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NEW MOVIE

‘The Tale of Despereaux’: A Tale of Forgiveness

By Belinda Elliott
CBN.com Senior Producer

CBN.com - Just in time for Christmas comes a film that the whole family will enjoy. The star of The Tale of Despereaux may be small in stature, but he offers kids and parents alike some big lessons about forgiveness and compassion.

The film is based on the award-winning book, The Tale of Despereaux, written by Kate DiCamillo in 2003. The children’s book quickly climbed to the top of the New York Times best-seller list, and received a Newbery Medal, sealing its place as a favorite pick among teachers in classrooms across the nation. Now Despereaux comes to life on the big screen thanks to writer/producer Gary Ross (Seabiscuit, Dave).

Ross said it was his wife and fellow producer, Allison Thomas, who first alerted him to the story and its potential to work well as a film. The two often work together on films, and he said she has a keen eye when it comes to spotting great stories.

“She, in fact, was the person who found Seabiscuit as a magazine article,” Ross said. “I learned to trust her at that point.” Once he read the book, he said, he too was drawn to the story’s inspiring message and complex characters.

The story centers around Despereaux Tilling, a small mouse with abnormally large ears who lives in the Kingdom of Dor. The lovable mouse doesn’t fit in with his peers. He is much too brave to “cower” in fear when instructed to do so, and he prefers reading books rather than eating them as good mice should. His individuality quickly sets him apart. After daring to speak to a human, something strictly forbidden, he is banished from Mouseworld and forced to live in Ratworld, a dark and vicious place.  

In his new surroundings, he soon befriends another outcast, Roscuro (Dustin Hoffman) and begins a dangerous adventure similar to the tales of daring knights and helpless maidens he so often read about in Mouseworld. As he vows to stand for truth and justice, the adventuresome little Despereaux is easy to admire.

“I love Despereaux for all the obvious reasons,” Ross said. “He’s not afraid to be an individual. He knows what’s right in his heart, and he is willing to stand up for that no matter what the consequences. Isn’t that something we all would like to impart to our kids? With his indomitable spirit, his ethics, and his sense of right and wrong, it just makes for a wonderful hero.”

While Despereaux is a shining example of heroism, Roscuro, too, is a relatable character that ultimately offers valuable lessons of his own.  His character illustrates one of the film’s central themes, that forgiveness is more valuable than revenge.

“So often in books and in movies there is a kind of coarseness in which revenge, at times, is a virtue,” Ross said. “I think that one of the things that is beautiful about this story is that it was feelings of vengeance that were holding the characters back, and it was kindness and the spirit of forgiveness that were ultimately redeeming for the characters. It broke their cycle of anger. It unlocked them and ultimately allowed for resolution of the story.”

A movie extolling the values of forgiveness and compassion isn’t something one often finds among Hollywood films. It’s something that Ross hopes parents will take to heart and discuss with their kids after viewing the movie.

“It’s a movie that is about kindness and how redemptive kindness and compassion can be, not just this time of year, but any time of year. That’s a really wonderful message in a film, and I think it’s a wonderful conversation for parents to be able to have with their kids.”

He said just as the book has become a favorite among teachers to discuss with their students, he hopes the film will be a catalyst to help people contemplate the virtues of forgiveness and compassion long after the movie is finished.

“What we want out of this movie is that it’s not an experience that leaves you the minute you leave the theater,” Ross said. “If we’ve done our jobs, then this will linger with you the way the values in Kate’s book linger with you after you read it. It’s something that will hopefully stay with you for days.”

The film’s uplifting message also provides a great way for Christian parents to help their children understand the biblical concept of forgiving one another, and the damage we do to ourselves and to our relationship with God when we withhold forgiveness. There couldn’t be a better time for a film with such an enlightening message than the Christmas season, when we celebrate the birth of Jesus our Savior, who continually offers forgiveness to us when we seek Him.

The Tale of Despereaux opens in theaters today.

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