Kate DiCamillo’s Newberry Medal-winning children’s book The Tale of Despereaux: Being the Story of a Mouse, a Princess, Some Soup and a Spool of Thread comes to life on the big screen this weekend with a mercifully truncated title. Animated by vfx studio Framestore for Universal Pictures, The Tale of Despereaux features a star-studded voice cast led by Matthew Broderick and should do well with family audiences, especially those familiar with the book.
The Tale of Despereaux tells the story of four unlikely heroes: Despereaux (Broderick), a brave mouse banished to the dungeon for speaking with a human; Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman), a good-hearted rat who loves light and soup, but is exiled to darkness; Pea (Emma Watson), a princess in a gloomy castle who is prisoner to her father’s grief; and Mig (Tracey Ullman), a servant girl who longs to be a princess, but is forced to serve the jailer. Refusing to live his life cowering, Despereaux befriends Pea and learns to read (rather than eat) books, reveling in stories of knights, dragons and fair maidens. He soon finds himself at the center of his own harrowing adventure when the Princess is kidnapped and he is the only one who can rescue her. The voice cast also includes William H. Macy, Robbie Coltrane, Kevin Kline, Christopher Lloyd, Stanley Tucci, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella and Ciaran Hinds.
Directed by Sam Fell (Flushed Away) and accomplished animator Rob Stevenhagen, the movie marks the animated feature-film debut of Framestore CFC, the company behind the Oscar-winning visual effects in New Line’s The Golden Compass and countless other films, television productions and commercials. The team was led by Framestore Animation managing partner David Lipman, who was a producer on Shrek 2. Lipman served as exec producer on Despereaux, which he says he and his crew had to build a new pipeline to handle not only the volume of shots, but also the enormous amount of assets within each shot.
‘On a large VFX show, we might do several hundred shots,’ Lipman explains. ‘On Despereaux, we had the whole film’over 1,700 shots. We also had a large recruiting drive. A lot of talent came from within Framestore, but over 200 were new recruits.’
The work was completed in Framestore’s London premises using a largely European talent-base. The artists employed a color palette and lighting scheme that draws inspiration from the Dutch master painters, avoiding the ‘primary color splashes’ that most modern CG films use. Lipman says bringing this painterly look to the film was one of the biggest challenges, along with crafting subtle performances from the characters. He adds that the team had the most fun with bringing the rat world to life, which required a lot of imagination to further explore the rodent society depicted in the book.
Lipman tells us Framestore will announce it’s next animated feature early in 2009. In the meantime, they’ll be watching the box-office charts to see how their first effort fares with audiences around the world. The pic is up against fellow openers Yes Man, the Jim Carrey comedy from Warner Bros., and Seven Pounds, a Will Smith drama from Columbia Pictures. Both are expected to do well leading into the holiday period. Christmas Day will then see a blitz of high-profile releases including Paramount’s The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Disney’s Bedtime Stories, UA/MGM’s Valkyrie, Universal’s Frost/Nixon and Lionsgate’s Will Eisner comic-book adaptation The Spirit. Sony Pictures Classics will also give Ari Folmans’ award-winning animated documentary Waltz with Bashir a limited opening in New York and Los Angeles on Dec. 25.
You can play Framestore’s online Despereaux game at www2.framestore.com/despereauxgame. Atari has also released video games based on the movie for Wii, PlayStation 2, Nintendo DS and PC.