Directed by: Sam Fell, Robert Stevenhagen
Starring: Matthew Broderick, Dustin Hoffman, Emma Watson
Released: December 19, 2008
The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread joins the genre of award-winning children’s books converted to animated film. The previews of the film looks like the adventures of a happy and brave mouse. Once the lights go down, the darker side of the film comes out. Desperaux is a story of lessons – lessons that the world isn’t fair. And it isn’t full of light.
Light and Dark
Roscuro, the rat in Desperaux and Desperaux himself are characterizations of the overall theme of light and dark. Roscuro is not like normal rats; in the movie, he’s a ship-faring rat who loves being on deck, and relishes sunlight. In the book, he’s a darker character in general, born in the dungeons. While the rest of the rats relish in creating suffering for others, Roscuro believes that light is the answer. That is, of course, until he is punished for an accident (he falls into the queen’s soup – she’s startled to death so all the rats are outlawed and soup is banned). Roscuro then turns to darkness, seeking to punish the pricness and make her suffer. Even Roscuro’s coat is dark.
In sharp contrast to Roscuro is Despeaux. His white coat and wide eyes (he was born with his eyes open) are symbolic of his openness and hope. As a youngster, he’s also shown that life isn’t fair, but rather than learning to cower and scamper like a normal mouse, he wants to be more than a normal mouse – he wants to be a hero. Even when he is punished for refusing to conform, he does not give up hope. In a sense, he carries the light in his heart.
Neither the book nor the film of The Tale of Desperaux is “light” – both carry the lessons of light and dark, good and evil. But they both show that light can overcome darkness, and that if you strive to do what you believe is good and right, then it can overcome evil and adversity.
Soup plays a major role in these stories, especially in the film version. The city in which Desperaux lives loves soup; they hold festivals for it. There’s even a film character (Boldo) who is made up of soup ingredients. The sad banishment of the rats (and the soup) is the result of a rat falling into the soup of the Queen; of course, upon seeing the rat, she expires. The heartbroken king forbids everyone in the kingdom from eating soup, and makes rats outlaws.
Just as the banishment of the soup served as the start of darkness in the story, the return of soup is the climax leading to the triumph of good over evil, and soup over… well, sandwiches, I suppose.
Family plays an important role in these stories; in particular the relationship between Desperaux and his family . Desperaux isn’t a normal mouse; he doesn’t act like a normal mouse, doesn’t learn to act like a normal mouse, and doesn’t fit in with his normal mouse family. In the book, his brother tries to teach him to scamper, but Desperaux stands in the middle of the room to look around. His sister tries to instruct him how to eat a book, but instead he reads it. (In the film there is no sister, so his brother teaches him.) It’s his father who turns him into the mouse council, and at least in the book his brother takes him to the dungeon.
While his family must feel remorse for what they have done, they also feel the need to protect their way of life. When something (or someone) doesn’t conform, it must be removed. Desperaux teaches that it’s ok to be “different.” It also teaches the hard lesson that you may not be accepted when you are different.
Both the novel of and film of Desperaux had incredibly redeeming qualities, and were quite enjoyable. They’re both dark stories, the book moreso than the movie, but they’re well thought out, and well executed.