Ratatouille (2006) / Animation-Comedy

MPAA Rated: G, suitable for all audie3ces
Running time: 110 min.

Cast (voices): Lou Romano, Patton Oswalt, Janeane Garofalo, Ian Holm, Brad Garrett, Brian Dennehy, Peter Sohn, Peter O'Toole, Will Arnett, Julius Callahan, James Remar, John Ratzenberger
Director: Brad Bird
Screenplay: Brad Bird

Review published June 23, 2007

Pixar proves once again why it is absolutely the best studio making animated fare out there with yet another winner in Ratatouille.  It's also another major winner for writer-director Brad Bird, who already has a couple of popular, acclaimed titles under his belt, The Incredibles and The Iron Giant.  In my opinion, it's his best work, and while I may not go as far as to say it's undoubtedly the best release yet by Pixar, I'd definitely consider it a worthy contender to the title.

Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt, Reno 911!) is a rat just like any other rat in his family, except for one big difference -- he isn't content just eating any old trash.  He is a rat with a taste for the finer things in life, and a real yen to be a cook in his own right, just like his human idol, the late, great Auguste Gusteau (Garrett, Music and Lyrics).  After a mishap separates Remy from his family, he makes his way to Gusteau's restaurant, where he finds business still going on after the death of its popular main chef.  The sous-chef, Skinner (Holm, The Treatment), has taken over the operations, although he is more content to use Gusteau's name to shill commercially-packaged goods than in re-establishing the eatery as one of the finest in Paris. 

Linguini (Romano) is the new garbage boy in the kitchen, and accidentally botches one of the kitchen's soups.  Luckily, Remy just so happens to have seen the faux pas and decides to correct it himself, creating one of the finest dishes the restaurant has ever served.  Before Skinner can stop it, the soup has been served to a popular food critic, who wildly raves over it, and a star is born in the kitchen.  However, Linguini knows who the real cook is, but he doesn't want to lose his job, so he and Remy strike a deal that they will collaborate on making dishes together, with the rat controlling the human's every move by manipulating the locks on his hair under his cook's hat.  Business booms, but rumors that Skinner could lose the business to Linguini, who may be Gusteau's heir, provides him the fuel his attempts to sabotage the young lad before he grows too large to control.

Ratatouille transcends its family animated film status by being a true work of art, a labor of love from filmmakers who put as much emphasis on subtle strokes and little touches as they can to deliver much more than your typical commercialized kids film.  This is a movie, not unlike the food that is prepared at the finest restaurants, made by people who obviously love what they do, and love that others enjoy their work, lavishly, and slavishly, scouring around for just the right elements to put in the rich, extravagant offering. 

Bird puts the emphasis where it rightfully belongs, in the characters themselves.  We really do come to care about Remy, the little chef, and his bigger buddy, Linguini.  When either of them are in trouble we hope they find a way out of it, and when one of them has the potential to find love, we root him on.  Even the villains of the film, Skinner and a sour food critic named Anton Ego (O'Toole, Troy), are painted in a more complex light than the heavies generally are in these sorts of films, and even evoke a certain sympathy from time to time. 

The animation is nothing less than stunning, not only in the articulation, but also in the character movements.  I know it sounds cliché to state that it is so good, you forget you're watching a cartoon, but Ratatouille is really an animated film that seems like a real movie.  Not that the characters look realistic, but within their established cartoon world, their movements are completely fluid, their environs intricately presented, and even the physics of their action carry the proportions necessary to avoid taking us out of the moment, as so many other recent animated films tend to do.

Just when I thought that the days of great 3D animated features were coming to a point where they just were going to be nothing but regurgitations of things that have come before, I can thank Bird, as well as the technical brilliance of the folks at Pixar, for shattering my preconceptions, by crafting yet another classic to be revisited time and again, now and for future generations.  Whether you're taking out the family, going alone, or even trying to win over a hot date, it's just something that's universally appealing, and quite highly recommended for all.  It will win over even the crankiest of critics.

Qwipster's rating:

©2007 Vince Leo