Sundance 2023 Review: The Amazing Maurice
Terry Pratchett's feline fraudster gets above-average adaptation
By Richard Whittaker,
9:00PM, Mon. Jan. 30, 2023
Why can no one make a genuinely great Terry Pratchett adaptation?
He's arguably the most engaging and accessible of modern British authors, his extensive bibliography a fixture on every bookshelf in the island nation. Most especially, his 41 volumes set on the magical Discworld (George R.R. Martin, eat your heart out) rank as some of the finest and most hilarious satires committed to paper, incisive as Dickens, hilarious as Twain. Pratchett was also adept at aiming different books at different audiences while still feeling Pratchett-esque, like the YA adventures of witch-in-training Tiffany Aching, or the kid-friendly (or, arguably, kid-friendlier) The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents.
There have been a slew of earlier adaptations of the Discworld books, varying from the middling (the 1997 animated version of Soul Music that at least gave us Christopher Lee as the voice of Death) to the overly loyal (the 2006 TV take on Hogfather) and the unwatchable (with no irony, the criminally offensive The Watch). Maybe it's because the Discworld books are always best in the aggregate: not simply a series of sequels, but as overlapping narratives, where supporting characters become leads and vice versa.
So maybe that's why the surprisingly charming The Amazing Maurice (breezily retitled from the aforementioned Educated Rodents) may be the most entertaining conjuring of Pratchett's literary magic to date.
Possibly it's because it's the simplest, a fantastical replay of the 1971 comedy Skin Game, in which James Garner and Lou Gossett play two con men running a morally justifiable grift on Southern racists by selling Gossett's free man into slavery over and over again. Here, it's Maurice convincing credulous villagers that they need his services to rid them of a miniature menace. For who would you rather hire to run off rats than a cat? What the hicks don't know is that ginger tom Maurice (Hugh Laurie) is in on the scam with both his human "owner" (Himesh Patel) and with the pack of talking, sweet-natured rats with whom he wanders the country. It's when they arrive in the town of Bad Blintz that their arrangement gets knotty, as the townsfolk are convinced they already have a rat infestation because all their food is missing. But if so, Maurice and his gang wonder, why are there no rats to be seen? And what exactly are the local ratcatchers, and most especially the mystery-shrouded Boss Man (David Thewlis), up to?
Maybe the success of The Amazing Maurice is because the book is closer to a stand-alone Pratchett than most of his works, one that doesn't depend too much on knowing your Ankh from your Morpork. Maybe it's that veteran animated feature writer Terry Rossio (Aladdin, Shrek) comes closer than most previous writers to translating Pratchett's witticisms to dialogue, even if he does so by vaulting through the plot. Maybe it's that it has one of Pratchett's best female protagonists in Malicia (Emily Clarke), the mayor's daughter who knows she's destined to be an adventurous literary hero.
But it's still not quite Pratchett-y, still a little static – most especially in the oddly flat animation – and still not quite snappy enough, a problem shared by many animated features that rely on celebrity casting. But that doesn't stop Maurice being an entertaining way to convince kids to pick up the book.
The 2023 Sundance Film Festival runs Jan. 19-29. Info and online passes at festival.sundance.org.
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March 24, 2023
March 24, 2023
Sundance Film Festival, Sundance 2023, The Amazing Maurice, Terry Pratchett