It’s a vegetable stew made primarily with eggplant, tomatoes and zucchini--now go see the movie!
By Devin D. O’Leary
Directed by Brad Bird
Cast: Patton Oswalt, Brad Garrett, Ian Holm, Janeane Garofalo, Peter O'Toole
Odds are, if and when you go to the theater to see Ratatouille, the new film from Pixar Animation Studios, you’ll first be greeted by a brief sneak preview of the company’s next major feature Wall-E. That film isn’t scheduled to hit theaters until next June. But the roughly 10-second glance you’ll get of this animated fable about a lonely robot has got more charm and endearing appeal than the last six CGI films Hollywood has cranked out. Following that, you’ll get to see one of Pixar’s trademark short films—a hilarious little sci-fi romp titled “Lifted.” That film alone is worth the price you’ll pay for admission. And that’s all before the feature even starts.
In short: True fans of animation can breathe a sigh of relief, because Pixar is back in the house. The company that gave us Toy Story, Monsters Inc. and Finding Nemo has another modern classic on its hands with Ratatouille. Concerns about what would happen after Pixar took over Disney are now completely allayed. Sweeping aside direct-to-video junk like The Tinkerbell Movie (no, really), Pixar has squarely recommitted the Mouse Corporation to making fresh, original, high-quality animation. While Ratatouille may not be as toyetic as previous outings (I’m guessing you won’t be seeing rat toys in your Happy Meals), it’s easily the best family film of the year and one of the most enjoyable films to hit theaters this summer season.
Ratatouille introduces us to an idealistic young rat named Remy (enthusiastically voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt,) who lives in the French countryside. Remy is gifted with an extraordinary sense of smell, a skill that isn’t all that appreciated by his rodent clan. While his family members spend their days sifting through garbage dumps, Remy dreams of creating elaborate and exotic culinary dishes like his idol, famed French chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett).
After being ousted from their hideout by a gun-toting granny, Remy’s family finds itself on the run though the sewage canals of France. Separated from his friends and relatives, Remy ends up in Paris—as luck would have it, right underneath the restaurant of Chef Gusteau. Unfortunately, the restaurant has seen better days, having lost its prized five-star rating to a snobby food critic and its owner to an untimely heart attack.
Arriving at roughly the same time as Remy is hapless spaghetti-limbed loser Linguini (Lou Romano). Linguini manages to talk his way into a job as the kitchen’s new garbage boy. He too dreams of becoming a great chef, but the kid just doesn’t have the chops. When one of Remy’s gastronomic creations gets mistaken as the work of Linguini, however, our two heroes come up with a mutually beneficial working relationship. Remy will create the recipes, hiding under Linguini’s toque, and Linguini will provide a human face for their innovative cuisine.
Assorted complications arise, of course, including a jealous head chef (voiced by no less than Sir Ian Holm) determined to expose Linguini as a fraud, a possible love interest in the form of a fiery sous chef (Janeane Garofalo avec French accent) and the incessant food-based demands of Remy’s soon-returned rat clan.
As in all Pixar products, the animation is top quality. The computer animators and designers at Pixar have managed to toe the line between the unnervingly realistic and the cartoonishly stylistic. The voicecast is perfect, never too showy or starpacked. Each actor blends into their character, forming a seamless ensemble without a single Robin Williams or Eddie Murphy in earshot. Writer/director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) pilots it all with a sure hand. Occasionally, he’s forced to come up with a few far-fetched conceits to keep the plot going—but, for the most part, the film is filled with original ideas and unexpected moments.
Though Ratatouille is a fine film for the whole family, it might not play all that well with the youngest members of your brood. It’s fairly talky, features French accents, concentrates on the art of fine cooking and has absolutely no fart jokes. In the screening I saw, kids under the age of 5 had a very hard time keeping glued to the screen. Adults, especially if they watch the Food Network (and assuming they can pronounce the title at the box office), will enjoy themselves immensely. Just leave space for a big meal afterward. Odds are this animated appetizer will leave you hungry for more.
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