The Tale of Despereaux Movie Poster Image

The Tale of Despereaux



Touching, beautiful tale is an excellent family film.
  • Rated: G
  • Genre: Family and Kids
  • Release Year: 2008
  • Running Time: 93 minutes

What parents need to know

Positive messages

Characters' fates are all intertwined, so when each of them makes a wise, unselfish decision, everyone lives happily ever after.

Positive role models

A brave little mouse refuses to cower and instead decides to live by the chivalrous code of knights. A rat acts against his self interest to save a princess.

Violence & scariness

A relatively minor character dies of a sudden heart attack; a group of rats threatens to kill a mouse; a rat is killed by a cat (off-camera); a couple of characters are tied up and imprisoned; a mob of rats is bloodthirsty; Despereaux duels with rats and outruns human guards.

Sexy stuff
Not applicable
Not applicable
Not applicable
Drinking, drugs, & smoking
Not applicable

Parents Need to Know

Parents need to know that although it's animated, this adaptation of Kate DiCamillo's popular Newbery-winning fantasy about a brave mouse tackles mature themes like longing, grief, loyalty, and hurt. There's nothing worrisome in the story aside from a relatively minor character's sudden heart attack and a few scenes of implied violence (there isn't any blood or guns, though Despereaux has a fascination with swords). But because the story's pacing is slower than most animated films and the themes could be difficult for preschool children to grasp, it may be hard for the family's littlest members to understand what some of the characters are feeling.

What's the story?

This adaptation of Kate DiCamillo's award-winning children's book takes place in three different worlds -- that kingdom of Dor, which is known throughout the world for its special soup cooked by the royal chef; Mouseland, where cute and cowardly mice learn to be afraid; and the dark and exotic dwelling of rats. When a hungry rat named Roscuro (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) falls into the queen's soup tureen, she has a fatal heart attack. The grieving king banishes rats and outlaws the cooking or eating of soup, thereby stripping his land of all happiness. Meanwhile, in Mouseland, a cute little mouse named Despereaux (Matthew Broderick) doesn't cower like all the other mice and instead seeks adventure. After breaking a cardinal mouse rule by talking to the lonely Princess Pea (Emma Watson), Despereaux is exiled to the rat underworld, where he's saved by Roscuro. And Pea's homely servant Miggory (Tracey Ullman) daydreams of being a princess and escaping her bitter reality. The characters all cross paths in castles, dungeons, kitchens, and rat-land coliseums.

Is it any good?


Rarely does an animated film follow traditional fairy-tale conventions without attempting to include as many wink-wink popular culture references as possible. THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX is one of a kind, because it's a beautifully animated (there's even animation-within-the-animation) epic that will delight children, tweens, parents, and jaded childless adults alike. There's adventure and fantasy (Boldo, a creature made out of produce and voiced by Stanley Tucci, is one of the most amusing, imaginative screen characters in fairy-tale lore) but also longing and grief (the entire Mig subplot is especially poignant). The result is exactly the kind of film the entire family should treasure.

Writer-producer Gary Ross has crafted an impressive screenplay that's ambitious without being condescending or predictable. DiCamillo's fans should forgive Ross and the directors for changing details to suit the film. If anything, the film should attract more readers ready to follow the more in-depth chronicle of Despereaux, Pea, Mig, and the other magical characters they're introduced to in the memorable movie.

Families can talk about...

  • Families can talk about typical fairy-tale adventures. How is this movie similar and different from other fairy tales?

  • How many "heroes" are in this story? What makes Despereaux a different kind of hero?

  • What messages does that send to people watching his story?

  • Kids who are familiar with the book can compare the novel with the film. Did it meet your expectations?

  • What changes were made? Did the changes help the movie? Which adaptations of your favorite books do you like, and which were disappointing? Why?

Movie details

Theatrical release date:December 19, 2008
DVD/Streaming release date:April 7, 2009
Cast:Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Matthew Broderick
Directors:Robert Stevenhagen, Sam Fell
Studio:Universal Pictures
Genre:Family and Kids
Topics:Magic and fantasy, Adventures, Book characters
Run time:93 minutes
MPAA rating:G

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What parents and kids say

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Parent of a 4 year old Written bychez_geek March 13, 2011

Good movie for older kid but totally off for K or pre-K

I think this movie (which is otherwise very good) is really off for the pre-K/K set and iffy for 1st-2nd grade. The site review implies that the only issue is some cat/mouse scariness, but in fact the whole movie is, as the BBFC rating says, "tonally dark". The site review says that a minor character dies early on; in fact this character is the princess's mother, the incident of her death is revisited throughout the film, and the human characters grieve deeply for her. Adding to how upsetting this event is, the movie does not provide an obvious cause, which can give the impression to a young kid that their mother can just drop dead. The mouse (Deveraux) is banished to the dungeon for breaking a rule (talking to a human) that was not specifically articulated to him; the expectation is that he will be eaten by the rats (so it is de facto a death sentence). His parents just sit helplessly watching this, crying in their hankies but doing nothing to interfere. A rat which is a "good" character for most of the movie does something truly awful; a peasant girl quite delusional (i mean mental-illness delusional, not just has fancy ideas); the villain is definitely not played for laughs; there are "gladiatorial" scenes were victims have to fight for their lives; etc. This is a good movie for kids that are able to handle dark material, and raises some very good issues about the complexity of human behaviour and especially grief. It is good watching for adults, but approach it carefully and be prepared to spend a lot of time discussing it. Frankly, because of the persistent dark tone, I wouldn't even have rated it G, I think it is a PG emotionally even though it lacks a lot of the "tickboxes" like violence, language and so on.
Adult Written bysuehyer July 17, 2009

A tied up princess on an arena floor waiting to be eaten by rats doesn't really strike me as kid friendly.

Very dark/gloomy for a kids movie. Having the queen die from fright at having a rat in her soup was bad enough but then our "Good" rat talks the handmaiden into kidnapping the princess. A tied up princess on an arena floor waiting to be eaten by rats doesn't really strike me as kid friendly. Then there's the side conversation of the hand maid being given away by her father only to be sold by her uncle. Now it is a small part of the movie but its there and raises questions for little ones. This was a poor choice for my kids 6 and 7.
What other families should know
Too much violence
Parent of a 2 and 5 year old Written bytravelinlite75 June 10, 2009

i say skip it, at least for preschoolers and young elementary kids

i thought this was a fairly boring movie. even the mouse didn't really draw me in. my almost 6 yr. old was frightened but the sword fighting, trying to capture the rat, then the mouse and also the princess being tied up to be eaten. this was not "G" for my and my family. i am fairly selective and don't let them watch too many movies.