Ratatouille – Review

Image courtesy of impawards.com


Brad Bird

Featuring the voices of:

Patton Oswalt .Remy
Lou Romano .Linguini
Ian Holm .Skinner
Janeane Garofolo .Colette
Brian Dennehy .Django
Peter O’Toole .Anton Ego
Brad Garrett .Gusteau

Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation present Ratatouille. Based on an original story by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capoblanco and Brad Bird. Running time: 114 minutes. Rated G.

Pixar is the pinnacle of computer animation. Maybe animation as a whole. A company for close to thirty years, it took a story about toys for the public to catch on. (Now the studio is its own brand name.) On the surface Toy Story was about inanimate toys that walk and talk whenever humans aren’t around. But looking within, it was a story about acceptance and how easy it is to be replaced by something bigger, and shinier.

And when it comes to summertime entertainment, Hollywood is all about big, shiny distractions. So they reserve four months out the year to spoon us sequels, threequels (one of the most asinine terms ever conceived), retreads and adaptations. This summer is no different. But Pixar is special in that it doesn’t need sequels well, there was Toy Story 2 to help build a bankroll and allow for the investment in more smaller, riskier projects.

Their latest offering, Ratatouille (pronounced rat-a-TOO-ee), is both ambitious and delectable. Ambitious in that it has a more grown-up feel than Pixar’s previous animated efforts. For starters, the protagonist is not a cute and funny clownfish, or a one-eyed monster named Mike, or an action figure with kung-fu grip. It is a rat named Remy (voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt). Now Remy could be considered the black sheep of his varmint family. And I mean that not as a pun. Unlike his father Django (Brian Dennehy) or his brother Emile (Peter Sohn), Remy is picky about what he consumes. He isn’t much for foraging for his food in trash canisters or wherever else table scraps can be found. He has loftier ambitions: Remy dreams to be a gourmet chef.

Such a dream is impractical, but writer-director Brad Bird, the genius behind the recent animated gem The Incredibles, makes us believe that such a goal can be achieved. Never mind that Remy is a Parisian rat whose greatest gift is an impeccable sense of smell and the ability to avoid being exterminated.

As far as the delectableness of Ratatouille, the film is as rich and colorful as a visit to Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory. Objects that are clearly animated sometimes give off the illusion of being the real deal. The glimpses of Paris at night are as vivid as any photograph you’ll ever set your eyes upon. And it’s the little things that you can sometimes take for granted, like the caked on soot on pots and pans or the scuff marks on kitchen tile. The attention to detail is inexplicable.

The story, while short on character development, avoids simple, pop culture references as an easy gag to evoke laughter; the film is so good that it doesn’t need such a crutch. Brad Bird and his animators “kick things up a notch,” as the lowly garbage boy Linguini (Lou Romano), of the once revered Gusteau’s restaurant, befriends the tiny rodent. Together they whip up a plan that will leave the restaurant patrons clamoring for seconds. Through the pulling of hair, Remy can manipulate Linguini’s gawky frame, moving it this way and that. Such manipulation turns the stumblebum into a rising star of the culinary arts.

Unlike certain animated features, which lionize the voice cast involved, Pixar does not need such promotion. Had the ads celebrated the acting talents then some of the magic would have been lost. It’s better and really fun, too to watch the credits and see what actors lent their voices to the project. Come to find out animators on staff voice Linguini and rat Emile. Everybody Loves Raymond‘s Brad Garrett is Gusteau, the famous chef who appears as a figment of Remy’s imagination. Janeane Garofolo is the French chef Colette, the only female employed at Gusteau’s. Probably Pixar’s biggest coup was getting Peter O’Toole as the voice of taciturn food critic Anton Ego, a man who can do more with a pen than Linguini can with linguini.

Ratatouille, like its main character, has a good heart. It is light and airy like a fanciful desert, and the collective efforts of everyone involved really translate on screen. Granted the film may not sway your own personal beliefs when it comes to rats in the kitchen, but if you can accept a varmint that washes its hands before handling food, or prefers to walk on his hind legs in order to avoid getting dirt and refuse on his front legs, then the idea of a rat aspiring to be a renowned chef is not implausible. Now a chef named Alfredo Linguini working in a French restaurant, well, that’s just absurd.