Once upon a time, in the kingdom of Dor, soup attracted tourists from all over, and friendly rats scampered about the streets. But then, a mishap involving a certain rat named Roscuro (voiced by Dustin Hoffman) and a particularly delicious bowl of soup caused the death of the Queen and changed Dor forever. The once-bright sun disappeared behind a perpetually cloud-filled sky that never rained, and rats were banished to the dark, dank depths of the dungeons. If ever there were a time for a hero to appear, it was then.
And so Despereaux (Broderick) is born. A very unmouselike mouse, Despereaux lives by a code of honor and decency. He doesn’t cower or scurry; he doesn’t know how to be afraid. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but it enlivens the mouse. So when he meets and befriends the soup- and sunshine-starved Princess Pea (Watson), Despereaux takes on the task of saving her from the rancorous rats.
Looking like the Will Smith of Mouseworld with his too-big ears, Despereaux is charming in his quest to save the princess. What he lacks in size, he makes up for in steely courage. But the sheer adorableness of the chivalrous little mouse doesn’t make him an especially effective hero. And the blandness of Princess Pea keeps her from being a sympathetic damsel in distress. Throw in several superfluous characters, one too many poorly taught lessons and an unnecessarily convoluted plot, and viewers will wish the doors to Dor had never been opened. –Tasha Chemplavil