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Ratatouille Movie Review

Ratatouille (2007) movie poster Ratatouille

Theatrical Release: June 29, 2007 / Running Time: 111 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Brad Bird

Voice Cast: Patton Oswalt (Remy), Ian Holm (Skinner), Lou Romano (Alfredo Linguini), Brian Dennehy (Django), Peter Sohn (Emile), Peter O'Toole (Anton Ego), Brad Garrett (Auguste Gusteau), Janeane Garofalo (Colette), Will Arnett (Horst), Julius Callahan (Lalo, Francois), James Remar (Larousse), John Ratzenberger (Mustafa)

For their eighth feature-length outing, Pixar Animation Studios has done something new and different, essentially creating their version of a foreign film. The universe into which Ratatouille thrusts viewers -- haute cuisine in present-day Paris -- is unquestionably the studios' least compelling,
lacking the wide appeal of toys, monsters, superheroes, or even self-sufficient automobiles. Yet, as has come to be expected of the still-unparalleled animation wizards of Emeryville, California, the movie dives fully into its setting, reveling in the details visually while finding the heart and humanity in its rather unusual story.

The chief protagonist of the film, as suggested by the title, is a rat. The bluish-gray rodent named Remy (voiced by comedian Patton Oswalt) explains early on that he has "highly developed senses", which make him an obvious selection for the position of poison checker but, more importantly, contribute to his appreciation of culinary delights. This latter passion keeps Remy a skinnier and more selective creature than his counterparts, which include his big-eating red brother Emile (voiced by Pixar story artist Peter Sohn) and chilly father Django (Brian Dennehy). Remy's uniquity is apparent; while other rats are content to dig into any available trash, his tastes require interesting combinations of flavors to savor. For a rat, developing ways to manufacture extraordinary oral sensations entails bravely venturing into the human world to gather knowledge through reading and some food channel viewing.

The ghost of revolutionary Parisian chef Auguste Gusteau advises Remy on his future. Remy's father Django and brother Emile don't understand their relative's picky tastes.

Both mediums bring Remy to Auguste Gusteau, a pioneering Parisian human chef whose philosophy is "Anyone Can Cook." Remy is surprised to learn that Gusteau died a few years ago (due, in part, to a review that lost one of his restaurant's five stars), but the spirit of the portly chef emerges in Remy's subconscious via an airborne, limit-free, rat-sized specter ("Everybody Loves Raymond" co-star/Pixar veteran Brad Garrett) when most needed. The apparition inspires Remy, against better judgment, to tamper with a doomed soup about to be served at Gusteau's restaurant. When the dish merits hearty praise, the awkward, newly-hired garbage boy Alfredo Linguini (Pixar design artist Lou Romano) believed responsible has his fate upgraded from imminent firing to unprecedented promotion by the suspicious and unsavory current head chef Skinner (Ian Holm).

This is the start of a strange but productive friendship, as the talentless Linguini becomes little more than a puppet for the creative Remy, who hides in the young man's toque hat and coordinates meal preparations with hair-pulling. Linguini gets credit for the well-received concoctions and rises in the restaurant's ranks, to the frustration of Skinner, who can't figure out either how the guy is pulling it off or what the significance of an oft-spotted but elusive rat may be.

The resourceful Remy and the geeky Linguini form an alliance that will restore Gusteau's to greatness. Chef Skinner's eyes bug out at spotting that darn rat.

Those who have noticed a formula to Pixar's creations,
which have found incomparable success with critics and moviegoers, are likely to be at a loss spotting it here. Ratatouille is certainly the CGI house's most atypical work to date. An "un-Pixar but pleasing style" struck me in my first viewing of writer-director Brad Bird's previous effort, The Incredibles. That applies even more now, where only in character design does Ratatouille resemble other entries in the studio's canon. Human characters, who among Pixar works have only been more prevalent in The Incredibles, speak mostly with French accents and contribute to a strong European flavor that rarely invites us beyond Gusteau's kitchen and the esoteric cuisine brigade system. Nonetheless, Remy remains our lead and his sympathetic qualities yield a definite rat's point of view to most of the proceedings.

Ratatouille follows a trail established by Cars which makes it seem as though Pixar is forcing themselves with limiting designs to be fresh and different from past achievements. As John Lasseter's all-wheels tale seemed to appease his personal hobbies first and foremost, Ratatouille appears to have non-audience interests in mind as well. This film lacks the universally intriguing "what's life like from their perspective?" question that Toy Story, A Bug's Life, and others all answered. Sure, it explores the kitchen hierarchy as well as the psyches of survival-driven rats and the different-drummer-marching Remy. But it also does something uncharacteristic for the studio, which is lose a grip on reality. That immediately sounds like a ridiculous response to imaginative films where monsters, fish, toys, cars, and bugs have lives, problems, and speech patterns just like our own. But there is something about Ratatouille's silly premise and the way that it's played that distinguish this film from other Pixar fantasies.

While Brad Bird is billed as screenwriter and director, those who have been keeping tabs on this project know that it originated with Pixar's Jan Pinkava. The Czech-born Pinkava is credited as co-director and, along with Bird and Disney/Pixar veteran Jim Capobianco, the original story. The European air of Ratatouille feels closer to the Oscar-winning 1997 short Geri's Game that Pinkava helmed than the two mythic cartoonish fables (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant) that Bird is best known for. The humor and messages that typically mark Bird's work are rather subdued here. Action too is fairly limited, with visceral thrills experienced only in a brief Vespa ride, Remy's narrow kitchen escape (that differs from the entirely-absent content of the movie's teaser trailer), and an unusual early sequence that pits a gun-toting granny against a rat infestation.

Five members of the kitchen staff at Gusteau's (left to right): Pompidou, Colette, Larousse, Lalo, and Horst strike a pose. Influential, snobby food critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O'Toole) is the less featured but deeper of the film's two villains.

There are elements that probably will need to be explained to kids, provided they care enough to ask. The crowd in my screening was quite young and for the most part very quiet. Gladly, Pixar's notion of family entertainment doesn't mean flatulence for the young'uns and innuendo for teens and up. I assume, however, that surprising plot points like a DNA paternity test and an afterlife joke will be more understood and appreciated by older viewers. Like the rare piece of foreign animation that delights critics enough to gain recognition in the U.S., Ratatouille speaks to and rewards adult audiences with relevant material and intelligent themes.

There's irony that can't be missed in the fact that Pixar assaults critics, a class that has been kinder to them over the past twelve years than perhaps any other moviemaking group in cinema history. Ratatouille makes a snobby, bag-eyed restaurant reviewer named Anton Ego (voiced by screen legend Peter O'Toole) a villain and his profession at large a climactic target. Also curious is an anti-human air, which is negated by the open-minded Remy but propagated by his less cultured kin. Another subject of attack is a line of microwaveable frozen food products that Skinner shamelessly oversees. For the Disney/Pixar/animation fan, it doesn't take a huge leap of logic to read this as an indictment of brand-name-cheapening direct-to-video sequels or just low brow tastes in general. This assorted commentary points those looking deeply in a variety of directions, leaving them uncertain of whether the film is condemning, embracing, or merely mocking pretentiousness. In any case, such elevated thought hasn't been generated from animation since Bird's last film The Incredibles yielded differing opinions during 2004's presidential election season.

Linguini falls for the demanding, ambitious Colette, though their romance doesn't make too much sense. The diminutive, goofy sous chef-turned-executive chef Skinner (voiced by "Lord of the Rings"' Ian Holm) appears here in one of his more bewildered states.

Despite being able to spark discussion, elicit emotions, and always sustain interest, Ratatouille does not, in my initial impression, rank among Pixar's best or even their "not so best." That is not to take away from the film, which has plenty of merit on its own. At this point, it's the most worthy candidate of the kids' table Oscar for Best Animated Feature and no doubt will exceed most of this year's live-action films in the quality department.

I suspect the movie will perhaps even grow on me in subsequent viewings. But I also think the demands of churning out a new film every summer are inevitably taking a toll, slight though it may be, on the caliber of Pixar's work. I detected a void in warmth here. And that premise that failed to excite me pre-release never completely won me over.

Also, the characters are definitely not the most well-defined. Outside of Remy, who gets to soulfully narrate with a tone that's a cross between classic noir and modern-day drama/thriller, no individual makes too strong an impression. The ghostly Gusteau provides some heart and one is able to like the contrivedly-flawed Linguini, the briefly-seen Emile, and even the lanky Ego. But the rest of the cast seems either underdefined (like the clumsily-introduced kitchen staff) or somewhat perfunctory (Janeane Garofalo's accented love interest). Strangely, it may be a case of Pixar's least recognizable voice cast being underequipped to lend flair to their personas.

The company's appreciation for 2-D animation comes through here more clearly than perhaps ever before, in inventive but non-gimmicky ways. A testament to craft in general comes in the end credits quality guarantee that assures us "no motion capture or any other performance shortcuts" were used.

Even when one of their films doesn't immediately conjure the phrase "masterpiece", Pixar proves that they have the tools, talent, and wisdom to make something worth seeing multiple times and discussing at length. From lush visuals that practically cry out for smell-ovision technology while filling the wide 2.40:1 frame to character animation that seems so much more like flesh and blood than 1's and 0's, Ratatouille is a feast for the eyes. For the most part, it's also a feast for the mind, one which deserves to be considered for far longer than a single week atop the box office and news, the way current Hollywood standards dictate.

Linguini and his puppeteer Remy get buddy-buddy in front of Pixar's luscious view of Paris at sunset. An up close look at the star of "Ratatouille", Remy the Rat.

So, what are Ratatouille's prospects with moviegoers? Judging from early reviews, I have no doubt that the critical reaction to Pixar's latest will again be favorable, probably even more than it was for last June's Cars. I predict that audiences will be slightly less eager to recommend the movie, but the all-important word-of-mouth should still be good. As for box office grosses, the earnings of CG-animated movies have been steadily dropping since 2004 yielded two hits and two blockbusters out of just four releases. In the past few years, the median North American earnings of an all-CGI family flick have dropped from about $160 million to half that. Even a warmly-received film like Disney's Meet the Robinsons, boosted by premium 3-D screening prices, has been struggling to reach the $100 M mark domestically. The Pixar name has massive clout, and commercials have been playing up Ratatouille's historic lineage. Still, between the non-grasping concept and the fierce sequel/franchise-laced competition it faces, I think Ratatouille will have difficulty reaching even the $200 M threshold that Pixar's last five films have. I could be wrong; after all, I never expected Finding Nemo to become the company's record-bearer. One thing is certain: despite the ten people credited under "Consumer Products", Ratatouille won't have the retail presence and pull of Cars with its world not lending itself to much in the way of toys and character merchandise.

Continuing a tradition established with A Bug's Life, Ratatouille contains a Pixar-animated short before the film. This one is Lifted, a Best Short nominee at this year's Oscars. Written and directed by Lucas/Spielberg/Pixar sound designer Gary Rydstrom, it tells the story of an odd couple of Jello-like aliens who struggle with an abduction of a sleeping human. True to Pixar's non-spin-off short sensibilities, this 5-minute cartoon is free of dialogue and big on sight gags. It's not up there with the company's best, but it does have me excited for the out-of-this-world possibilities for next summer's Pixar feature, Wall-E, which is previewed before the film in a teaser that's more pitch than glimpse.

Related Items:
Buy "The Art of Ratatouille" from Amazon.com Buy "Ratatouille: Soundtrack" from Amazon.com Order "Ratatouille" PlayStation 2 Video Game from Amazon.com Buy "Ratatouille": The Guide to Remy's World from Amazon.comBuy Little Chef Remy from Amazon.com
The Art of Ratatouille
by Karen Paik
Hardcover, 160 pages
Chronicle Books, 2007
Also available: Limited Edition with 5 signed artists' drawings
Ratatouille: Soundtrack
Score by Michael Giacchino

Also Available: What's Cooking?: Musical Tour of Tasty Tunes (Songs Inspired by the Film)
PlayStation 2
Other formats:
Windows/Mac, PlayStation 3, GameCube, Xbox 360, Nintendo Wii, Game Boy Advance, PSP, Nintendo DS
Ratatouille: The Guide to Remy's World
More Ratatouille Books:
Junior Novelization
Learn to Draw Ratatouille
Movie Theater (Storybook & Movie Disk Projector)
Too Many Cooks
Ratatouille Kids' Cookbook
2008 Calendar
Little Chef Remy
interactive toy
More Ratatouille Toys/Games:
Set of 4 Rat Action Figures
Ratatouille Kitchen Quake
Kitchen Chaos Playset
7-Character Cast Gift Pack
Working Together Figure Set
Gusteau Talking Plush
Remy Action Figure
Check out many more related items in our guide to Ratatouille tie-ins!
Click here to check out our guide to Ratatouille tie-ins

Related Movie and DVD Reviews:
Meet the Robinsons Pirates of the Caribbean: At World's End Cars The Incredibles Monsters, Inc.
Toy Story: 10th Anniversary Edition Toy Story 2: Special Edition Finding Nemo A Bug's Life
Valiant The Wild Bridge to Terabithia The Secret of NIMH: Family Fun Edition Venus

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Reviewed June 23, 2007