Pixar does it again. They’ve created another movie that stretches the boundaries of its own target audience, delightful for children and adults alike. Ratatouille sets the bar not only for animated movies, but all films this year. And it sets it to “High.”
Director Brad Bird and the rest of the brilliant Pixar crew mix all the right ingredients for this stunning visual display and heart-warming “tail” for all ages.
Story – Pixar prides themselves on their stories. They repeat in almost every interview I’ve seen an almost recited statement of the importance of a solid script. I would fault them for such a rehearsed and obvious stance, but it rings true. The story is great. It blends the underground life of scrounging rats with the upscale kitchen of a famous Parisian restaurant.
Remy is a rat who has an affinity for the finer smells and tastes. His talents are wasted sniffing out poison for his brethren until he is separated from them and all alone in Paris. Meanwhile, his favorite TV chef and famous cook Gusteau dies suddenly after Anton Ego, a ruthless critic, gives him a mere four out of five star review. Gusteau appears to Remy as a spirit mentor (a la Obi-Wan Kenobi) and guides him to his kitchen. There Remy meets Linguini, who at the time is just a garbage boy. Using him as a puppet, they create fantastic meals, much to the dismay of the Napoleonic head chef, Skinner.
The movie, however, doesn’t just center on food preparation, but mixes in Linguini’s love story with another chef (Colette), Remy’s rodent identity crisis, and a struggle over the restaurant’s ownership.
The plot isn’t too complex, nor too dark for children, but is multi-layered for a wide appeal. There is scattered humor for adults to appreciate and physical gags for children to enjoy. I giggled along with both groups. And for someone who likes his dinner of the “super-sized” variety, I was kept interested in the world of fine dining.
Characters – All the players involved lended their voices perfectly to the superb animation. Patton Oswalt is a bright, cheerful voice for the lively little Remy. Lou Romano has voiced a few other Pixar projects, and does another great job as the stammering amateur chef Linguini. Ian Holm (Bilbo from the Lord of the Rings) I didn’t even recognize, but made me laugh as the short villainous chef Skinner. Even the unfunny Janeane Garofalo surprised me with an unobtrusive, accented performance as Colette. And the cast was wrapped up by the legendary Peter O’Toole as the scathing food critic Anton Ego. Each character is a well-rounded individual, not just in personality, but beautifully sculpted on screen.
Animation – The wide range of motion shown by the characters (even the rats) wouldn’t have been possible without the ground-breaking animation at Pixar studios. The “golden age of animation” is always described as Disney in the early 90’s, which brought us classics like Little Mermaid, Beauty and the Beast, Aladdin, and the Lion King. But Disney acquired Pixar, whose union gave birth to a reinvention of the medium in 3-D, bringing us instant classics and incredible visuals.
Ratatouille is no exception. They continue to outdo themselves, trying new textures, intricate backgrounds, and complicated scenes. The animators perfected the hair from Monster’s Inc. for the rats and improved upon the realism of the human characters. They even bested their own work with water from Finding Nemo in a truly awesome sewer sequence. Remy actually has facial expressions, with plenty of smile-inducing body language and cute, wide-eyed looks. Amazing.
It’s also worth mentioning the great musical score, which added to the film without using the old method of characters busting out randomly in song.