Tuesday, April 28, 2009

DVD Review: The Tale of Despereaux

1 Mouse, 2 Giant Ears, and 90 minutes of a poorly told story

The Tale of Despereaux, a recipe
Take one part mouse
Add two enormous ears
Toss in a poorly written story in the Elenorian Chivalric style
Add a pinch of computer rendering
Mix well, bake for an hour and a half, and then watch
This recipe will yield a 90 minute movie that is great for younger viewers, though most adults will consider it bland and boring.

Despereaux is a movie about a mouse, a rat, and a princess. The movie starts off with a rat named Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman) sailing on a ship in order to get some soup. Roscuro scurries through the town, finds the royal soup maker, and then attempts to get a sip. However, do to circumstances outside of his control, he tumbles into the soup and is almost eaten by the queen herself; the queen, seeing the offending rodent, passes out and dies. Adding a highly unrealistic twist to the story (think King Henry), the king is so saddened that he bans soup forever and locks himself up. Oh, and he also bans rats.

Fast forward a few days/months/years (we never know how long) and we see the birth of a new, and interesting creature, Despereaux (Matthew Broderick). Despereaux is a mouse, and one with ears roughly half the size of his body. Due to this unusual aspect, he develops no fear of humans, is able to do amazing feats of acrobatics, and doesn't act like a mouse should. Heck, the youngling doesn't even cower when shown a knife or a cat. These unnatural feelings and actions cause the young mouse to be alienated from the society.

Due to the fact that he is an outcast Despereaux is eventually removed from the community, and thus he is sent to live outside of their boundaries. Through a series of events and interactions, the young mouse meets up with Roscuro (no, the rat didn't just disappear, he is still around) and they go through a series of adventures. Within these adventures, their friendship grows, disappears, and then grows again, as the two lonely rodents work to bring soup back.

Though I normally like this sort of spoof of the chivalric story, I actually did not like Despereaux that much. The movie seemed to forced, to contrived, and just didn't flow too well. The book gave us a nice area to work in, and had several amusing stories and situations, but the movie didn't follow it well. No, Despereaux took several unrelated adventures and tried to piece them together, so that they could make a movie out of it. While this might work for the target audience (read, preschoolers), it didn't work for me and I am betting that it will not work for most other adults.

Though I do not like the story, I do like how it is presented. I believe that CG is overused these days, and it causes movies to lose my interest, but for stories like Despereaux CG is a needed reality. With this in mind, I actually liked the use, quality, and rendering of the graphics. I could see hairs moving realistically, the mouths were roughly film quality, and the reflections in the water were worthy of awards. Short of a few bad sequences (notably when Despereaux returns to his village covered in flower), the overall quality of the movie was really impressive. If it looked this good on DVD, I wonder how it will look on Blu-ray.

As for the actual DVD materials themselves, Despereaux comes with only one feature worth your time. “The Making of Despereaux” is a feature which is worth the 11 minutes of your time that you need to watch it. You get to learn about the making of the movie, what procedures were used, and all sorts of little tidbits about how to render properly and compose full CG animations. As I am extremely technical, I really enjoyed this little tidbit and thought that it was entertaining and a good learning experience.

As for the other extras, I found that they were poorly planned and just not good at all. Why would you include a feature called “Top 10 Uses for Oversized Ears” if you are simply going to show a minute long clip of boring and useless information? I don't want to watch it, and I am sure that it is not even targeted well for the younger kids. I also don't want to watch a preview for your new movies, even if they look kinda cool. The only extra, besides The Making of that was halfway decent were the games. Though these were simple and did not appeal to me, I am sure that the target demographic would actually enjoy them.

In short, the extras of Despereaux were lacking and poorly done.

Overall, I think that Despereaux is a good movie for anybody with kids, planning on having kids, or babysits a lot. For anybody else, it is not a good pick. The movie is non-linear, confusing, and backtracks far too often to introduce new characters. The only thing saving the movie at all is the amazing CG that was rendered by the artists; kudos to them. Even the extras, which will normally save a bad movie, could do nothing to help the movie out. I would recommend that you pass this movie on for more entertaining fare; though, if you must buy it, I do recommend the Blu-ray version.

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