A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What 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.
A tied up princess on an arena floor waiting to be eaten by rats doesn't really strike me as kid friendly.
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.
Talk to your kids 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?
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Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.