Thursday, February 02, 2023

The Amazing Maurice, Terry Pratchett Animated

In some ways, Terry Pratchett was a more up-scale Piers Anthony, who created a funny fantasy world that satirized genre tropes (he had a solid fandom here, but nothing like his popularity in the UK). Technically, this big orange cat is part of his Diskworld universe, but you do not have to be familiar with any of those books to appreciate his fairy tale misadventures. The Pied Piper legend gets mashed-up and riffed on, but the rats themselves are his friends, at least the talking ones are, in Toby Genkel’s animated The Amazing Maurice (with Florian Westermann also credited as “co-director”), which opens tomorrow in New York.

Maurice acts as the advance-pitch-man for the Pied Piper scam he worked up with Keith, the na├»ve human piccolo player, and their talking rat friends. Needless to say, his piping always manages to lead the rats out of town—for a fee. The rodents became conscious and gained the ability to talk after munching the trash thrown out by the Unseen University, a school of wizardry that will mean something to Pratchett fans. How Maurice gained that ability too is an awkward subject he tries to avoid.

After their latest Piper-scam, Maurice and Keith enter a town that mysteriously has no rats. It is also depressingly low on food. Somehow, the shadowy Rat Catchers League seems to be involved. The mayor’s daughter is Malicia is determined to get to the bottom of things. She is an avid reader with a thirst for adventurer, so she takes her discovery of Keith’s talking animal friends in stride. However, her fairy tale binging may have built-up unreasonable expectations for heroics that Keith will have difficulty fulfilling.

The Amazing Maurice
is definitely Shrek-like. It was even adapted by Shrek franchise screenwriter Terry Rossio. Indeed, Genkel’s animation is colorful and unflaggingly energetic, while the humor is mischievously droll. Yet, it is hard to overstate how much Hugh Laurie’s roguish voice performance enriches the film. Thanks to him, there’s no mistaking Maurice for Garfield.

Rossio’s adaptation is definitely hip and older audience-friendly, to the extent he almost parodies the breaking-the-fourth-wall tradition. At first, Malicia serves as our snarky narrator, but Maurice later asserts his editorial voice, as is his right, given the title. Frankly, it is all pretty amusing, in a
Fractured Fairy Tales kind of way that even Hans Conried would have appreciated.

The rest of the voices are good to, especially Himesh Patel, who has the right dead pan tone for Keith. This could well be the best Pratchett adaptation yet, especially for non-Pratchett fans. No advance familiarity with Discworld is required, but there are elements that will have extra resonance for fans. Enthusiastically recommended,
The Amazing Maurice opens tomorrow (2/3) in New York, at the Regal E-Walk.