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The Tale of Despereaux

"The Tale of Despereaux" (opening December 19 throughout San Diego) looked promising. The trailer was amusing and took a laidback approach to selling its story rather than the usual hysterical, frantic, in your face pitch that American animation feels compelled to use. It was based on a popular and well-written children's book by Kate DiCamillo that bore the subtitle: "Being the story of a mouse, a princess, some soup, and a spool of thread." The animation looked state of the art with an appealing big-eared mouse hero. The film also boasted some talented voice actors in Kevin Kline, Matthew Broderick, Tracey Ullmann, Robbie Coltrane, Frank Langella and Dustin Hoffman. So what went wrong?

The answer lies primarily in the script by Will McRobb, Gary Ross and Chris Viscardi. Maybe they are not entirely to blame. It's possible that the studio pressured them to take out everything that was good or clever in the book and replace it with lame gags and predictable children's fare. But the script is where most of the problems arise, beginning with a lengthy, dull and unnecessary prologue that delays the entrance of our unlikely hero Despereaux (voiced by Matthew Broderick). Then we get a series of things that feel ripped off. There's a rat world that looks suspiciously like "Pirates of the Caribbean;" kitchen scenes out of "Ratatouille;" and characters that look appallingly like "Shrek." Whatever originality was in the book seems to be lost in a film that feels ploddingly familiar. Plus the multi-strand plot and back and forth movement in the narrative feels unnecessarily complicated and confused.

"The Tale of Despereaux" (rated G) represents another blown opportunity to adapt a good children's book. It's pleasing enough to look at but for an 87 minute animated children's film it drags and feels painfully long as it meanders without developing much to hold our interest.

Companion viewing: "Ratatouille," "Watership Down," "The Three Musketeers" (1974)

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