Unlike every other review written for Pixar’s Ratatouille, I promise no cheesy food puns… except for that one.

Ratatouille is the story of a rat named Remy who has an overdeveloped sense of smell and taste, making being a garbage eating animal difficult. After being separated from his family he ends up in Paris, the gourmet food capital of the world. He finds the restaurant of his idol, the famous (but now dead) chef Auguste Gusteau, and winds up stuck in the kitchen trying to escape before he is noticed. Alfredo Linguini, the young son of a friend of Gusteau’s, also shows up in the kitchen at this time in search of a job. The new garbage boy spills some soup and tries to fix the problem with some random ingredients. As Remy finally reaches a window in the kitchen to escape he can’t help but properly fix the soup and is caught by Linguini. When the customers praise the soup, everyone assumes Linguini was the chef and he is pressed into service as a cook. Thus begins a collaboration between the rat and the boy to surreptitiously combine as the hottest new chef in Paris. But their bond will be tested by a chef with a secret, a cadaverous food critic, the return of Remy’s family, and a woman.

Like Remy, Pixar’s chefs get fancy
with the spices to make an incredible film.

I might as well just come out with this at the beginning rather than try to drag it out to the end. Ratatouille is one of the best animated films ever made. It is easily Pixar’s best, and that is saying a lot. Coming from the director of The Incredibles and The Iron Giant (widely considered to be the best animated film), Brad Bird has cemented his reputation as the premiere American animation director.

One of the biggest things that struck me about this movie is that it takes something really great animated films are known for and turns it on its head – and that is a good thing! Every really good animated film has said about it “it is made for kids but there are layers that adults will enjoy as well”. Ratatouille, however, seems as if it were made for adults first with layers that children will enjoy too. Not since 1991 with Disney’s Beauty and the Beast can I ever remember watching an animated film from a major American studio and feeling that way. And things ended well for that historic film!

Part of what gives Ratatouille that “grown-up” feel is the score. Michael Giacchino, composer of the TV show Lost and Pixar’s The Incredibles, has not dumbed down the music for kids. The score is at times jazzy, at times lush, with many other styles between (including what might be called a Merry Melodies-vibe during an action scene), but always seems perfectly Gallic. Most live action films don’t boast music this dynamic or evocative.

This film should be the model for how to do voice acting right. Pixar has not gone with the biggest names in the business. They picked the ones that worked with the characters. And the well known voices are well hidden under French accents keeping them from being a distraction as celebrity voices can often be. I would not be surprised if the nominations for the Annie Award for Best Voice Acting this year all went to this film, and the nominations would be well deserved. Patton Oswalt is Remy and brings a surprising humanity to the character – not a small task when you’re playing a rat! Brad Garrett and Janeane Garofalo are unrecognizable under their accents as Gusteau and Colette. But both give wonderful performances that prove big names can do good voice acting and not just be big names on the movie poster. Ian Holm is pefect as head chef Skinner. Sometimes scary, most of the time hilarious, in any other animated film his would have been the star performance. But Ratatouille has two other performances that outshine even these others. Lou Romano infuses Linguini with an emotional range so real it almost feels like he isn’t acting, that he actually is Linguini and this is actually his life. And Peter O’Toole, as critic Anton Ego, gives a performance that in a live action film would have quite literally earned him an Oscar nomination.

It wouldn’t be a proper film set in Paris if the
introduction of a woman didn’t complicate things for our hero.

The story of a rat that can cook by controlling a human by pulling his hair is fully in the realm of fantasy, of course, and on paper one would assume it would require a major suspension of disbelief. But Ratatouille’s story team has done such a good job that that suspension happens effortlessly and without much notice. Even more impressive is that the film does this and keeps a high level of sophistication. As mentioned previously, this does not feel like a kids movie at all. And while that strong, adult-level story is it’s greatest strength, it also brings us to the film’s biggest weakness. While Ratatouille has many layers that children will enjoy too, they may get more bored than with traditional animated movies. They will obviously enjoy much of the film, but the story may be a bit over their heads. And there are several things that some parents may want to be aware of with certain kids. Drinking and a bit of drunkenness are portrayed. Guns are used a little more cavalierly than usual in these politically correct times. And death seems to be a minor undercurrent of the film. Gusteau’s death is referenced several times, Linguini’s mother’s death is mentioned as is a joke about the afterlife, one character’s house contain macabre imagery, humans obviously try to kill the rats, and in one mildly disturbing scene several obviously dead rats are seen displayed in a gruesome manner.

On the animation front Pixar has really outdone themselves with Ratatouille. As usual they have eschewed the way some studios portray humans as ultra realistic and gone with a more stylized look. The movements of the characters, while at times meant to be funny, always have a sense of plausibility. Nothing looks too cartoon-y, even Remy’s wild manipulations of Linguini. The rats look at the same time cute and cuddly and a little too rat like, especially when swarming. But it is the city of Paris that really stands out. The animation is very sumptuous. Paris, while not a living breathing character, is a very real presence is almost every scene due to the work that went into putting the vivid Parisian feel into the animation. The only complaint that can be made here is that Pixar kept up the long standing movie cliché that every window in Paris faces the Eiffel Tower!

Ratatouille should be a revelation to audiences used to the lowered standards in animated storytelling the past decade. Every aspect of the film is executed almost to perfection. The film is a feast compared to the fast-food fare we’re served from some other animation studios. Hopefully audiences will get used to the haute cuisine here and turn up their noses at anything else. Oops! Food puns – sorry!

Animated Classic or Back To The Drawing Board?

June 29, 2007
110 minutes
Rated G
directed by Brad Bird