The eponymous hero in “The Tale of Despereaux” may be mouse-sized, but the film’s score certainly isn’t. Composed by toon-feature and fantasy veteran William Ross (“My Dog Skip,” “Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets”), the “Despereaux” soundtrack boasts up to 90 instruments, including old-world lutes, wood flutes and harpsichords, all of which lend themselves to the film’s antiquated, fairy-tale feel.
It was a sound that Ross developed over nearly two years with the film’s hands-on producer, Gary Ross, whom he had met while working on “Seabiscuit.”
“The size of the characters really has nothing to do with the size of the music,” the composer says. “(The producer) really wanted an emotional score, something that evoked the courage to live.”
After rejecting an idea to have the characters sing songs, as in a musical, composer Ross set about creating themes based on detailed character descriptions, rather than working from writing cues in the script. The hardest one to nail was the sound of Despereaux himself.
“I must have presented, oh I don’t know how many themes, and Gary would say, ‘No, that’s not him — that’s a cartoon character.’ I spent a long time trying to get in the heart of that little mouse.”
The warm, vibrant score favors traditional instruments — the recorder instead of the flute, and the harpsichord instead of the piano. “Who knows if harpsichords actually existed back in the days of castles and princesses,” says Ross, “but they create a sense of the past that’s magical.”