The most prestigious award for Children’s Literature is the Newbury Award. Some of my favorite kids/junior fiction are Newbury books such as The Giver or The Witch of Blackbird Pond. When I worked at the independent book store, The Tale of Despereaux was the latest pick and it was flying off the shelves. When the movie came out, I decided I would take the time to read it.
The Tale of Despereaux tells the story about a mouse named Despereaux who doesn’t act like other mice. His ears are too big, his eyes open too soon, he doesn’t scurry, and worst of all, he’s not afraid of humans. The mouse who is not like other mice also learns how to read, and imagines himself as a knight. Unfortunately, his kingdom has been saddened by the loss of their queen who died in a terrible mishap involving a rat (Roscuro) and soup. Therefore the king has outlawed soup through out the land. The beloved mouse has a huge adventure involving falling in love with a princess, a dungeon full of evil rats, a servant girl who dreams of being a princess, and bringing the joy of soup back to the kingdom. It’s heartwarming and endearing. Even the evil bad guys in the plot aren’t all that bad.
Overall, the book reads beautifully. It sounds like a fairy tale, as the author directly addresses the reader to give insights into the motivations and history of the characters. Katie DiCamillo writes a charming story with adventure and romance. I could imagine how it would be a great book to read out loud to children. I rate the book a 4/5.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the movie. I had heard that the movie was “boring”. After reading the book, I could understand why some people would think that. Although the story has a sense of adventure, it’s more of a mental story than a visual one. The narrator of the book really sets the tone for the whole story, and the words are much more compelling than what is actually happening. There are a lot of main characters and you better understand the character’s motivation by reading the book. For example, the reader feels the fear and apprehension in the dungeon because Despereaux is so terrified.
The movie was so-so. It is very slow paced which I think is an effort to draw out the story for the big screen. They changed a couple things that weren’t bad or good, just different. The evil rat (Roscuro) wasn’t exactly evil but not in the same way that it was written in the book. They added the character of the king’s cook and his magical vegetable counterpart. A bunch of random vegetables came to life to help the cook make his soup. My first reaction to seeing it in the very beginning of the movie was “What the hell?” It was really weird and he played a very odd role in the movie. It was never explained how he could come to life or if he was simply a delusion of the cook’s. It was obvious he was added as comedic affect (as the story itself isn’t very funny), but he came off as creepy. The only parts that redeemed it for me was the voices of Matthew Broderick as Despereaux, Dustin Hoffman as Roscuro, and Sigourney Weaver as the Narrator.
Overall, I don’t think the movie was successful in translating into a visual story. Kids would be better off reading the book, and enjoy it much more. I would rate the movie a 1.5/5.
On a side note, I decided I liked Katie DiCamillo and read Tiger Rising. I actually enjoyed it better than Despereaux. Although the symbolism for the novella kind of punches you in the face, it blended realism with a bit of fairytale that DiCamillo did so well in Despereaux. I also really would like to check out her other Newbury Award winning book, The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane.