‘The Amazing Maurice’ is based on the late Terry Pratchett’s ‘The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents,’ a 2001 children’s fantasy novel of the ‘Discworld’ series which won the British literary award of the Carnegie Medal. Although that would be the major selling point of this new animated feature, I’m more interested in Terry Rossio, listed in the credits as the screenwriter. Rossio, of course, is no stranger to writing animated features, notably ‘Aladdin’ (1992) and ‘Shrek’ (2001). The latter famously became a beloved hit, thanks to its then-unique combination of pop-culture references and a witty riff on the otherwise fairy-tale clichés.
The spirit of ‘Shrek’ lives on within Rossio’s adapted screenplay of ‘The Amazing Maurice’ and gives it a familiar self-aware, humorous spin. We first met Malicia (voiced by Emilia Clarke) going all meta in narrating the story about a book titled ‘Mr. Bunnsy Has An Adventure’. Except it wasn’t the main part of the story as Malicia informed us (the audience) what we are about to see is called a ‘framing device’ – a story that wraps around the main story like a warm blanket around a baby. It was one of the few amusingly witty moments of Malicia breaking the fourth wall, and we get more of this as the story moves on.
Well, the ‘main story’ in question follows the titular talking ginger cat named Maurice (Hugh Laurie), who leads the rats (among them include Gemma Arterton’s Peaches and David Tennant’s Dangerous Beans) and Keith (Himesh Patel) to scam the unsuspecting townspeople into paying them to get rid of a rat infestation using the ‘Pied Piper’ scheme. The rats, in the meantime, have been treating the ‘Mr. Bunnsy Has An Adventure’ is a ‘sacred book’, dreaming of heading to the ‘ideal land where animals talk and live side by side with people in peace’ after they read all about it.
But as the gang heads to the next town to make more money for their following scheme, what they find instead is a whole lot of mystery. There’s a famine in town, where the food keeps missing without a trace, even after the town’s mayor (Hugh Bonneville) has already hired a pair of rat catchers to eliminate the rats. Then, there’s the Boss Man (David Thewlis), who somehow has to do with all the mystery happening in town.
Malicia isn’t merely the narrator of the story as we learn. She also happens to be the daughter of the town’s mayor, and she gradually shows up to join Maurice and the gang to solve the mystery. Personally, I prefer Malicia over Maurice. It’s not like Maurice is a disappointing lead character since Hugh Laurie does a good job voicing the street-smart, manipulative ginger cat. It’s just that Malicia is a far more interesting character and has an undeniable personality as Emilia Clarke voicing her with the right mix of snarky wit and spunky charm.
She’s fun to watch every time she appears on the screen. Of course, this is not her first time voicing an animated character, given her prior experience in television series, including ‘Futurama’ and ‘Robot Chicken.’ Her subsequent team-up with Himesh Patel’s Keith as they embark on an adventure to locate the real Pied Piper (Rob Brydon) resulted in one of the best moments in ‘The Amazing Maurice.’ Their chemistry works like a charm, and not to forget. The scene has a field day poking fun at the Pied Piper of Hamelin story.
Although Emilia Clarke steals most of the show here as Malicia, ‘The Amazing Maurice’ has an overall commendable voice cast. This includes Himesh Patel as the shy but musically talented Keith, and so does the swarm of talking rats, each of which is given distinct personalities ranging from the naïve and hopeful Peaches (Arterton) to the wise Dangerous Beans (Tennant) and the fearless Darktan (Ariyon Bakare). David Thewlis rounds up the voice cast with his perfectly sinister turn as the main antagonist, Boss Man.
Co-directors Toby Genkel and Florian Westermann give ‘The Amazing Maurice’ a nice blend of 2D and 3D animations, looking all vibrant and colorful regardless of the characters and the background. And as much as I enjoy Rossio’s abundant winking sense of humor, not every joke lands. His screenplay may look as if he’s targeted at adult viewers, but the younger ones can still enjoy this animated feature’s cute and whimsical fun. There are obligatory moral lessons about trust and friendship. At one point, ‘The Amazing Maurice’ enters into a darker territory that might scare the young children but provides a necessary life lesson about mortality. It immediately reminds me of last year’s ‘Puss in Boots: The Last Wish’, which also deals with the same thematic subject matter.