VOD film review: The Amazing Maurice
Been here before…6
... but it’s quite good7
Laurence Boyce | On 16, Dec 2022
Director: Toby Genkel
Cast: Hugh Laurie, Emilia Clarke, David Thewlis, Himesh Patel, Gemma Arterton, Hugh Bonneville
While Sir Terry Pratchett sadly shuffled off this mortal coil in 2015 – no doubt accompanied by a tall, bony man who speaks in capital letters – his work lives on. Legions of fans continue to discover his books while there are still numerous adaptations of his work. From high-end TV series based on books from his Discworld series to the ongoing popularity of Good Omens (based on the book he co-authored with Neil Gaiman), Pratchett’s work remains a popular inspiration for works which – when they retain the wit, intelligence and invention of the original author – tend to be quite good.
The latest to be plucked from the pages of Pratchett is The Amazing Maurice, based on his 2001 book The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. While it takes place within the Discworld universe, it was the first novel of the series to be written with a children’s audience specifically in mind. The resulting animation finds itself firmly aimed at said younger audience – although with enough satire to keep the adults interested.
What to do when a group of rats invade your town? Simple, call a piper – who will bring his ginger moggy in tow – and your rat problem should be cleared up quicker than you can say “Hamelin”. But be careful that you’re not being scammed. Because that’s what Maurice – the aforementioned ginger cat – his rat friends and his human acquaintance are doing. They move from village to village, creating a rat problem before solving it and receiving the thanks – and money – of grateful villagers.
When they reach the town of Bad Blintz, however, it all goes a bit wrong. Discovering a town in which the inhabitants are starving – with food mysteriously disappearing – and in which things are not what they seem, the motley crew must decide to run away or stay and help. Despite Maurice’s selfish instincts, bookworm and all-round know-it-all Malicia (Emilia Clarke) convinces the crew that the latter is the way to go. So the stage is set for excitement, danger and finding out just who the mysterious Boss Man (David Thewlis) actually is.
As the film continually breaks the fourth wall – especially through the character of Malicia, who narrates proceedings and has great glee in pointing out the tropes and mechanisms of your average fairytale – and deconstructs storytelling in general, one can’t help but be reminded of Shrek. Both deal in plundering the world of fairytales (in this case The Pied Piper, who also makes an appearance voiced by Rob Brydon), adding modern twists and dealing with an outer vein of satire. But the film never feels derivative. This is partly due to slightly differing tones – Shrek is about accepting one’s self, whereas here the underlying theme is the ability to go beyond the stereotypes that one may be expected to fulfil – but also to the film’s sense of Britishness.
There’s a clipped sense of the ridiculous with all the characters displaying a slightly world weary knowingness. There’s a certain amount of scoffing at the traditions of the genre and stories in general, but the film never descends into dour cynicism, with it ultimately being rather uplifting.
The animation is bright and sparkly, with the fantastical fairytale lands contrasted with darker sewers and shadows for the scarier moments. Maurice himself is an engaging anti-hero, a lolloping ginger ball of fur whose dulcet tones delivered by Laurie are engaging and give him enough sympathy despite his outward selfishness. Clarke is a fun and bouncy presence, while Himesh Patel as Keith – our feckless piper – makes a good and awkward everyman for the audience to identify with. There are many fine voices among the rats, with David Tennant doing a wonderful job as the brilliantly named Dangerous Beans (a role he has also played on the radio) while Thewlis straddles the fine line between pantomime and genuinely scary.
While the film doesn’t really break any new ground, youngsters will find many delightful moments and the adults will appreciate some of the bawdier jokes. And Pratchett fans will delight in the references to Discworld lore including the appearance of one very familiar character, whose voice actor is perfect. It’s a story we’ve all seen before, but which stories haven’t we seen before? As Malicia will tell you, it’s what you do with them that counts.