Film reviews and more since 2009

The Amazing Maurice (2022) review

Dir. Toby Genkel

By: Steve Pulaski

Rating: ★★

I like rolling the dice on random animated movies that pop up like mushrooms at my local theater. Sometimes, I get a low-key surprise like Un Gallo con Muchos Huevos. A lot of the time, however, I get Norm of the North or something equally insufferable. The Amazing Maurice is somewhere in the middle. It’s just colorful and kinetic enough to have something of a grip on my attention span, yet still so unimaginative and dull in the writing department that the two forces practically engage in a tug-of-war.

The film is based on Terry Pratchett’s book, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents, from 2001. Pratchett was an acclaimed fantasy writer, responsible for the Discworld series. Faithful readers know I’m not super passionate about fantasy works, but I am passionate about cat representation in film. I have lived with cats for almost my entire life. Never was I very fond of them always being portrayed negatively in media. The titular Maurice (voiced by House‘s Hugh Laurie) looks like your average, rotund orange loaf, but in reality, he’s a conniving menace. He does have a heart and conscience, but by the time that surfaced, I was too bored to care.

Maurice has been capitalizing on a nimble little con for quite sometime. Him and an army of rats (some of whom voiced by Gemma Arterton, David Tennant, and Joe Sugg) arrive in small villages. Maurice informs villagers that they have a rat problem, and only his human friend, Keith (Himesh Patel), can serve as the pied piper to lead the rats out of town. This, however, will cost a pretty penny. The heist enriches Maurice and gives the rats hope that the trek they’re making is en route to a beautiful paradise. There is no paradise. Maurice has layers to this scam.

In the middle of their dirty work, Maurice and his rodents meet Malicia (Emilia Clarke), who also serves as the film’s narrator. She’s more condescending than she is helpful. Malicia opens the film by telling us what a framing device is, further taking us to school to interrupt the plot by educating us on personification and foreshadowing. Clarke is at least spirited in these fourth-wall shattering moments, but the story doesn’t benefit from her presence until she gets roped in with Maurice and Keith later in the film.

So, the main conflict in The Amazing Maurice is that all the food in this one particular locale has been mysteriously vanishing. The mayor believes there’s a famine. It’s actually the work of an ambiguous, masked villain voiced by David Thewlis, famous for his work on Big Mouth. Thewlis channels Christopher Lloyd’s vocal snarl, which shows his range. As a villain, his only quality is his voice. Everything else about him is bland and uninspired.

Those traits make him fit right in with a film that’s unambitious on all fronts. There’s no semblance of world-building in any of the villages we stumble upon. Most of the second half takes place in the dark depths of sewers (get it, because they’re rats?), prompting a drab color palette onto already average animation. A few establishing shots and one creative sequence involving the rats being forced into a dog-fighting ring provide the film with some visual variety. However, for the most part, this story is terribly unengaging, with Clarke’s expository sermons and do-gooding working against whatever charm Pratchett’s book afforded readers.

Finally, we might as well talk about Maurice. At times, the unsightly rats overtake the film for long stretches of time, you forget the film is named after a Cheshire cat. Hugh Laurie gifts him a mischievous voice to go along with his antics, which blurs the line of whether or not we’re supposed to root for this beast, given the deception he lays upon these rats.

The film was written by Terry Rossio, a co-writer on Shrek. Rossio should’ve taken his own lessons in how that film characterized a litany of grotesque characters and made them into trademark figures who were fun and memorable because The Amazing Maurice is misbegotten from the moment it feels the need to explain to us the wonders of a framing device.

NOTE: The Amazing Maurice is now playing exclusively in theaters.

Voiced by: Hugh Laurie, Emilia Clarke, Himesh Patel, David Thewlis, Gemma Arterton, David Tennant, and Joe Sugg. Directed by: Toby Genkel.

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About Steve Pulaski

Steve Pulaski has been reviewing movies since 2009 for a barrage of different outlets. He graduated North Central College in 2018 and currently works as an on-air radio personality. He also hosts a weekly movie podcast called "Sleepless with Steve," dedicated to film and the film industry, on his YouTube channel. In addition to writing, he's a die-hard Chicago Bears fan and has two cats, appropriately named Siskel and Ebert!

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