Universal Studios has given a gift to our families this Christmas. The Tale of Despereaux (G) will be released in theaters this Friday, December 19th. You can view the trailer and website here.
My friend John Seel (a cultural analyst par excellence) sent me this note the other day:
I’m really high on the upcoming film, “The Tale of Despereaux.” When Hollywood does something right, we really need to applaud! May be some day they’ll really start listening to their audience.
So I asked John if he’d be willing to write a guest post here exlpaining the story and why. Thankfully, he agreed. Take it away John…
Life isn’t fair. Life is hard. This is not a lesson we often teach our children. We tend to protect them from the hard edges. But a sense of entitlement leads to an attitude of victimhood. It’s far better to forgive and overcome.
The Tale of Despereaux is a compelling morality tale where themes of acceptance, sacrifice, forgiveness, beauty, light, and love find their narrative voice and compelling action. It is a disservice to the young to think that these adult themes or heroic choices are limited to the grown-up world. In fact, reality knows no age limit to nobility of purpose, no size limit to the expanse of the heart. It’s best to learn these lessons when one is young – to work them out on the playground, in the classroom, around the kitchen table, or in this case, through a beautifully told adventure about a tiny mouse with big ears…and an even bigger heart.
If brokenness is a reality, so too is forgiveness. Forgiveness always has a cost. Someone always bears its price. “Forgiveness breaks the chain of causality because he who ‘forgives’ you — out of love — takes upon himself the consequences of what you have done. Forgiveness, therefore, always entails a sacrifice,” writes former U.N. Secretary General Dag Hammarskjold.
Imagination always precedes knowledge. It’s better to illustrate this lesson in a story, than teach it as a rule. For when the heart is engaged, the feet follow.
The Tale of Despereaux is a tale of redemption. In the end, soup returns and the Kingdom of Dor is restored because the cycle of bitterness and revenge is broken. Forgiveness is the most heroic of all actions.
Few movies depict forgiveness as central to a virtuous heroic life. This is the message of the film, The Tale of Despereaux, the cinematic adaptation of Kate DeCamillo’s Newbery award-winning book.
[John has also co-written the discussion questions below for personal, family, and church use.]
DISCUSSION QUESTIONS: THE TALE OF DESPEREAUX
1. What quality or qualities make Despereaux different than those around him?
2. How are Despereaux’s unusual physical qualities related to his moral qualities?
3. How do Despereaux’s unusual qualities serve him in his quest?
Good and Evil
1. What was the greatest good done in The Tale of Despereaux, and what was the greatest evil?
2. How is good brought out of evil in this story?
3. What causes the rain to fall again, the sun to shine, and the king to leave his dark room?
4. What plunges the Kingdom of Dor into darkness and how is the light restored?
5. How are the wrongs done in the story rectified? What single quality most changes the various unhappy situations for the better?
6. Who (or Which character) in The Tale of Despereaux is responsible for the restoration of the Kingdom of Dor?
1. Despereaux ignores the rules of his people. Why? Does he live by any rules? (Remember that a rule is a measure of action.)
2. What most motivates Despereaux in all his actions?
3. Do other characters share the vision Despereaux has, either from the beginning or intermittently?
4. The movie says that when we are hurt, sometimes we look for someone or something to blame. Was the king wise to blame soup and rats for his grief? What should he have done instead?
5. Several characters in the movie pursue their dreams. Is it always good to have a dream, or are some dreams distractions from our real callings and temptations to envy others?
6. After the queen died, it seemed all the king did was sit around, play sad tunes, look at her picture, and cry. Is this how a king should behave?
1. Does Despereaux fulfill his quest to tell the Princess the end of the story?
2. Does the story that Despereaux reads have an end?
1. What quality in the Princess prevents her from ever being truly imprisoned? Do others in the story have that same quality?
2. What does it mean to be a princess? Princess Pea is a princess. Is Mig a princess?
3. Why couldn’t the king, sitting in his dark room and playing his music, hear Despereaux?
4. Why and how did the king shut out the light from his kingdom?
5. Why does Roscuro abandon his quest and how does he find it again?
6. What is the role of Boldo in The Tale of Despereaux? Does he help achieve the quest?