make sure to pay attention to your rear channels when you are first introduced to the rat city. You’ll feel like you’re crawling through the underbelly of a medieval city as errant drops of water plunk into puddles behind you. You’ll hear the patter of rat feet as they scurry around you. Both the front and rear channels are filled with distant echoes as far off rats discuss their dastardly deeds within dank, walled-in city.

Special Features

The Tale of Despereaux comes included with “U-Control.” This feature allows you to play the film with a nifty picture-in-picture. There are two PiP extras to choose from. The first PiP extra shows you each and every pencil drawn storyboard in the lower-righthand corner. Sometimes, when watching these CGI animated pictures, we forget that all of these characters had to be sketched by hand and then rendered as computer animated models. During this PiP extra you’ll be able to see the actual extent the artists went to before any of the computer animating began. The other PiP extra includes extensive footage of table readings and voice actors recording their parts in the studio.

The Tale of Despereaux: A (Mostly) Non-Fictional Making-Of” is a 12-minute “making of” documentary that tells the story behind the film. The most interesting information presented here is how the voice actors actually acted out the film instead of just reading their lines.

“Scene Progressions” is a short, six-minute feature that quickly shows each stage of animation from the script to animated storyboards and so on, up until the characters are rendered in a CG environment.

“Top Ten Uses for Oversized Ears,” is exactly how it sounds. An extremely brief list of 10 uses for big ears.

“Make Your Own Soup Game,” is a game where, you guessed it, the player can make their own soup. It’s a limited game at best, where the player can choose two spices from a selection of five to mix together. The spices aren’t even labeled. This game was just thrown together, and is at best a one-time deal that won’t even keep children entertained.

A promo for Curious George 2 is also included. All of the extras are presented in High-def.

Ending Thoughts

The Tale of Despereaux is a garbled film that has a good heart, but nowhere to go. In short it’s a bit of a mess. The stories are so jumbled it will confuse adults and kids alike. Despereaux is cute enough to carry the film and may just win kids over with his cuteness. In the end, though, the film never seems to find any footing and seems to wander aimlessly until the end.

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