Holiday Movie Pre-Reviews, Reviewed: The Tale of Desperaux

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12/19/2008 10:00 AM |

[In the L’s Holiday Gift Guide Issue, we presented a Holiday Film Preview of sorts: Reviews of Movies We Haven’t Seen, banking on the predictability of the holiday-movie industrial complex, and also our own tendency to review movies before seeing them. So let’s see how we did. Here, Jesse Hassenger, who wrote the one on The Tale of Desperaux, compares his preview to his actual response.]

I said…

This computerized adaptation of the children’s book is cute enough, even if Matthew Broderick is no longer pipsqueaky enough to get away with playing a wee mouse, and the human characters are Pixar-in-’95 unappealing. Despite the low-key, near-old-fashioned charms, someone should tell the Village Voice to cool it: Despereaux’s status as big-eared unifier who brings courage and hope to his countrymen still doesn’t make this "the most trenchant animated metaphor of the year."

In fact…

Well, in making fun of the Village Voice, I failed to consider that most of the critics likely to find faintly ridiculous political allusions in any and all movies have been bounced in favor of a syndicated alt-critic line-up. So instead, Ella Taylor describes the film as “an intermittently vicious CGI action movie” because there’s a couple of bits where a mouse briefly faces off with, of all crazed Bruckheimer-approved intensities, a cat (granted, in the style of a gladiator battle, but isn’t that kinda funny?). Indeed, the problem with the movie is that it’s so sedate and flavorless — so absolutely lacking in sustained thrills of any kind. I don’t just mean action-heavy pyrotechnics; I’m speaking of the thrill of old-fashioned storytelling, or beautifully rendered animation, or a good all-ages joke in place of the usual pop-culture references (Despereaux lacks that typical DreamWorks wannabe-snarkiness, at least, but doesn’t replace it with much of anything).

Co-director Sam Fell worked on Flushed Away, and while that Americanization of Aardman had a slightly more manic quality than its real-clay siblings, it also had a lot of charm, energy, and cockeyed humor, all qualities distinctively absent from Despereaux. The rest of the complaints I made about the trailer — Broderick is too old and bland to voice a plucky hero; the CGI humans are visually off-putting; the movie’s only spots of brightness come from its slight fustiness — are more or less true about the movie. Since it’s a kid-aimed movie, consider it an early lesson in how to read trailers: if they’re squirming during the ad playing before 2 Madagascar 2 Furious, they’ll be antsy as hell during the movie’s four or five different subplots. Then again, that Madagascar sequel kinda sucked, too, and Bolt was just OK. Does Pixar want to consider maybe taking on some more projects?