The Tale of Despereaux appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions.
Expect very few problems during this strong transfer.
Sharpness looked terrific. Only a hint of softness emerged here, as the movie almost always seemed concise and well-defined. I noticed no issues connected to shimmering or jagged edges, and just a smidgen of edge enhancement materialized. Of course, the computer-animated affair came without source flaws, so don’t worry about any specks, marks or other defects.
Expect a fairly nostalgic golden tint to the palette. Within those constraints, the colors looked quite good. They remained warm and rich throughout the movie. Blacks were concise and dark, and shadows seemed clear and well-defined. Overall, Despereaux provided terrific visuals.
Though not as memorable, the Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack of Despereaux seemed positive. In the forward domain, the music showed fine stereo imaging, while effects blended together neatly and smoothly. Those elements moved from speaker to speaker cleanly as the track created a solid sense of atmosphere. It even included a fair amount of dialogue from the side speakers, which offered a good impression of breadth.
Surround usage generally favored reinforcement of music and effects, but the rears came to life during a number of scenes. Various action bits showed effective use of the surrounds on occasion. The mix helped bring the material to life.
Audio quality consistently seemed positive. Dialogue was natural and distinct, and I heard no problems related to intelligibility or edginess. Music was rich and warm throughout the movie, with good clarity as well. Bass was a bit of a weak link, as the flick didn’t boast particularly dynamic low-end; the mix didn’t seem feeble, but it could’ve used stronger depth. This was an acceptably engaging soundtrack that earned a “B“.
Among the disc’s smattering of supplements, we find two featurettes. The Tale of The Tale of Despereaux: A (Mostly) Non-Fictional Making Of goes for 11 minutes, 41 seconds and includes notes from author Kate DiCamillo, screenwriter/producer Gary Ross, producer Allison Thomas, co-directors Sam Fell and Rob Stevenhagen, supervising animator Gabriele Zucchelli, director of photography Brad Blackbourn, production designer Evgeni Tomov, lead digital matte painter Jason Horley, head of lighting Ryan Michero, and actors Stanley Tucci, Emma Watson, Matthew Broderick, and Kevin Kline. We get some notes about the source novel and its adaptation, cast and performances, planning and storyboarding, visual design and animation issues.
Expect a decent overview of the production from “Tale”. At less than 12 minutes, it lacks the time to explore the film’s creation in detail, and it suffers from the usual sense of promotion that comes with pieces of this sort. Nonetheless, we get some good insights, and it’s a blast to see the actors perform together. It’s not a great show, but it has enough going for it to become engaging.
Top Ten Uses for Oversized Ears runs one minute, 21 seconds. It provides exactly what its title implies: a list of 10 ways to utilize enormous ears. It’s cute at best.
Next we find an Interactive Map of the Kingdom of Dor. This allows us to wander through the castle of Dor and learn a bit more about it. A narrator tells us about the locations while we see images of them. None of these teach us anything you don’t already know from the movie.
Two games appear. Despereaux’s Quest sends us through five mini-contests required to help Despereaux save the Princess. Some are very easy, some require some skill, and many some are annoying. I’ve seen worse, though we don’t get a unique reward for completion.
Build a Boldo takes you to the kitchen to create the “magic soup genie”. It presents various fruits and vegetables and requires you to identify the ones needs to assemble Boldo. We can play at “easy” or “hard” levels, and the latter indeed seems tougher. Both are forgiving, though, so don’t expect much trouble.
A few ads open the DVD. We get clips for Curious George 2: Follow That Monkey, The Tale of Despereaux video game, Pokemon: Giratina and the Sky Warrior, Barbie: Thumbelina and Bionicle: The Legend Reborn. No trailer for Despereaux appears.
The disc also provides a 10-minute and 23-second sneak peek for Curious George 2. Don’t expect comments from those involved in the movie. Instead, it simply shows a sizable chunk of footage from the flick.
Despite its “believe in yourself” message, The Tale of Despereaux provides a surprisingly dark, foreboding tale. That tone allows it to stand out from the crowd, and the rest of the film does enough right to create an interesting piece of work. The DVD provides excellent visuals and good audio but doesn’t include substantial extras. This would be fine entertainment for kids ages eight and up or so; despite the presence of the cute big-eared mouse, I don’t think it’s appropriate for littler ones.