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Once upon a time there was a movie studio that thought it could produce a hit with a performer best known for raunchy slacker comedies and a lot of money for special effects. This story does not turn out very happily ever after.

Adam Sandler plays Skeeter, a hotel handyman who dreams of being the manager. His sister Wendy (Courtney Cox) asks him to stay with her children while she interviews for a new job. He tells them a bedtime story which they embellish and the next day some of its most outlandish details start to come true, even a shower of gumballs. As Skeeter competes with the obsequious Kendall (Guy Pearce) who is the boyfriend of the hotel owner, for the position of manager of a fancy new facility, he tries to direct the bedtime stories to help him succeed. Each night’s story — whether about a knight, a cowboy, an outer space adventurer, or a gladiator — influences the next day’s events.

The children in the audience laughed a lot at some of the silly details and schoolyard humor. And they enjoyed figuring out before Skeeter did that it was not the details he added to the story but the children’s ideas that shaped the real-world events. There are some marvelous special effects in the depiction of the stories, too. But anyone over the age of seven is unlikely to be more than mildly entertained by the film because of Sandler’s pudgy, barely-interested performance and a present-day storyline that is lackluster in contrast with the wild adventures of the bedtime sagas. Wendy’s “funny” restrictions on the children’s food and activities and a subplot intended to be suspenseful about whether her school will be torn down are distracting, especially when near the end there is a big waste of time when the film has to step up the pressure by putting children in senseless peril and dragging out the suspense. Keri Russell is radiant as always as Wendy’s friend and Skeeter’s love interest. Her brief appearance in the fantasy stories are as dazzling as the most elaborate special effects. The other characters are never as interesting as the time allotted to them means them to be. British bad boy Russell Brand is completely out of place as Skeeter’s friend and Guy Pearce is fighting at way below his weight class as Skeeter’s nemesis. We would all have done better if the children wrote the story.

I’m delighted to have four copies of Tale of Despereaux to give away to the first four people who send me an email at with Despereaux in the subject line. Good luck!

The visuals are rich and inviting but a complicated three-part story makes an uneasy transition to screen for the well-loved book by Kate DiCamillo.

Sigourney Weaver narrates the story, beginning with the description of a hero we will not meet for a while, the first of several confusing narrative zig-zags. Before we can meet the title character we must follow a sea-faring rat named Roscuro (voice of Dustin Hoffman) who causes a lot of trouble when he falls into a bowl of soup. And this is not just any soup. This is the soup of the queen of Dor, a country where soup is the national passion. The most important day of the year is the day the new soup presented by the royal chef (voice of Kevin Kline), a true artiste with a muse made of vegetables. Curious Roscuro accidentally falls into the bowl of the queen and she is so shocked that she dies. The grieving king bans soup — and rats — and the kingdom becomes cold and sad, the skies perpetually overcast but never finding the release of rain.

Meanwhile a small mouse with very big ears named Despereaux (voice of Matthew Broderick) cannot seem to learn important mouse skills like cowering. He is brave, adventuresome, and chivalrous. He is a gentleman. And a lonely gap-toothed scullery maid envies the princess and begins to think maybe she should replace her.

The animation is truly magnificent, brilliantly imagined and gorgeously realized. There are a hundred brilliant details from the play of light in the dungeon to the dash across the mousetraps and an Archimboldo-inspired vegetable-man muse. The vistas are jewel-toned and glowing and the physical properties are wonderfully real and thrillingly vivid. The story, however, is less so, over-complicated and murky. What happens in front of those beautiful backgrounds is never quite as interesting as the setting.

What are your favorite movies? “Rocky?” “The Great Escape?” “Happy Gilmore?” “Lord of the Rings?” Are you an adventurer, a creator, an idealist?

Cinescopes: What Your Favorite Movies Reveal About You says that your favorite movies are a reflection of your personality and temperament. Authors Risa Williams and Ezra Webb have written a book that sorts everyone into one of eight categories, based on their favorite movies. Their website also lets visitors submit their top 10 lists to get their profiles and get a chance to see profiles of other movie-lovers with similar tastes. The sorting may be superficial, but it is fun to see what other movies fall into your “type.”

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