The Amazing Maurice – movie review

Terry Pratchett was a prolific writer, and still commands a massive fan base. You could think of him as a kind of Roald Dahl or J. K. Rowling with a more surreal edge. His audiences tend to be more Monty Python than Harry Potter. But in the animated romp The Amazing Maurice, co-directors Toby Genkel and Florian Westermann try to shoehorn Pratchett’s out-there sensibility into a family-friendly adventure, with mixed results.

Terry Rossio provides the script from Pratchett’s book The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents. Rossio was one of the writers on Shrek, so this is firmly in his wheelhouse. While both The Amazing Maurice and Shrek both present updated takes on classic tales, here Rossio goes so meta (like Inception-level meta) the point may be rather lost on its target audience. And even though it’s only 93 minutes long, the film’s constant digressions tried my patience.

The story is an adaptation of The Pied Piper of Hamelin. Maurice (voiced by Hugh Laurie) is a talking (because, magic) cat who’s teamed up with the somewhat naive Keith (Himesh Patel) and a bunch of talking rats (also, magic) to scam villagers. They turn up in a town and secretly let the rodents loose. They of course get into everything, so the villagers are soon happy to pay for Keith to play his “special” flute and lead them out of town. Simples. But when they arrive in Bad Blintz, things are very different. Little if any food is to be found, so a key motivation for the scam is missing. Also, the place is riddled with rat traps, and soon the rats – and Maurice – have all been captured. Keith meanwhile has encountered the town’s Mayor (Hugh Bonneville) and his adventurous daughter Malicia (Emilia Clarke). Maurice meanwhile has used some ingenuity – and more than a little luck – to escape. But in the process, he spots a dangerous new adversary in the Boss Man (David Thewlis). Now Maurice, the rats, Keith and Malicia have to team up to defeat the Boss Man and save the town from the famine.

The CGI animation looks great, and whatever the shortcomings in the plot, the characters are relatable. Rossio does a great job of injecting more nuance into the characters than the often-simplified Pied Piper story. The rats in particular are given depth in the script. Maurice too is more rounded than you might expect. However, the human characters are paradoxically treated somewhat less favourably. Verbal and visual jokes are packed in tight, but they sometimes come so quickly, it’s hard to catch them all. And I enjoyed its sense of whimsy, even if that ebbs over time.

The film occasionally breaks the fourth wall, and has the characters speak directly to the audience. I didn’t mind that at first, but by the end it becomes a little tired. And I found the onion-peeling of the layers of story became a bit hard to follow, especially as it doubles back on itself.

Although the film seems to be marketed to a young – as in under 13 – audience, it isn’t entirely kid-friendly. Yes, it’s colourful and features funny talking animals, but I’m not sure how many kids will appreciate its in-depth analysis of narrative technique. One of the characters even comments that the the story might not be “properly structured”. It also goes to some (literally and figuratively) dark places, especially towards the end. And it features rats – lots of rats (so many rats!).

The voice cast seem to have a lot of fun with the material, particularly David Thewlis as the Boss Man, Emilia Clarke as Malicia and Gemma Arterton as Peaches, one of the rats. Hugh Laurie does his best Hugh Laurie as Maurice, even if he’s essentially the straight-man of the piece.

While I wasn’t completely won over by The Amazing Maurice, it’s still an interesting take on a familiar story.  Genkel and Westermann might not have got the balance exactly right, but Pratchett fans will probably lap it up.

David Edwards

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