Making the Grades
Like a square rodent in a round mouse hole, little Despereaux (voice of Matthew Broderick) just doesn't get what his destiny is supposed to be. Growing up in Mouseworld, located just below the Kingdom of Dor, the tiny creature with huge ears simply doesn't have a natural fear of the big, bad outside world. As hard as his father Lester (voice of William H. Macy) tries to convince him that the sight of a carving knife or cat are good reasons to immediately cower, his son instead sees these signs as challenges to overcome. And when it's revealed the young mouse has had contact with humans, the administrators of Mouseworld have no choice but to cast Despereaux into the dungeons below -- a place called Ratworld by the larger rodents living there.
Another recent immigrant to this dank, dark realm is a rat named Roscuro (voice of Dustin Hoffman). Like Despereaux, he too has some strange un-rat-like idiosyncrasies, such as enjoying sunlight. But his biggest weakness is the smell of fine food, especially gourmet dishes made by the Kingdom of Dor's Chef Andre (voice of Kevin Kline). In fact, Roscuro's olfactory senses recently got the better of him during Dor's annual soup celebration. His unrestrained nosedive into the queen's bowl startled the monarch so badly that she died! It also resulted in the king banishing both soup and rats from the land.
Living above all this is Mig (voice of Tracey Ullman), a rather plain peasant girl who dreams of being a princess. When her father decides to trade her off in exchange for goods, she ironically ends up a little closer to her fantasy. Sent to the Castle of Dor, she becomes a servant to Princess Pea (voice of Emma Watson). Yet the more she interacts with royalty, the more her longing turns into coveting and soon she is harboring hard feelings within her heart.
If you think this sounds a lot more complex than most stories featuring cutesy animation -- you're right. And that's rather unfortunate because the 8 to 13 aged crowd, that may feel they are too old for a kid's movie, would really benefit from the messages embedded in the tale. Taking an in-depth look at three divergent individuals, Despereaux explores how each one deals with the expectations of those around them, and provides a wealth of valuable lessons.
Meanwhile, very young children may find the plot too intricate and some scenes a bit frightening. This is especially true as the tiny hero navigates the shady corners of Ratworld, confronts truly sinister characters, and encounters weapon-welding adversaries.
Still, this production is heads and... ahem... tails above most offerings in this genre. Illustrating how the ability to motivate others and exert influence have nothing to do with size, the film demonstrates the power of forgiveness, and how it can open opportunities for growth and overcoming the negative feelings we all deal with from time to time.
Discussion Ideas After The Movie
Teaching ideas and topics to discuss about The Tale of Despereaux.
Despereaux, Roscuro and Mig are challenged by the limitations of being, respectively, a mouse, a rat and an impoverished child. How does each of them accept or reject these constraints? What positive and negative choices do they make based on these facts? Do we sometimes limit our own opportunities based on real or imagined notions of inadequacy? Have you ever found yourself wondering if you could more easily succeed at your goals if you had been born into a different family, a different ethnic group or if you had a different childhood?