Tale of Despereaux, The 
Blu-ray Animation
Written by Noah Fleming   
Monday, 06 April 2009

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There seems to be a slew of animated films of late.  With such great successes as "Madagascar 2," "Kung Fu Panda" and "Bolt," I had high hopes for "The Tale of Despereaux."  Unfortunately, it was not a big success.  Universal Studios is never thought of as an animation studio, and it doesn't look like this film is going to be their ticket into the field.

The premise of the film is lousy.  It’s very reminiscent of "The Little Mermaid: Ariel's Beginning."  Due to a freak accident and an over-reaction, an entire kingdom is in turmoil.  Soup, the kingdom's most prized creation, and rats have been outlawed.  The sky grows dark, the sun will not shine and there is no rain in sight.

The story gets confusing when the princess is locked in the tower of the castle and the father is in mourning over the death of his wife. We have to assume that she had a heart attack because she found a rat in her soup that had fallen from the chandelier. As for the princess, for some reason she is confined to her room.

A random servant girl has this desire to be a princess.  She is always looking in the mirror with a crown on her head, and she constantly steals items from the princess' room.  She learns to grow insolent and angry at the princess for having the life that she wants.

Meanwhile, the castle consists of a Mouseworld and a Ratworld, both under the castle.  The mice in Mouseworld have their own little city, schools, etc.  Ever mouse is supposed to learn how to be timid, afraid of everything.  Despereaux however, is not afraid of anything.  He is small, even for a mouse and has giant ears that allow him to soar like Dumbo.  His lack of fear gets him in trouble with the mouse council when Desperaux is found to be reading and visiting with the Princess.  Despereaux is sentenced to the dungeon, a dark dank area that no mouse has ever returned from.  It’s also where the rats reside.

Down in Ratworld, Despereaux comes in contact with Roscuro, a rat that has entered Ratworld by mistake.  He is the rat that fell into the Queen's soup.  After being chased through the castle, Roscuro falls down the drain and stumbles into Ratworld.  Roscuro rescues Despereaux from the arena, which pitted Despereaux against a cat.  Despereaux proceeds to tell Roscuro about loyalty, honor and courage.

Roscuro tries to make amends with the Princess, for some reason.  It wasn't the Princess' idea to ban soup and rats.  So I don't quite understand the reasoning behind this plot point.  It exists purely to slow the story.  The princess freaks out when the rat comes to apologize and Roscuro's heart hardens.  He allies with the servant girl longing to be the Princess, and together they kidnap the Princess.  She is placed in the dungeon arena, and the rats wait to feed on her flesh.  Meanwhile, Despereaux is running about the castle trying to alert someone to the Princess' condition.

The story moves far too slow, the plot is weak and full of holes.  The script is a true waste of a talented voice cast.  Oddly, the cast had very lively actors, including Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Matthew Broderick, Tracey Ullman, Stanley Tucci and many others.

As with all the animated films that reside in the digital domain, the video transfer of this animated film is terrific.  However, it does not get the perfect score that’s often granted to DreamWorks and Disney animated features.  There are no imperfections in the print as it was all digital.  The details are fantastic, but unfortunately, the digital animation was not up to par.  Individual eyelashes could be seen on the numerous close ups, but at the same time there was a lack of texture on the faces.  The facial elements seemed to float, with no point of anchorage.  The black levels are stable, as is shadow delineation.  Even the dark scenes that take place in the dungeon contain high levels of details.  I understand that the colors are meant to be drained due to the state of the kingdom, but the colors are too dull for my taste.  Still, this is a fine presentation, but probably not demo worthy material.

The audio is presented in a DTS-HD 5.1 format.  There wasn't much in the way of sound design in this film, which really surprised me.  The mix remained largely front heavy.  The dialogue is anchored to the center channel.  It is always clear, as for the transfer.  Some the original vocal recordings are a bit muddy.  The frequency range of the audio track is good, but the dynamic range is a bit weak.  The LFE channel is basically absent from the entire mix.  The surround channels mainly contained bleed through.  Some the sound effects were panned nicely form the front to the rear and back again.  However, those instances are sparse.

Universal packs the Blu-ray with all the usual special features.  First there is a U-Control Picture-in-Picture track.  The second video feed contains behind-the-scenes footage and interviews.  This takes the place of any type of audio commentary.  "The Tale of 'The Tale of Despereaux'" is a making of featurette.  "Top Ten Uses for Oversized Ears" is less than two minutes and discusses basic uses for ears.  There are two deleted songs from the film, which are presented via storyboards.  Animating the Animals is a scene progression feature that shows the animation process.  Lastly, there is a "Make Your Own Soup Game" and "Card Creator."  The disc is also BD-Live enabled.  The disc also contains a sneak peek of "Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey."  The special features package is tailored to the youngsters.

Overall, the film may interest the youngsters.  However, it moves too slowly to hold their attention.  Adults won't find much in this film.  The video and audio quality is more than adequate, but not worthy of demo material.  You may want to give this one a rent.
Studio Universal Studios Home Entertainment
MPAA Rating G
Starring Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson, Christopher Lloyd, Stanley Tucci, Kevin Kline, William H. Macy, Frank Langella, Richard Jenkins, Tracey Ullman
Director Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen
Film Release Year 2008
Release Year 2009
Resolution(s) 1080p (main feature) • 1080i (supplements)
Aspect Ratio 2.35:1
Running Time 1 hr. 34 mins.
Sound Formats English DTS-HD Master 5.1 • French DTS 5.1 • Spanish DTS 5.1
Subtitles English SDH • French • Spanish
Special Features U-Control: Picture-in-Picture track; BD-Live; Deleted Songs; "Animating the Animals"; "Make Your Own Soup" Game; "Curious George 2" Sneak Peek; "The Tale of 'The Tale of Despereaux'" Making-of featurette; Card Creator; "Top Ten Uses for Oversized Ears"
Forum Link http://www.avrev.com/forum
Reviewer Noah Fleming

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