Friday, January 23, 2009

The Mild Tales of Despereaux

A while ago, Emily Bazelon, arguing against the Tales of Despereaux's G-rating, lamented its violent scenes. This was despite the fact that, having exposed her children to the book, it seemed not to appeal to kids above the age of 8. At the time, I lamented the difficulty of ratings for kids movies and reviews that didn't involve an adult sitting next to a kid. As Bazelon's 5 year old was scared by the movie, I excluded our 4 year old and took the 10 and 8 year old to see it today.

Well I have to say, that the picture of extended violence seemed hardly what was going on. There were a couple of scenes which were scary but no more than all manner of similar scenes in animated movies today -- G-rated or otherwise. I can contrast this with Bolt. If anything, what was different in Despereaux was that the chase and other scary scenes were not humerous. Indeed, there was no humour at all in the movie -- reminding my more of the beautiful Iron Giant than the usual fare.

Instead what we have is a cinematic masterpiece. The picture painted was reminscient of Eastern European paintings of pre-industrial urban life. And the entire story, based on a mavrick mouse and rat, was beautifully crafted. Indeed, I don't want to give too much away because it is such a pleasant and satisfying ride. It isn't shockingly unpredictable but it does involve a story of relationships between individuals and also society that is worthwhile.

But there is a moment of irony. One of the key themes is the mice world that spends all of its time indoctrinating themselves and their children to be afraid. It isn't subtle but I could not help but think about Bazelon's concerns and fears taking her children to this movie. Was that concern the equivalent of mouse indoctrination? Are we guessing about what our children are thinking and what they regard as scary and permitting those emotions? The alternative to cowering being a posture of a lack of concern and confidence. Actually, I have no idea. But that thought did occur to me during this movie. And apparently, we as parents don't really know very much about our children so it is right to ask these questions.

So my assessment of Tales of Despereaux is that it is a great family movie. My 10 and 8 year old enjoyed it but didn't laugh at all. And my attention was fully there thinking this is the sort of higher level movie that I should be taking my kids too. Utility and satisfaction all around.