Seeing “The Tale of Despereaux” with Celie


Sarah took Iris to see the animated movie “The Tale of Despereaux” a few days ago.  Celie thought that it would be too scary and decided not to go, and then bitterly regretted the decision an hour later.  So, she and I went yesterday.

It’s a pretty cute and a beautifully animated movie.  It was a bit dark and complex for Celie, through whose eyes I was seeing it almost literally as she was sitting on my lap for most of it.  But she liked some of it.

It’s partly about a crisis of masculinity and fatherhood.  Despereaux is an unusual mouse because he is too small, has huge ears, and is totally fearless.  He’s failing out of school because he can’t learn how to “cower” properly like the other mouse kids.  His father basically turns him into the authorities and allows them to sentence him to banishment to the world underground, where he’ll presumably be killed by the Morlock-like rats who live there.  (This was pretty heavy for Celie.)

There are at least two other failed fathers.  There’s the dungeon guard who, we learn, gave away his “princess” infant daughter, an act he terribly regrets (I have to admit I didn’t completely get why he had to do this — I guess he signed her away into service, as when we meet her, she has become the servant/maid for the actual Princess).  And then there’s the King, who after the death of the Queen, lapses into a life-denying, nihilistic depression.   The theme of the movie is best captured, I thought, by the scene where the spunky, fearless Despereaux is frantically trying to get the King’s attention in order to warn him that his daughter the Princess is about to be killed by the rats… but the King can’t hear/ignores him and drops one single tear, which crashes down on Despereux’s head.   Frozen, ineffectual, destructive male passivity/depression/cowardice leads to the “giving away”/neglect/destruction of the child.  In the end Despereaux, through the reading of old tales of chivalry, revives lost values of bravery and honor, saves the community, and teaches mice that there’s more to life than cowering.

Afterwards I asked Celie if she is brave.  “Well, sometimes… when I want to be.  Other times, the scare comes into my body,” she replied.