Arghhh!!!! I feel such anger at Kate diCamillo for letting Hollywood destroy her perfect little gem of a novel! Sadness for the children who may now never bother to read the modern-day fairy tale! Disappointment that something so seemingly dark but unbelievably charming was turned into something so mediocre and watered-down!
I read The Tale of Despereaux aloud to my boys about a year ago, in the February darkness, when they were seven and eight. It was one of the most profound experiences we have ever had reading together. I knew it would be a challenge to turn the exquisite language and themes of the novel into a film, but I thought the same about Charlotte's Web as well, and was pleasantly surprised by the screen version. I suppose my hopes were too high.
Do yourself and your children a favor, please: for the price of only one movie ticket, you can buy the book. Read it aloud together. Caress the uneven pages along the edges, marvel at the illustrations, talk about what it means to be yourself, about what happens to people when they are mistreated, about what it means to find light in "Once upon a time....."
The themes are heavy and dark, and for this reason alone, I know parents who have dismissed it. They are idiots. They forget that for true redemption, there must be real sadness, real suffering. Children need not be sheltered from these kinds of stories. They are powerful beyond measure.
For those that don't like Despereaux's themes of abuse, servitude and death (the themes that were completely left out of the movie!), I would refer you to this lengthy, but appropriate comment from C.S. Lewis:
"A serious attack on the fairy tale as children's literature comes from those who do not wish children to be frightened....Those who say that children must not be frightened may mean two things. They may mean (1) that we must not do anything likely to give the child those haunting, disabling, pathological fears against which ordinary courage is helpless: in fact, phobias....Or they may mean (2) that we must try to keep out of his mind the knowledge that he is born into a world of death, violence, wounds, adventure, heroism and cowardice, good and evil. If they mean the first I agree with them: but not if they mean the second. The second would indeed be to give children a false impression and feed them on escapism in the bad sense. There is something ludicrous in the idea of so educating a generation which is born to.…the atomic bomb. Since it is so likely that they will meet cruel enemies, let them at least have heard of brave knights and heroic courage...
By confining your child to blameless stories of child life in which nothing at all alarming ever happens, you would fail to banish the terrors, and would succeed in banishing all that can ennoble them or make them endurable.For in the fairy tales, side by side with the terrible figures, we find the immemorial comforters and protectors, the radiant ones; and the terrible figures are not merely terrible, but sublime. It would be nice if no little boy in bed, hearing or thinking he hears, a sound, were ever at all frightened. But if he is going to be frightened, I think it better that he should think of giants and dragons than merely of burglars. And I think St George, or any bright champion in armour, is a better comfort than the idea of police."