Ratatouille

ratatouille.jpg
Disney Enterprises and Pixar Animation Studios
Brad Bird/United States 2007

Pixar hasn’t made a bad movie yet. Sure, some may have been better than others, but in terms of producing a dud – it simply hasn’t happened. Well, you can stop holding your breath. Not only is Ratatouille not a bad movie, it is easily one of Pixar’s best.

Ratatouille is the story of Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), a French rat with a discriminating palette. While his father, brother and rest of his colony gorge themselves on rotting trash, Remy wants only the finest foods and dreams the impossible dream of one day working in a five-star gourmet restaurant. His inspiration is the late Chef Auguste Gusteau (voiced by Brad Garrett), who appears to him with advice much as Obi Wan Kenobi did to Luke Skywalker.

Separated from his colony, Remy finds himself in the sewers beneath Paris’ famous Gusteau restaurant, the site of his destiny. When fate brings along a down-and-out garbage boy named Linguini (voiced by Lou Romano), the two form the ultimate odd couple. Remy, with his passion for cooking but who can’t be caught in the kitchen, hides in Linguini’s hat, steering the young man’s clumsy body like a marionette by pulling his hair this way and that. It is a ridiculous conceit – but it works like a charm. Before long, the pair are on their way to becoming the greatest chef Paris has ever seen.

Ratatouille is enchanting filmmaking. Few filmmakers can pull off unadulterated magic like Pixar. There is an almost physiological reaction that occurs when the Pixar logo lamp bounds onto the screen. It is the herald of something special and wholly unique. True, there are still 2-D artists who decry the rise of computer animation. Highfalutin technology it may be, but there is no denying that Ratatouille possesses the heart and soul of all the 2-D (and 3-D) masterpieces that have come before it.

Pixar’s computer generated animation seems to surpass itself at every level and Ratatouille is no exception. Here, it employs some of the most luxurious sophistication yet seen in any computer animated film. The animators have outdone themselves in creating a world of breathtaking detail and minutiae. Paris is palpable, be it swaddled in the warm light of a setting sun or prowling the damp stink of the sewer. But more than that, the Gusteau kitchen, where most of the action takes place, is incredibly dense and complicated. To master their furry friends, the animators kept live rats on their desks, and for the human subjects, they studied such Gallic heroes as Brigitte Bardot and Charles de Gaulle.

What makes Pixar films so impressive is their ability to render characters convincing, be they human or animal. Much of that credit has to belong to the stellar voice cast including popular stand-up comedian Oswalt, Garrett, Brian Dennehy, Janeane Garofalo, Academy Award nominees Ian Holm and the legendary Peter O’Toole as a food critic more walking corpse than man. And, of course, John Ratzenberger, who seems to be Pixar’s good-luck charm.

Unlike other Pixar entries, Ratatouille is full to the brim with classical physical comedy. Channeling Buster Keaton, the filmmakers have crafted several exhausting sequences in which Remy dashes between people legs, leaps across furniture and is catapulted through space. It’s a dangerous world when you’re only a few inches high, but here it simply adds to the thrill.

Pixar is known for producing work that is as entertaining for adults as it is for children, but Ratatouille may be their most mature-skewing film yet. Don’t worry, your kids will still squeal with delight, but you and your older children will also walk away enthralled. Like all of Pixar’s films, Ratatouille is a morality play wrapped in a cotton candy shell. It encompasses the great themes of unconditional friendship, a subject Pixar has engaged before and mines again here. But more than that, Remy’s aspirations for something better, and his desire to buck the expectations of others while staying true to himself is a universal premise especially resonant with teens and adults.

Ratatouille is a delicious stew of a film, a classical fairy tale told with the language of 21st century technology. And like all good fairytales – to say nothing of animation – the real magic is in taking a premise that is utterly unbelievable and fashioning it into something completely convincing.

Note: The opening short, a Pixar trademark, is as fun as the feature. Lifted is about an extra-terrestrial trainee being judged on how well he can handle an abduction.

© 2007 Brandon Fibbs. All rights reserved.

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