The Tale of Despereaux
Theatrical release poster
Directed by
Screenplay byGary Ross
Story by
Based onThe Tale of Despereaux
by Kate DiCamillo
Produced by
  • Gary Ross
  • Allison Thomas
Narrated bySigourney Weaver
CinematographyBrad Blackbourn
Edited byMark Solomon
Music byWilliam Ross
Distributed byUniversal Pictures
Release date
  • December 19, 2008 (2008-12-19) (United States)
Running time
93 minutes[2]
CountriesUnited Kingdom
United States
Budget$60 million[2]
Box office$86.9 million[2]

The Tale of Despereaux is a 2008 computer-animated adventure fantasy film directed by Sam Fell and Rob Stevenhagen (in his feature directorial debut). It is based on the 2003 novel of the same name by Kate DiCamillo. The film is narrated by Sigourney Weaver and stars Matthew Broderick, Robbie Coltrane, Dustin Hoffman, Richard Jenkins, Kevin Kline, Frank Langella, William H. Macy, Tracey Ullman, Emma Watson, and Ciarán Hinds. Animation was provided by Framestore Animation.

The film was released in the United States by Universal Pictures on December 19, 2008. It is the second theatrically-released computer-animated film distributed by Universal Pictures, following The Pirates Who Don't Do Anything: A VeggieTales Movie. The Tale of Desperaux grossed $86.9 million against a $60 million budget and received generally mixed reviews: many critics praised the film for its animation, voice acting, and the title character, but disparaged its story.


Sailor Pietro and his rat-companion Roscuro dock in the French kingdom of Dor — famous around the world for its delicious soups — during the "Royal Soup Day." The chief cook, Andre, makes good soup due to Boldo, a genie made of food who lives in his pot. Roscuro sneaks into the royal banquet-hall and falls into Queen Rosemary's soup, scaring her so much that she has a heart attack and dies. Roscuro discovers that Pietro flees and falls into the castle dungeons. Discovering that Pietro was forced to leave without him on their ship, he is taken in by Botticelli Remorso — leader of the large rat population — but struggles to accustom to their bellicose culture. Distraught over his wife's death, King Philip forbids the consumption all things related to soup and declares rats "illegal." Without its soup, Dor becomes impoverished and dreary. Andre is banned from making soup and Boldo stops appearing. The king's daughter, Princess Pea, despairs over the sad state of the kingdom and how her father's grief-based reclusive behavior shuts her and the world out.

In a mouse village within an abandoned kitchen storage room, Despereaux is born into the Tilling family. The newborn Despereaux is immediately noted by his family for his large ears, as well as having been born neither blind nor crying. As he grows up, it is clear he is different from other mice: he is brave and curious rather than timid, unnerving other mice around him. In an effort to teach him to be a "proper mouse," his brother Furlough takes him to the royal library to show him how to chew books, but Despereaux is more interested in reading them, becoming fascinated by their stories. One day, Despereaux encounters and converses with Pea, promising to finish the story about a trapped princess and tell her how it ends. Upon discovering Despereaux has violated mouse law by talking to a human, his parents Lester and Antoinette turn him over to the mouse council to avoid blame.

The council banishes Despereaux for the crime of having courage. The "threadmaster", a blind mouse named Hovis, lowers Despereaux into the dungeons using a red thread, where he is presumed dead by the rest of the mice. In the dungeons, Despereaux meets and tells the princess story to the jailor, Gregory, who stops listening and leaves him alone. Despereaux is captured by the rats and thrown into their arena with a tabby cat. As Despereaux is about to be eaten, Roscuro saves his life by asking Botticelli to give Despereaux to him under the pretense to eat, appearing to relent to the sewer rat dogma. Having been unable to adjust to being a sewer rat, Roscuro is desperate to hear about the outside world. The two become friends, as every day Despereaux tells him the stories of the princess and her sadness. Wishing to make amends for the trouble he has caused, Roscuro sneaks into Pea's room and tries to apologize to her, but she lashes out at him, and guards come after him. Hurt by this, Roscuro vows revenge. He enlists the help of Miggery "Mig" Sow, Pea's young, hard-of-hearing maid who longs to be a princess herself, by convincing her she can take Pea's place if she kidnaps her. After Mig drags Pea to the dungeons, Roscuro double-crosses her and locks her in a cell.

Meanwhile, Despereaux discovers the princess is in danger and tries to tell the King who is too despondent to hear him. Despereaux tries to get help elsewhere; he returns to the mouse village and tries to enlist his family, but they are afraid of his presence — as he had fallen in flour and they mistake him for returning as a ghost — so he rings the town's bell to prove his survival, but still no one comes to his aid. Chef Andre, having had enough of the law, gets back to making soup, which brings back Boldo. Despereaux tries to get help from Andre and Boldo to limited success. As Andre is distracted by a rainy thunderstorm outside (which was caused by the smell of the soup being released into the sky), Boldo agrees and takes Despereaux back to the dungeons. On route, they are attacked by rats; Boldo sacrifices himself to allow Despereaux to reach the arena.

In the arena, Roscuro sees the apologetic sincerity in Pea's eyes and regrets his actions, but an enraged Botticelli signals the rats to eat Pea. Despereaux releases the cat to chase some of the rats away, and fights the others off. Botticelli captures Despereaux, but the rain clouds part and sunlight reflects off of a lost heart-shaped locket into the dungeon, stunning the photophobic sewer rats. Roscuro saves Despereaux by using one of the arena's spotlights to direct the sunlight at Botticelli, sending him falling into the arena, where the cat chases him into its cage and Pea shuts the both of them in with her feet, leaving Botticelli to be eaten as the rest of the sewer rats flee into the shadows.

In the aftermath, Mig is reunited with Gregory, who turns out to be her long-lost father, and they go back to their farm together. Meanwhile, the King overcomes his grief and allows soup and rats back into the kingdom; it stops raining and the sun rises over Dor; Roscuro returns to his life at sea; and Despereaux departs on a journey to see the world.

Voice cast


The film's production was marred by disagreements and malpractice, or accusations thereof, between the French, British and North American staff involved. Sylvain Chomet was employed by Gary Ross and Allison Thomas as director early on, before the film was approved for funding by Relativity Media, with pre-production (including character design, the first drafts of the screenplay written by Will McRobb and Chris Viscardi, and the addition of the original character of Boldo) taking place at his studio Django Films in Edinburgh. Chomet came up against creative and ethical differences with the producers and was eventually fired from the project and thrown out of the studio space allocated to the film.[3] Mike Johnson was hired to replace Chomet as director,[4] before the role eventually went to Sam Fell and Rob Stevenhagen.[citation needed]


The score to The Tale of Despereaux was composed by William Ross, who recorded his score with the Hollywood Studio Symphony at the Sony Scoring Stage.[5]


The Tale of Despereaux was theatrically released on December 19, 2008, by Relativity Media.

Home media

The film was released on DVD and Blu-ray on April 7, 2009. One Blu-ray release also includes a standard-definition DVD of the film in addition to the Blu-ray Disc. The film brought in a revenue of $25,531,805 in the US DVD sales market.[6]


Critical response

Matthew Broderick was praised for his performance in the film.
Matthew Broderick was praised for his performance in the film.

Rotten Tomatoes reported that 57% of critics gave positive reviews based on 112 reviews, with an average rating of 5.7/10. The website's consensus reads, "Despite its striking visuals, The Tale of Despereaux as a story feels familiar and unimaginative."[7] Metacritic gives the film a weighted average score of 53 out of 100 based on reviews from 25 critics, indicating "mixed or average reviews".[8] Audiences polled by CinemaScore gave the film an average grade of "B" on an A+ to F scale.[9]

Roger Ebert of Chicago Sun-Times awarded three stars and wrote in his review that "The Tale of Despereaux is one of the most beautifully drawn animated films I've seen," but also wrote, "I am not quite so thrilled by the story."[10] Christy Lemire of Associated Press was more critical, writing that the film "feels obvious, preachy and heavy-handed."[11]

Box office

The film opened at the third position in the United States, behind Seven Pounds and Yes Man, with $10,507,000 in 3,104 theaters with an $3,385 average;[12] on Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday, the film was in second. The film closed in March 2009 after grossing $50 million domestically. The film grossed an additional $37 million overseas for a total of $87 million.


Award Category Nominee Result
Annie Awards 2009 Best Directing in an Animated Feature Production Rob Stevenhagen, Sam Fell Nominated
Annie Awards 2009 Best Music in an Animated Feature Production William Ross Nominated
Annie Awards 2009 Best Production Design in an Animated Feature Production William Ross Nominated
Annie Awards 2009 Best Storyboarding in an Animated Feature Production Evgeni Tomov Nominated
Casting Society of America, USA 2009 Outstanding Achievement in Casting – Animation Feature Debra Zane Nominated
Chicago Film Critics Association Awards 2008 CFCA Award Best Animated Feature Nominated
Motion Picture Sound Editors, USA 2009, Golden Reel Award Best Sound Editing – Sound Effects, Foley, Music, Dialogue and ADR Animation in a Feature Film Lon Bender (supervising sound editor),
Chris Jargo (supervising dialogue/ADR editor),
Nancy MacLeod (supervising foley editor),
Jon Title (sound designer),
Peter Myles (music editor),
Michael Hertlein (dialogue/ADR editor),
Anna MacKenzie (ADR editor),
Michelle Pazer (ADR editor),
Paul Aulicino (sound effects editor),
James Moriana (foley artist),
Jeffrey Wilhoit (foley artist) and Diane Marshall (foley artist)
San Diego Film Critics Society Awards 2008 Special Award Richard Jenkins For The Visitor, Step Brothers and Burn After Reading For the body of work in the last year. Won
Satellite Awards 2008 Special Award Best Motion Picture, Animated or Mixed Media Nominated

Video game

Main article: The Tale of Despereaux (video game)

A video game based on the film published by Brash Entertainment was released on December 2, 2008 for the PlayStation 2, Wii, and Nintendo DS, and on December 16, 2008 for Microsoft Windows. An Xbox 360 version was originally announced, but it was cancelled. While the PlayStation 2, Wii, and Microsoft Windows versions were an action-adventure game, the Nintendo DS version was a 2.5D side-scrolling platformer.


  1. ^ "The Tale of Despereaux (2008)". BFI. Retrieved December 22, 2020.
  2. ^ a b c "The Tale of Despereaux (2008)". Box Office Mojo.
  3. ^ Cieply, Michael; Charles Solomon (2008-09-27). "Name Game: A Tale of Acknowledgment for 'Despereaux'". The New York Times. pp. B7. Retrieved 2009-04-06.
  4. ^ "Mike Johnson to Helm Tale of Despereaux".
  5. ^ Dan Goldwasser (2008-12-15). "William Ross scores The Tale of Despereaux". Retrieved 2008-12-15.
  6. ^ The Tale of Despereaux - Box Office Data, Movie News, Cast Information. The Numbers. Retrieved 2010-10-26.
  7. ^ "The Tale of Despereaux". Rotten Tomatoes. Fandango. Retrieved 2021-10-06. Edit this at Wikidata
  8. ^ "The Tale of Despereaux Reviews". Metacritic. Retrieved 2008-12-21.
  9. ^ "Tale of Despereaux, The (2008) - B". CinemaScore. Retrieved 2021-12-14.
  10. ^ "The Tale of Despereaux :: :: Reviews". Chicago Sun-Times. 2008-12-17. Retrieved 2008-12-21.
  11. ^ "'Despereaux' feels like a 'Ratatouille' rip-off". 2008-12-17. Retrieved 2010-04-17.
  12. ^ "Weekend Box Office Results for December 19–21, 2008". Box Office Mojo. Retrieved 2008-12-21.