Genre: Fairy Tale Running Time: 1 hr. 51 min.
Release Date: June 29th, 2007 MPAA Rating: G
Director: Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava Actors: Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Ian Holm, Peter O’Toole, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, Brian Dennehy, Peter Sohn, Will Arnett, James Remar, John Ratzenberger
n astonishingly unconventional plot brings audiences to the streets of France, where an anthropomorphic rat aids a floundering chef in cooking superlative cuisines. Thanks to director Brad Bird and his masterful direction, it’s impossible not to be sucked into this exquisite, absolutely original storyline. With breathtaking animation as only Pixar can provide, nonstop comedy, James Bond-esque chase sequences, and wildly caricatured characters, “Ratatouille” is easily one of the best films of the summer.
Remy the rat (Patton Oswalt) has an unusually refined sense of smell and taste. This leads to a peculiar aspiration to eat only the finest foods, as opposed to rifling through refuse and stealing scraps like his family does without question. Although Remy is warned of the dangers of humans (they’re as hazardous to rats as they are to merfolk), he winds up in close quarters with those very nemeses, resulting in a rapid escape from a compromised home. During the chaos, Remy is separated and lost down the unforgiving tunnels of a dark sewer.
When he finally clamors to the top, guided by his role model’s ghostlike guiding spirit (the late, great Chef Gusteau, who regularly admits to being a mere figment of Remy’s imagination), he realizes he’s in Paris, right next to Gusteau’s five-star restaurant. Determined to realize his dream of becoming a chef, he saves a recently hired, bumbling garbage boy named Linguini (Lou Romano) from disaster and embarrassment, to form an unlikely partnership. Remy puppeteers Linguini (while hiding under his toque), making him appear to be a talented chef. Linguini’s suspicious and conniving boss Skinner (Ian Holm) and the specter-like food critic Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole) are the only two who stand in their way of fulfilling their passions – and proving to themselves and their families how the most unusual of circumstances can lead to success. And that anyone can cook.
A classic example of Pixar’s signature ability to select the most inspiring, unique stories, as well as to throw conventionality out the window, “Ratatouille” begins by utilizing extreme opposites in its principal concepts. A rat, typically despised – especially in the kitchen – unites with a human to create culinary pleasures, principally for humans. The plausibility of this contrary scheme is purely situated in fantasy, but with detailed character development and emotional scenarios to inject further life into fictitious yet agreeable interactions, it never feels like nonsense. Instead, it’s heartfelt and fascinating, with moving friendships, powerful conflicts, and a romance thrown in for good measure (between Linguini and Colette, voiced by Janeane Garofalo).
Several noteworthy contrasts and singular ideas surface consistently throughout “Ratatouille.” Similar to “Toy Story,” in which the toys don’t allow humans to notice their anthropomorphic qualities, the rodents in “Ratatouille” keep their actions out of sight. They squeak when they talk (from a human perspective), yet they ride boats during an escape, and Remy can read books and understand English. Are they unable to achieve human characteristics when humans aren’t present? Technical contrasts exist in the editing and cinematography as well, including humorous transitions from Colette’s face to that of Ego’s malicious grimace, and rapid night-to-day cuts. Often overlooked – yet perhaps the most stunning aspect of the picture – is the way in which the camera operates; dollies, pans, and chases carefully follow motions, perfectly imitating the way a camera is used in live-action photography, yet there are no real cameras at all. This perfect mimicry of actual equipment allows the viewer to follow the events of the CG characters exactly as if they were real – which adds to the precision and naturalism.
All of the visual elements in the film are wholly praiseworthy. The photorealism of textures and environments continue to be near perfection and, in typical Pixar fashion, the lead roles are crafted as caricatures, with exaggerated, cartoon features. Gusteau, Linguini, Colette, and the rest of the kitchen staff are all creatively skewed from standard human proportions, while the inanimate objects all stay practically fashioned. But this familiar differentiation in animated productions helps emphasize the nonstop comedy and cheerful tone that permeates every scene. And most often, the comical sequences involve a frantic, fast-paced chase through sea, land, and air, utilizing stunts that would fit nicely in any superspy actioner.
To that forte, director Brad Bird’s tight, focused direction keeps the action as intense and unpredictable as the jokes are funny (a feat he previously maintained throughout “The Iron Giant” and “The Incredibles”). And despite the unexplained language barriers or farfetched plot, this delightfully delicious foray into the unimaginable never becomes preachy or immature or laced with controversial, underlying commentary, instead crafting a high level of entertainment for audiences of all ages. Clearly, Pixar has itself another winner.
– Mike Massie