The Amazing Maurice (Review) – An Amusing Introduction To Discworld

DIRECTORS: Toby Genkel and Florian Westermann

CAST: Hugh Laurie, Emilia Clarke, David Thewlis, Himesh Patel, Gemma Arterton, Hugh Bonneville, David Tennant, Rob Brydon, Julie Atherton, Joe Sugg, Peter Serafinowicz

RUNNING TIME: 93 mins

CERTIFICATE: PG

BASICALLY…: A streetwise cat named Maurice (Laurie) puts into motion a money-making scam…

NOW FOR THE REVIEW…

It isn’t a huge surprise that there have so far been very few, if any at all, major film adaptations of Terry Pratchett’s collection of Discworld stories. While the potential for a big-screen rendition is certainly there, the sheer complexity and highly eccentric world-building that the late author spent most of his career developing would require not just an MCU-style level of planning across multiple features, but also a collection of filmmakers who can really tap into Pratchett’s style to a point where his voice is practically the main star of the entire project.

Perhaps with all of that in mind, it makes sense that Sky Cinema is starting out reasonably small with their animated rendition of Pratchett’s child-centric Discworld novel The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, which gently eases young audiences and some of the older crowd into this strange fairy tale world without diluting much of the author’s trademark silliness, and makes for a decently entertaining family feature on its own.

The Amazing Maurice – as shortened for the purposes of this film – is about a talking cat named Maurice (voiced by Hugh Laurie), who has banded together with a group of unusually intelligent rats, who are guided by their spiritual leader Dangerous Beans (David Tennant), and a human boy named Keith (Himesh Patel) to travel from town to town and swindle the villagers with a Pied Piper scam. Their latest target is the town of Bad Blintz, but upon arrival they find that a mysterious plague has already swept the streets and taken everyone’s food, which captures the interest of a young story-obsessed girl named Malicia (Emilia Clarke) who teams up with a reluctant Maurice, as well as Keith and the rats, to solve the town’s mystery.

As someone who’s not too familiar with the works of Terry Pratchett, I really didn’t know what to expect with The Amazing Maurice. From the very start, though, it’s easy for anyone else who’s unfamiliar to identify his unique storytelling style, which is energetically adapted by screenwriter Terry Rossio: there are lengthy dialogue passages with some highly complicated vocabulary, delivered with the type of dry humour one would expect with Monty Python or the prose of similarly-satirical author Douglas Adams, and the fourth wall is broken more times than a porcelain tea set in a bull pit, often to point out familiar narrative tropes like the framing device and moments of ominous foreshadowing. I can imagine that it may be a bit too sophisticated for a younger audience, who might only just want to see a bunch of slapstick with cartoon cats and mice instead of hearing words they might not even understand yet, and even as an adult there are times when the constant meta humour can become a bit overwhelming. However, it’s respectable in how Rossio’s script doesn’t seem to dial down too much of the original author’s approach, and emphasises how this world is so oddly composed that the prospect of a talking cat isn’t even the most unusual thing to come along that day.

There is a touch of Shrek in how the fairy tale mould is constantly prodded (which is appropriate, since Rossio co-wrote the script for that film as well) and the numerous storytelling devices are pointed out right in front of the viewer. Once you get past some of the more in-your-face meta nature, it is an amusing story to watch unfold in this world where, apparently, fairy tale figures like the Pied Piper are not only real, but are perhaps a lot more sinister than some of the more streamlined versions of stories would have you believe. Many of the characters do have their own quirky personalities, and have their own levels of charm that make them interesting to watch, from Hugh Laurie dialling up the pompousness as the titular cat, to David Tennant as the wise and courageous rat leader. They’re fun to be around, and are animated pretty well (the fur textures on the animals are quite outstanding, especially for an animated feature which probably didn’t have the budget of a regular Pixar movie) to where you can feel these are properly rendered creatures instead of robotic creations that can often fall afoul of low-budget cartoon features.

I wouldn’t say it’s as amazing as the title suggests, though; there are some very predictable reveals regarding the villains, and while there are some fun gags throughout (a sentient clockwork mouse has some of the funniest moments in the film), it isn’t a film where you’re consistently laughing all the way through. However, if this is indeed intended to be the first of an actual animated Discworld cinematic universe, then it lays the foundations neatly enough to set up more corners of this place yet to come – and if it isn’t, then it’s a passable family film that honours the legacy and style of Terry Pratchett more than anyone might think would be possible.

SO, TO SUM UP…

The Amazing Maurice is an amusing, if not entirely amazing, animated dive into the eccentric universe of Terry Pratchett’s Discworld, which admirably doesn’t dilute the author’s humorous voice for the sake of its younger target audience, and features enough charming characters and story beats to work well enough on its own.

The Amazing Maurice is now available to stream on Sky Cinema.

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