Kate DiCamillo's beloved children's book, The Tale of Despereaux, was first published in 2003 and has gone on to sell more than 10 million copies. It is the story of a brave little mouse born without the usual fears of his brethren. He also has ears that would give Dumbo a run for his money. During the course of his adventure, Despereaux teams up with a rat named Roscuro, falls for a princess, and saves the entire Kingdom of Dor.
The movie adaptation of DiCamillio's book hits theaters this week and features an impressive vocal cast that includes Matthew Broderick (Despereaux), Dustin Hoffman (Roscuro), Emma Watson (Princess Pea), and Sigourney Weaver (narrator). It was directed by Sam Fell and Robert Stevenhagen and produced by the ever-versatile Gary Ross.
The principal members of the voice cast sat with press recently to discuss their part in bringing the world of Despereaux from page to screen.
Sigourney Weaver, whose vocal stylings were also heard earlier this year as the Ship's Computer in WALL-E, narrates The Tale of Despereaux. "I was the person they started with," Weaver told press. "The narrator has to usher people into this world and introduce these characters. It was really exciting to be that person which Gary described as the children's eccentric aunt with a cigarette." (Laughs)
"I have to say that I probably used my own experience telling stories to my daughter, because I realized you have to draw pretty deeply into whoever your storyteller is. The narrator in Kate's book is very strong [and] charming. I think it's one of the nicest introductions to a book ever written for families."
As the titular character, Matthew Broderick had to put his trust in Ross and the directors. "I just did what a variety of directors told me to do," Broderick joked. "No, I just loved the story and I didn't think of him particularly as a mouse. I figured once they did the drawings, it would be clear it was a mouse. I thought of him as a teen or a boy trying to turn into a man. I tried to take it seriously and think of it like my own life."
Screen legend Dustin Hoffman was in a particularly jokey mood during the press conference. As Broderick spoke of his role in the movie, Hoffman pulled a hamster out of his shirt pocket, resulting in a series of surprised "ooohs" and "ahhhs" from press.
"This guy was in my shirt perfectly," Hoffman said as he pulled the creature from his pocket. "I wanted to time it right. And I had one for Matthew, but he wore a sweater." (Laughs)
It took a few moments for everyone to regain their composure after the bizarre surprise, but eventually Broderick finished his thoughts: "We all discussed it pretty carefully and tried to take the story seriously. We tried to take the situation that I was in very seriously."
Emma Watson, best known as Hermione in the Harry Potter franchise, was new to vocal work before Despereaux. "It took me a little bit of time [to get used to it]. My performance in the film is quite physical because I'm being kidnapped, and there's a rat in my room, and whatever. It was hard to try to get all of that into my voice. It was fun. I was actually given a toy Despereaux I could speak to as a substitute."
"Despereaux has such a strong character and identity of its own," Watson continued. "It's so fun for me to work in a different medium, to work in a computer-animated feature. I've never done that before. It was a lot of fun and I'm massively proud of it. It felt like it wasn't patronizing to children. The messages that are in the film are really profound and philosophical."
Portraying the beautiful princess was also a thrill for Watson and a big change from Hermione. "She's basically your quite generic princess," Watson told press. "She's very beautiful and everything's great, but then she loses her mother. She's pretty lonely and isolated. She's literally locked up in this tower and she can't be part of this real world. I really fell in love with the script and the book more than [my] character."
If Despereaux succeeds on the big screen, it certainly seems possible that a sequel could be pursued. When asked of the possibility, Broderick said he believes it is better left as a self-contained story. "I loved the movie and I think it's shockingly beautiful. It's such a complete story, I think. I think that a [sequel] wouldn't happen because it wasn't meant to. It's such a satisfying story, but I'm certainly available if that's what you're asking." (Laughs)