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You would think for such a famous author, Terry Pratchett, the creator of the popular Discworld series, there would be more adaptations of his work. His writing was whimsical, charming, and filled with delightful bits of humor and memorable characters. There haven’t been too many out in the wild and when you find them, they are not all that accessible. The most animated-related adaptation is probably Wyrd Sisters or Soul Music, which is noted for having the late great Christopher Lee who played the voice of Death. How on earth do we have a Discworld point-and-click adventure game, but not a Discworld animated series or animated feature? Still, I’m sure the estate is picky with what gets adapted, and who knows, maybe some of his work is easier to adapt than others for a feature film-length experience. This is where The Amazing Maurice comes into play and is one of the first feature films in the US in 2023.
Based on the book The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, this film is directed by Toby Genkel and written by Terry Rossio, who co-wrote some of your childhood favorite animated features like Aladdin, Shrek, and live-action films like The Mask of Zorro and the Pirates of the Caribbean films. The story revolves around a talking cat named Maurice, voiced by Hugh Laurie, who works with a human named Keith, voiced by Himesh Patel, to clear any town or city of rats. Though the thing that many will not know is that the two of them actually work with the group of rats that just so happen to be in town when they arrive. These include a few named ones like Darktan, voiced by Ariyon Bakare, Peaches, voiced by Gemma Arterton, Sardines, voiced by Joe Sugg, Nourishing, voiced by Julie Atherton, and Dangerous Beans, voiced by David Tenant. As they head into town for one last con, they realize something is up when there are no rats to be had or seen. With the help of the mayor’s daughter Malicia, voiced by Emilia Clarke, can they solve the town’s mystery and take down an individual named Boss Man, voiced by David Thewlis?
One of the first details that should be pointed out about this film is the animation. Listen, it’s going to be a bit before the major studios put out their films, and that means we are going to get a couple of smaller releases before March and April. So, you should adapt your expectations to what varying degrees of quality you will probably see on the big and small screen. What’s impressive about this is how great the character animation is. You will see where the budget was invested, since despite having a mostly empty-looking city, the character animation is the best aspect of the film. The team of animators did these little details here and there that bring so much charm into the characters we see onscreen. Doing something as simple as Sardine’s movements differently than the other rats is such a fun little detail that people will probably not see or care about when first seen onscreen. It perfectly encapsulates his character and personality without hearing a single bit of dialogue. A lot of the comedy is executed well also. Even the villain has some of my favorite character animation of the year so far, due to how ragdoll he moves, but is still immensely imposing and threatening. While stills may not do his design justice, Maurice looks great. Just a quirky and cartoony cat that has a multitude of different facial expressions. Sure, a lot of the backgrounds and environments are empty and flat, but they do look nice. It’s not like they look like first-draft rough renders or anything like that. It’s polished for what the possibly small budget for this was.
As for the story, it’s mostly a journey of connection through our characters realizing why they are important for one another and finding their inner talent and being able to save the day from actual corrupt forces that want to do bad in the world. The fact we have a group of flawed thieves is perfect for what the story is all about seeing as how they are crooks, but they aren’t literally stealing everything from right under the town’s people’s noses. I mean, they are stealing cash at first, but not to the extent the villains are. Sometimes, it’s fun to have flawed protagonists. You just have to make them likable, and while only some of the rats get personalities and names you can remember, they are likable. Maurice is egocentric and cocky, but he gets more sympathetic as time goes on. The human characters are pretty okay. The only one who has any real major personality is Emilia Clarke’s character, who is meta and self-aware about the ways stories are told and the tropes that unfold from within them. Keith is a decent wide-eyed and likable lead, but he has the more typical route of becoming a real hero. It really helps though that it has a killer voice cast that has been listed in the top part of this review. Cast the characters wrong, and it could derail everything. It also helps that this wasn’t a film that needed to be dubbed over since the stars are big enough for their own movie. For the comedy, it is more dialogue driven with wordplay and the reliant eeriness of the meta nature of the female lead. It isn’t always consistently funny, but it’s consistently charming. That’s more of a victory than if it had the most laughs. Sometimes, being more consistent is better than being ambitious but inconsistent. Also, if you are curious, yes, a certain fan-favorite character does show up, but he isn’t in the film a whole lot.
In general, while it probably won’t be winning any major awards, The Amazing Maurice is a delightful surprise during a part of the year that was originally a time to dump smaller films to write off as failures or for people to catch up on the award season fodder. If you can see it in theaters, then give it a watch! Seeing a mostly positive reception to the film definitely makes this the most accessible and watchable film brought over by Viva Kids, and the fact they are confident enough to give it a theatrical release is admirable. Now, how big that release ends up being is probably the usual NYC and LA release and not an actual wide release. Still, if you can find time to watch this film, then do it! Definitely recommend checking it out while we wait until Netflix and the big studios drop their big films. Now then, it’s time to go big and epic as we talk about New Gods: Yang Jian.
Rating: Go See It!