A computer-animated family film presented by Universal Pictures in association with Relativity Media, The Tale of Despereaux (2008) offers adventure, fantasy, comedy, and heartfelt emotion in a masterfully created world. It tells the story of the Kingdom of Dor, a once-idyllic land now turned harsh and bleak in the wake of a sudden tragedy. Although the Kingdom was formerly famed throughout the world for its incredibly delicious soup, the death of the Queen—the result of an unlikely soup-related accident—has led the Kingdom to ban its famous broth and eliminate the joy it once provided.
But another world exists within the ailing kingdom: one far less expansive, yet just as vibrant. It is here that the film presents the story of Despereaux Tilling, a mouse who is exceptionally small even for his species, and whose outrageously oversized ears hint at his uniqueness. Uninterested in scurrying and other typical rodent activities, Despereaux is a bit of an outcast in his community. However, a visit to the library to nibble on books yields a surprising discovery: Despereaux can actually read them. Immediately inspired by classic tales of noble knights and forlorn princesses, the diminutive hero embarks on his own knightly quest, rife with trials and tribulations that impart a number of worthwhile lessons along the way.
The Tale of Despereaux is a whimsical film that is likely to please moviegoers of all ages. Here are a few interesting facts about the source material, actors, and creators of this delightful modern fairy tale:
The movie is based on a best-selling novel.
The Tale of Despereaux is a film adaptation of The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup, and a Spool of Thread, a novel published in 2003 by author Kate DiCamillo. A well-known writer of picture books, children’s chapter books, and novels, DiCamillo has also written popular titles including Because of Winn-Dixie, Flora & Ulysses: The Illuminated Adventures, and The Miraculous Journey of Edward Tulane. However, The Tale of Despereaux is perhaps her most widely-read work, having garnered the Newberry Medal and retained a spot on the New York Times best-seller list for 96 weeks. Also dubbed a “Best Book of the Year” by Publishers Weekly, the novel experienced a resurgence in popularity ahead of the release of its film adaptation, revisiting the best-seller list for more than 40 weeks.
According to Kate DiCamillo, The Tale of Despereaux represents an attempt to write the kind of book that she would have enjoyed as a child. With it, she seeks to not only present a charming and engaging tale, but also to address the profound complexity of human nature, the ambiguity of “good” and “bad,” and the comfort and redemption of friendship.
Screenwriters Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi, who previously partnered to write Alvin and the Chipmunks (2007) and Snow Day (2000), translated DiCamillo’s novel into a screen story. Award-winning screenwriter Gary Ross then adapted their work into a feature-length screenplay.
Gary Ross served as both screenwriter and producer.
In addition to adapting the screenplay of The Tale of Despereaux, critically acclaimed screenwriter Gary Ross also offered his creative guidance as a producer. He was largely responsible for making the film adaptation of DiCamillo’s best-selling novel a reality; he began pursuing the title after his wife, fellow producer Allison Thomas, brought the book to his attention. As noted by members of the cast and crew, Ross brought a wealth of experience in live-action filmmaking to the project, contributing to acting performances, editing, and a visual style that imbue the film with a fuller, more cinematic tone than many animated features.
Gary Ross has garnered four Oscar nominations over the course of his prolific career as a writer, director, and producer. Like The Tale of Despereaux, many of his earlier films tell emotional, relatable tales about underdogs persevering in the face of adversity, with inspiring results. Ross’ previous screenplays include Big (1988) and Dave (1993), and he served as both writer and director on Seabiscuit (2003), Pleasantville (1998), and more recently, The Hunger Games (2012).
The film features the voices of several recognizable actors.
The Tale of Despereaux is brought to life not only by its whimsically detailed animation, but also by multiple talented actors who lent their voices to its vibrant and relatable characters. Matthew Broderick, known for a diverse array of animated and live-action films including The Lion King (1994), Glory (1989), and The Producers (2005), provides the voice of Despereaux, while two-time Oscar-winner Dustin Hoffman voices Roscuro, a disgraced rat yearning for redemption.
Actor, comedian, and writer Tracey Ullman voices Miggery Sow, a put-upon servant girl whose sole wish is to be a princess, and Emma Watson—instantly recognizable to many fans as Hermione Granger from the Harry Potter series—displays her voiceover acting talents as Princess Pea. Rounding out the cast is Sigourney Weaver, who serves as the narrator. An Oscar-nominated actress whose decades-long career has included hits like Alien (1979) and Avatar (2009), Weaver played a crucial role in the film, as the production team sought to preserve the memorable narrative voice that has welcomed millions of readers into the world of Kate DiCamillo’s original novel.