Review by Sean Boelman
All it takes for an animated film to break out beyond its seemingly humble origins is a strong voice cast, and The Amazing Maurice has plenty of stars that elevate it above its somewhat subpar material. Too silly for adults, but too dark for younger kids, The Amazing Maurice struggles to effectively balance its tone but is kept afloat by some inspired performances.
The movie follows a talking cat and his horde of surprisingly literate cats as they set off on an adventure that snowballs into something bigger than they ever could have expected. It’s an action-packed childrens’ adventure, but it moves at a pace that is perhaps a bit too rapid for its own good.
What likely earned this film its spot in the Sundance lineup is its superb voice ensemble who, for the most part, disappear into their roles. Hugh Laurie is ineffably charming as the eponymous talking cat, capturing an unexpected level of arrogance. The voices of the rats include David Tennant, Gemma Arterton, and a surprising standout in Joe Sugg, who is the most charming part of the movie by far. The only people who feel underused are Patel and Clarke as the human sidekicks of the animal heroes.
The animation is rather mixed in its quality. While the character design is strong, getting a lot of emotion out of the rats, in particular, the animation of the settings could have used more detail to be immersive. With all of the animated films that have been set in alternate storybook worlds, it’s disappointing that this one feels rather bland.
There is one subplot in the movie — involving Himesh Patel and Emilia Clarke’s character going on a quest to find a seemingly cannibalistic version of the Pied Piper (voiced by a deliriously funny Rob Brydon) — and it’s quite dark for a film that is otherwise seemingly aimed at a pre-school audience. Indeed, the entire third act takes a twisted turn that leads to a feeling of confusion over who this movie is really for.
The film does lose its way several times throughout its runtime, largely due to the decision to split up its characters at several points. Although many of the individual adventures the characters go on are amusing, presenting them in an almost vignette-like manner creates a very disorienting feeling that ends up being rather frustrating.
The characters are lovable enough, but that is likely more due to the work of children’s book author Terry Pratchett, who created the source material on which the movie is based, than the script writers. Still, it’s hard not to get behind this adorable makeshift family formed between the rats and their feline and human companions.
The Amazing Maurice certainly has some cute moments, but it’s so overwhelming and hyperactive that it tends to be more frustrating than it is enjoyable. Still, for younger audiences with shorter attention spans, this could be mindless enough fun — so long as they aren’t scared by the rather macabre finale.
The Amazing Maurice is playing at the 2023 Sundance Film Festival, which runs January 19-29 in-person in Park City, UT and January 24-29 online.