I was looking forward to this and expected to like it, but I was crushingly disappointed. I think I could go so far as to say I hated it, which shocks me. How could one go wrong with the story of a funny little mouse who’s a hero? I don’t know, but somehow this film does it. First of all, the story is way overdone: it’s got too many things happening and jumps from plot to plot with no transition at all that it’s confusing and breaks your chain of thought. For example, the basic story seems to be that of a brave mouse who saves a princess. But mixed in with that is the story of a rat who’s somewhat similar and who helps the mouse. That is further complicated with the story a girl who’s a “princess” serving as a maid in the King’s castle. All of these stories sound generically familiar, but they purposely resolve differently than we expect; I suppose that’s to make things more interesting, but I just found it annoying, since the whole movie you are confused as what is happening. Is the Desperaux the mouse the main character? Then why is so much time spent on the rat’s story? And which princess are we to root for: both, neither? It’s all bewildering.
Another fatal flaw is the animation. At times it’s breathtakingly beautiful, with fantastic attention to detail. I loved the way Despereaux’s nose glistened with faint wetness, for instance. Amazing. But the animation is inconsistent, with humans looking awkward and dorky, and very often the movement of characters defying real-world physics. Like in one scene Despereaux is bouncing on the end of a rope and he bounces as though the rope is elastic — it just did not feel natural. In many scenes the editing is so choppy and the camera angles so poorly chosen it’s difficult to tell what is happening. You get a vague impression and you’re probably right, but it’s not clear. Another problem is that the film’s humor is odd: there are many scenes where the mice discuss Despereaux’s problem in that he’s not afraid and hasn’t “learned to cower like a proper mouse.” I guess that’s supposed to be funny and it is the first time, but it’s hammered over and over, with parent-teacher conferences with Despereaux’s parents, etc., and in the end it just starts to get repetitive and puzzling. There’s also bizarreness associated with the supernatural. While there’s an aspect of the film that feels like it should be “magical” (fantasy), we’re not really shown that anything is actually magic — except for a strange talking vegetable man. This being assembles itself from a collection of vegetables (i.e. different vegetables for the mouth, nose, eyes, etc.) and he talks. We’re given no history of him, no explanation of what he’s doing there, how he can talk, what he is, or what happens to him in the end. (Does he die when he fell down the stairs or was he just forgotten on the cutting room floor?) I wanted to see a world with a lot more magic, or key magic used at just the right moment to save the day, or none at all. This bit of random magic for no good reason was just bizarre and weird and pointless.
There are a few moments of brilliance: Despereaux himself is very good (though he’s not on screen enough), the narration has some good lines, and some of the scenes are interesting. But mostly this is just a mishmash of styles, stories, characters, and confusion. I really disliked it and found myself contemplating leaving the theatre on many occasions. Though it’s not long, it felt endless. I am extremely disappointed.