The Amazing Maurice

The Amazing Maurice opens with a musical number about rats in which a ton of vermin are shown invading a town. They run up people's legs, burrow themselves into food, and so on. That's the first sign that this is going to be an animated movie with a little edge. A British production based on Terry Pratchett’s book “The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents,” it may be more appropriate for slightly older kids than very young ones. They'll get a kick out of the twisted wit, as will the parents who accompany them.

Maurice (voiced by Hugh Laurie) is a talking cat who has devised a Mafia-like con he carries out with those rats, along with human friend Keith (Himesh Patel). The rats swarm a village, Maurice comes in and offers to catch some of them. Or, for a few extra bucks, his friend the Pied Piper will play his magic flute and lead them all away. This proves very profitable, although they meet a young woman named Malicia (Emilia Clarke) who sees right through the scam. She's also the story's narrator, cleverly pointing out the clichés the film either embraces or subverts.

Trouble presents itself when Maurice and crew arrive at their next target, only to find that all the food is suspiciously gone. They soon discover that there's a mysterious “Boss Man” (David Thewlis) responsible for the town's fate. He's got an evil scheme at play, one that will be very, very bad for the rats.

The Amazing Maurice doesn't have the exquisite storytelling you find in most Pixar movies, nor the laugh-a-minute style that defines Illumination Entertainment productions. There is some comic mayhem and action, but it's a little less frequent than in the majority of animated features. (Admittedly, a couple of them go way overboard on that count, so the restraint here is pleasing.) A lot of the humor is dialogue-based, which is an additional reason why the movie is best suited for 7 or 8 and up. Children below that age might grow a tad impatient.

What the picture does have is an assortment of appealing characters, starting with Maurice. His wisecracks are often funny, as is his slick “I can get away with anything” attitude. The leader of the mice, Dangerous Beans (David Tennant), is another standout, leading his vermin cohorts through the city's underground in an effort to figure out why a strange new kind of mousetrap keeps popping up. Visually, The Amazing Maurice is satisfying, too, tempering the outrageous fantasy with a hint of realism that allows the plot to generate a touch of emotion when needed. The best part is the finale, where our heroes come face-to-face with Boss Man. Rats go flying and a clever method of trying to bring him down is utilized.

All those factors make the movie fun, even if it never quite hits the heights of recent animated fare like Puss in Boots: The Last Wish or the criminally underseen Poupelle of Chimney Town - two films that share at least minor similarities to this one. The Amazing Maurice is bolstered by excellent voicework from the cast, as well as an overall air of playfulness. It's family entertainment with an attitude, a trait that distinguishes it nicely.

out of four

The Amazing Maurice is rated PG for action/peril and some rude material. The running time is 1 hour and 33 minutes.