Key Points:

What

: The Tale of Despereaux, the animated tale of a big-eared

mouse who falls in love with a princess from the fantasy book by

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Kate Dicamillo

When

: Opens January 8

Mice have always been popular with kids, particularly the animated

kind. Hence,

The Tale of Despereaux

, based on the novel which earned author Kate Dicamillo a Newbery Medal, is following in a long tradition of beloved rodents - from

Mickey Mouse

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to

Ratatouille

.

Voiced by heavyweights - Matthew Broderick (as Despereaux), along with

Dustin Hoffman, Kevin Kline, Tracey Ullmann, and featuring Emma Watson as Princess Pea - this marks the first animated feature from Universal Studios, and like many films of this genre, there were multiple directors on board including Gary Ross, Rob Stevenhagen, and Sam Fell.

The story follows an unlikely hero, Despereaux, an odd but chivalrous

mouse with oversized ears and a penchant for reading books. Watson, the 18-year-old British star who plays Hermione Granger in the

Harry Potter

franchise beat out many other actresses for the role of the princess.

"I was thrilled to play Princess Pea because I loved the book," she says, enthusiastically. "I think one of the great messages in the film is that every girl is a princess to someone who loves them, whether it be a brother, boyfriend or father."

Watson, not your average empty-headed starlet, is determined to stay grounded despite her movie star status. The daughter of two lawyers,

she says, "I'm going to university next year. If I'm going to stay sane, I think it's imperative I educate myself so I'll be studying English literature," she says.

"I started acting at the age of 9. I need to see what else is out there. And like other actresses I respect, which includes Jodie Foster and Natalie Portman, going to university can only make you a better actress."

At the same time she'll be completing her acting commitments, reprising

her role as Hermione in the final instalment of the Potter franchise, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

After Watson finishes our interview, she slips into the back row of a press conference taking place with Dustin Hoffman and Matthew Broderick. She whispers conspiratorially, "I just love hearing them talk. I can learn a lot from them."

Dustin Hoffman, always entertaining, speaks honestly about the laborious process of voicing a character (he most recently voiced one of the lead characters in

Kung Fu Panda

).

"Of course I don't like the process of doing animated films," he says.

"Being in a small room - no I don't like it. But hey, I don't have to like everything I do. I mean, do you like doing these interviews?" he says rhetorically. He laughs. "Do we have to like everything we do?" he says, turning to Broderick.

Broderick deadpans, "Well, I don't hate the process of voicing characters. It's not that bad being in a little room. But then again, I'm not as honest as Dustin." He pauses. "But I loved the size of Despereaux's ears. That was appealing to me," says Broderick.

"And my little guy will love it," he says, referring to his 6-year-old son James, who he is raising with wife Sarah Jessica Parker.

On a serious note, Hoffman adds. "Yeah, that's true. I have grandchildren and I wanted to do it for them. That helped in the

decision-making process when I read the script."