It’s quite a wonder that a film like “The Amazing Maurice” has received zero marketing of any kind whatsoever. It’s based on an award winning children’s novel, has a stellar celebrity voice cast, and feels right in line with some of the rather strong animated offerings we’ve had in the last few months. But despite having its premiere at the Manchester Animation Festival in November and limited release in the UK in December in 2022, there hasn’t been a single peep about this film stateside. Were it not for the Sundance Film Festival this year I would have no clue “The Amazing Maurice” ever existed. Ever more so, I would have no idea it was having its US release THIS Friday, February 3rd.
Though not a great film, it is one that is easily promotable and has somehow gone entirely unnoticed. “The Amazing Maurice” sports a solid cast and intriguing premise, but overall misses the magic that clearly made the novel so beloved.
Directed by Toby Genkel from a screenplay by prolific writer Terry Rossio (both “Aladdin” films, “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, “Little Monsters” to name a few), “The Amazing Maurice” is an adaption of the 28th novel in the “Discworld” series by Terry Pratchett. The novel won the Carnegie Medal in 2001, and has been critically acclaimed for decades. It follows a talking cat named Maurice who befriends a group of talking rats, and along with their human friend Keith, they roam small villages running a scheme of rat infestation for money. When they decide to make one final con before heading to their dream island, they discover something rather sinister is a foot already, one that will test their bonds and friendship to defeat a menacing evil. Along the way, the meet the mayor’s daughter Malicia, a storybook obsessed young girl who aids them in their quest to uncover the mystery that has plagued their town.
The voice cast is pretty astounding for a film no one has ever heard of. Emilia Clarke, Hugh Laurie, David Thewlis, Gemma Arterton, David Tennant, Himesh Patel, and Hugh Bonneville all lend their voices to round out the vast array of talking rats and animals. One could argue that this list is too British for its own good, but that’s a pretty star studded cast for such an unheralded film. And in all fairness, it is good enough to keep the attention of kids who would undoubtedly be the target audience. But something is clearly lost in the adaption, and you don’t really need to be familiar with the source material to recognize that the full scope of the magic doesn’t quite translate. “The Amazing Maurice” relies heavily on your prior knowledge of its source material, and dumps you into a strange, tonally imbalanced display of exposition and assumption.
The film is trying to do a lot in a very short amount of time; clocking in around 85 minutes. Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite feel as brisk as the runtime would suggest, feeling somehow overstuffed and lacking simultaneously. I really can’t overstate the lack of context that is provided for its rather strange concept, and whatever fairy tale satire the source material may possess falls completely flat in its film adaption. “The Amazing Maurice” struggles to introduce the characters in any meaningful way, and chooses adventure over character development which doesn’t allow you to know anyone well enough to care about them. This is a big struggle considering a large majority of the cast are rats that become increasingly difficult to differentiate. Sure, they all have distinct voices and nicknames and archetypes, but they are whisked away through one predicament after another, and never really settles down long enough to invest in any of them.
This diminishes the emotional weight of the film’s finale, which should culminate in a rather terrifying face off paired with the potential sacrifice to save each other. Instead, we can barely identify which rat is which and why particular ones seem more important than others. Even The Boss Man (David Thewlis) as the main antagonist has the potential to be nightmare inducing, and instead is relegated to a series of ill timed punchlines and uninspiring motivations. This is what I mean when we talk about the missing magic. There is a groundwork in the premise here, and you can tell that the source material seems to have much more meaning than this adaption executes. It is in the third act that is the most telling, because as much as I wanted to care about what was happening, I simply couldn’t find a character I cared about enough to do so. With the right execution, you can easily overcome the predictability of your narrative. Unfortunately, “The Amazing Maurice” is missing too much to achieve this, relegating it to a somewhat enjoyable experience but one that you’ll forget as soon as it ends.
I guess if you’re tired of your kids dragging you to see “Puss In Boots: The Last Wish” again (which truthfully you shouldn’t be because it’s fantastic and steals the amazing from this one) then “The Amazing Maurice” is good enough to be enjoyable for the whole family. There’s enough adult asides to keep you awake, and enough solid animation and silly antics to hold your kids attention. But it doesn’t have enough of anything to stand out or even be a film you want to revisit. It is certainly ambitious, but fails to truly capitalize on the effectiveness that same ambition could yield.
I don’t know if this film warrants a theatrical viewing, and the lack of marketing doesn’t help its case to be any kind of box office winner. This animated film would be better suited for streaming, and would feel right at home popping up on the New Releases Netflix Queue. Hell, they could just add it to every single “Because you watched” recommendation regardless of its relevance, and that would draw more eyes to it than quietly and unceremoniously releasing it in theaters.
Guess I’ll be one of 10 people who saw “The Amazing Maurice,” unless you read this review and decide to join me. But I won’t blame you if you skip this one. Hard to be mad at someone for a movie they didn’t know existed until they read a lukewarm review on Nerdbot.
Rating: 3 out of 5 Stars
“The Amazing Maurice” releases in theaters Friday, February 3rd. You can watch the trailer below.