Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Despereaux


When I was in high school and college, I saw a very large number of movies in the theater. After I got married and began having kids, however, the number of movies that Jennifer and I went to gradually declined to about an average of about 3 or 4 a year. We began to instead watch movies at home on VHS and later DVD (we've only had cable or satellite a total of about 3 of our 19 years of marriage--we find it to be a big waste of money). For years, we probably watched an average of about 25 movies a year at home, not to mention miniseries, documentaries, and TV shows on DVD.

In the last couple of years, however, I have only watched a handful of movies--even at home. I just don't seem to have the time any more! Between my "secular" job, my church responsibilites, my blog, my podcast, reading the Bible and other Christian books, plus trying to spend time with my wife and kids, movies (at home or in the theater) have almost completely been squeezed out. And you know what? I find that I hardly miss them at all. I'm sure I'm missing out on some really good ones, but at the same time, 90% or more of what comes out these days is pure garbage.

Occasionally, though, I still DO go out to the movies, and every great once in a while, I see a movie that I think is so good, that I want to tell others about it. One such movie is The Tale of Despereaux, which I saw with my whole family several weeks ago. Now you may think, "Well, that's just a kid's movie!" Not so fast. It is actually much more, containing something for all ages. Despereaux is a wonderful tale of forgiveness and mercy triumphing over judgment.

Rather than write my own review, I will reprint for you an excellent one, written by Rebecca Cusey in WORLD magazine. Enjoy the review, and if you haven't seen the movie, go enjoy it too. And if you have seen it, post a comment and tell me what you thought. Even if you haven't seen it, your comments are encouraged.


The Tale of Despereaux is a sweet little fairy tale about a brave mouse and the distraught kingdom that needs him. Sincere and kind, but provocative enough to engross adults, the film breaks the mold of normal family entertainment. Gone are the wisecracking sidekicks, evil villains, and adult jokes. Instead, we see a story about wounded people hurting others, then finding redemption and reconciliation. The animated movie (rated G) is an adaptation of Kate DiCamillo's popular children's book.

The courageous little mouse Despereaux is born into a kingdom that has lost itself to sadness and fear after a great tragedy. There is no sunshine and no laughter. Worst of all, the country's production of warm, nourishing soup has been halted. The beautiful Princess Pea (voiced by Emma Watson) in the castle longs for joy again. Her heartbroken maid, Mig (voiced by Tracey Ullman), yearns to be loved as the princess is loved. The sadness of the kingdom trickles down to the tidy suburb of Mouseville, where little Despereaux (voiced by Matthew Broderick) cannot learn to cower or scamper like the other mice. He's just too brave. Instead, he finds himself drawn to knightly tales in the castle library. His inability to conform to the timid ways of Mouseville eventually leads to his departure from Mouseville and the beginning of his quest for adventure.

Down in the sewers of Ratworld, good-hearted rat Roscuro (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) languishes far from the sun he loves. He regrets the accident that brought darkness to the kingdom, an accident he caused. When his attempts at righting his error are met with violent rejection, Roscuro lashes out in vengeance, tempting the maid to bitterness and putting the princess in peril. Despereaux, however, with his big heart and chivalrous code of ethics, never stops trying to save the princess. The little mouse with the big ears and even bigger heart never despairs and never gives up.

At this point, the movie takes an unusual turn. Instead of Roscuro and the maid getting what they deserve, the suffocating web of cruelty that has bound each character is unraveled by a more powerful act of forgiveness. Instead of a villain who is beaten by the hero, we see angry and hurt people turn away from the darkness within them. It is a film about redemption.
In the context of the film, the transgressions being forgiven are grave. This is no cheap grace, no easy reconciliation. The characters, especially Roscuro, are redeemed from real, serious, crimes. Forgiveness does not come easily, but it does come. And it releases the victim as well as the perpetrator.


The film, despite its dreamlike animation, has some intense scenes. The pacing is slow and gentle, without the frenetic laugh-a-minute pace in many kids' flicks. Although there are no wisecracks or explosions, no car chases or superheroes, it is a tale that is likely to stick with kids after the excitement of other movies has faded away.

5 comments:

Josephus Flavius said...

We listened to the audiobook version of the book on the way down to Houston and quite enjoyed it.

Clint said...

I really want to see this movie. I have tried to get my kids interested in the books before, but it never took.

Maybe they will go for them after watching the movie.

Mike Fulton said...

Jessica read the book (she got it as a Christmas gift from my mom). She says it is absolutely cute and precious.

One of these days I'll have to pick it up.

Fr. James Early said...

Joseph,

Why don't you come down to Houston again and visit? That will give you an excuse to listen to the book again!

Josephus Flavius said...

New baby will be here in March/April. We should be down there in May/June I expect. If not the whole family, then the older kids and myself for a summer vacation visit.