This attempt at an animated Christmassy fairytale ends up an unfortunate 'by committee' hotch-potch that seems to have been designed to appeal to fans of 'Stuart Little', 'Shrek' and/or 'Ratatouille'.
A major disappointment in other words.
The story begins with Roscuro, a rat who lands on a medieval English style island on 'Soup Day', a day of festivities and fun based around the populace's love of soup. Setting off to explore, he quickly lands himself in trouble - getting into the royal castle and falling from the ceiling into the queen's soup. The shock kills the queen, causing the grief stricken king to cancel 'Soup Day' for good and, for good measure, ban rats. Grey skies and depression cast a pall over the previously happy island. The rats, meanwhile, are hunted from the surface although Roscuro escapes. However, he finds the only safe place is the disgusting rat city, a dirty, heaving metropolis of a most unpleasant nature that exists far underground.
We then meet Despereaux, a mouse who refuses to behave like other mice. While they cower and are even taught to be fearful at school, he is brave and curious. His family and fellow mice are uncomfortable with his attitudes, however, and eventually, his penchant for adventure sees him banished. Despereaux then also finds himself forced down towards the filthy rat city, where Roscuro, used to the light and fresh air of the sea and not comfortable among the debauchery of his fellow rats, risks his life to befriend and save him.
From there, we take in Roscuro’s attempts to atone for his part in the queen’s death and his struggle with the good and evil parts of his nature, the unfortunate consequences of a serving girl’s desire to be a princess and Despereaux’s discovery and living out of the tenets of heroism.
It is, on the face of it, a decent story but it it’s in the execution that this falls down over and over.
First, there's the animation. By no means innovative, it is plain old clunky and boring at times, rarely exhibiting the invention and sweep of superior animated movies. There are one or two successes - rat city, for example, is among several beautifully rendered images that have all the appearances of being near direct lifts from the picture book source. But other than that it is consistently disappointing.
The characters and groups are also unsatisfying. The rats are probably the most successful and convincing, but the mice, including the hero Despereaux, are charmless and devoid of personality. The humans are plain irritating.
But the main problem is that from scene to scene, an awful lot happens that is just not believable. Time and again, characters turn away at convenient moments, fail to see obvious things or act consistently. By and large, they spend a lot of time behaving in ways that just feel wrong.
In the end, you can only conclude that whatever magic book had, it has totally eluded the makers of the film.