As my first film from 2023’s Sundance Film Festival, I had no qualms about embracing a potential animated gem! Based on the book by Terry Pratchett, The Amazing Maurice deals with magical talking animals, and focuses on the mythological legend of the Pied Piper while taking a meta approach to the material. This may be no Shrek, but The Amazing Maurice does indeed deliver a surprisingly high number of delights and cutesy charm that the whole family can enjoy. It hits a lot of similar beats to movies we have seen before, and the messaging in particular does not do anything new—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it though, right?
Spry tomcat Maurice (Hugh Laurie) has a pretty great gig going with his band of rats and their loyal young human pal, Keith (Himesh Patel): travel from town to town and swindle the good folks out of their hard-earned money. The plan is as simple as oodles of rats showing face, then Keith—not the Pied Piper, but a Pied Piper nonetheless—musically luring them away, thus saving the day. Their arrangement may seem great in theory, but it doesn’t take long for Maurice and friends to realize that this is strictly not a sustainable way of living.
Aside from the fact that trickery is an awful method of building up funds, pretending there is a new plague works wonders for their coffers. The rats have an endgame involving an island paradise they have only read about in fantastical books they assume are fact. Does such a place where humans and animals live amongst one another in perfect harmony actually exist? The movie’s narration comes courtesy of a so-called “framing device” conducted by new town mayor’s daughter, Malicia (Emilia Clarke).
This next locale that Maurice and crew stumble upon seems basically abandoned. The town at large appears to have minimal animal activity—one which even goes out of its way to give a generous reward of fifty cents for every rat killed. When they meet Malicia, she instantly deconstructs their methods, and reveals she knows about their operation. In the midst of a famine and with food constantly disappearing, they may just have a mystery to solve on their hands, with the help of quirky outsider Malicia. Meanwhile, rat hunters could throw a wrench in their plans, and cause even greater heartache.
The Amazing Maurice is at its best when it leans hard into the fairy tale angle—one of my favorite scenes in the film involves Keith and Malicia tracking down the actual Pied Piper for help. The movie’s mysterious villain voiced by David Thewlis has just enough thrall to be intimidating; an eventual reveal of his identity and intentions is less successful, and a bit underwhelming. There are obvious highs and lows here, but general audiences may fall in love with The Amazing Maurice.
The Amazing Maurice screened at 2023’s Sundance Film Festival, and charms its way into theaters everywhere on Friday, February 3rd.