[Screen It]


(2022) (voices of Hugh Laurie, Emilia Clarke) (PG)

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Computer-Animated Comedy/Adventure: Humans, talking rats, and a talking cat join forces to try to solve a mystery in a town where a mysterious figure rules and tries to lure some of them into his supernatural fold.

Maurice (voice of HUGH LAURIE) is a talking cat who runs a con with human Keith (voice of HIMESH PATEL) where they -- in cahoots with a band of talking rats that includes leader Darktan (voice of ARIYON BAKARE), the wise Dangerous Beans (voice of DAVID TENNANT), and followers Peaches (voice of GEMMA ARTERTON) and Sardines (voice of JOE SUGG) among others -- travel from village to village and con the locals into believing they have a rat infestation. They then alleviate the "problem," collect their payment, and move on to the next village to continue their ruse.

But when they arrive at the next one, they find the place void of any rats, thanks to the work of Ratcatcher Billy (voice of FLORIAN WESTERMANN) and Ratcatcher Ron (voice of TOBY GENKEL). However, little do any of them -- including the mayor's well-read and precocious daughter, Malicia (voice of EMILIA CLARKE) - realize that the rat catchers work for the Rat King (voice of DAVID THEWLIS), a supernatural collection of rats that are mentally connected into one being that appears sort of in human form. When the Rat King sets his sights on the newcomer rats, it's up to Maurice, Keith, and Malicia to save the day.

OUR TAKE: 7 out of 10

Back when I was growing up, a common phrase used in place of some expletives was "Rats!" If I had to guess about the origin of that word used in a negative context, it would tie in with the rodents usually being associated with bad things. You know, like various plagues that killed millions of people over the centuries.

Accordingly, when someone saw such a critter, yelling or screaming out the species' name was certainly justified. I guess with the chances of the plague lessening throughout time, the term stuck around but found itself labeled to lesser issues, such as a follow-up to "I'm sorry, ma'am, we just ran out of bread" or the response to just missing someone.

Even with the massive scale disease matter mostly in the rearview window, people still don't like rodents, although animated films have attempted to reverse some of that stigma. While mice have received the, um, lion's share of such cinematic treatment (including, you know, the little guy who got his own Disney deal), rats have occasionally been the stars including in the superb "Ratatouille."

They now get another chance to shine in "The Amazing Maurice," an entertaining and enjoyable computer-animated action-comedy hybrid based on Terry Pratchett's 2001 novel, "The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents" (with the novelist also penning the screenplay).

I have not read the source material, but the title character is a smug, con artist feline (voiced by Hugh Laurie) who, with a band of rats led by Darktan (Ariyon Bakare), and a teenage human, Keith (Himesh Patel), travels from town to town and convinces the locals that they have a rat infestation. For payment, Keith goes all Pied Piper on the rodents and leads them away, much to the relief of the beleaguered townsfolk.

But when they arrive in the latest village -- where the mayor's daughter, Malicia (Emilia Clarke), serves as our breaking-the-fourth-wall narrator turned action heroine -- they find the place void of everyday, non-talking rats.

That's seemingly courtesy of two rat catchers (Florian Westermann and Toby Genkel), but they secretly work for a mysterious figure they call Boss Man and who's later revealed to be none other than the Rat King (David Thewlis). He's the physical embodiment of the collective power of many rats connected by mental power, and now that he's seen a bunch of new recruits, he wants them added to the collection.

From that point on, it's up to some of the rats to save some of their brethren and for the titular kitty, the pipe-playing teen, and the well-read and hyper-precocious narrator to save the day, sometimes fairly meta style as meets a certain Shrek type of fairy tale procurement.

The result is an infectiously entertaining romp through times of old with plenty of action, antics, and comedy to entertain kids and adults alike. The computer animation is top-notch, as is the vocal work, and director Toby Genkel (yes, the same who voices one of the rat catchers) keeps things moving at a quick and satisfyingly engaging pace.

I'll admit I wasn't expecting much -- not being familiar with the novel and hearing next to nothing about this adaptation -- but I came away liking it quite a bit. If you don't mind such rodents, I doubt you'll end up saying "Rats!" after watching this fun flick. "The Amazing Maurice" rates as a 7 out of 10.

Posted February 3, 2023

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