Ratatouille could do for rats what March of the Penguins did for tuxedo clad furry birds. An unusual cross between America’s Next Top Chef and Willard, the movie does something no other film has been able to, (not that a lot of have tried), it makes rats cute. Lovable even.
Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) is a sophisticated rodent with a highly developed sense of smell. While his rat brothers and sisters are happy to simply survive by scavenging through the garbage, Remy has loftier goals. Using a recipe book called Anyone Can Cook by the famous French television chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett) he teaches himself to read and realizes that he was born to cook saffron scented mushrooms, not eat rotten apple cores from the trash.
His love of food almost gets him and his nest killed when a kitchen raid goes horribly wrong. In the ensuing panic he gets separated from his flock, floating downriver on his beloved cookbook until he ends up in Paris. Stumbling across the restaurant of his idol, the recently departed Gusteau, he puts his refined nose to good use and secretly adds spices and ingredients to rescues a soup that had been ruined by a bumbling employee named Linguini (Lou Romano). The soup is a hit, and Remy partners-up with Linguini to create more dishes. To paraphrase UB40, “there’s a rat in then kitchen and Linguini don’t care.” Intrigue follows when it is discovered that Linguini may be a relative of the late great chef Gusteau.
Ratatouille is the most visually spectacular of all the Pixar (the people behind the Toy Story films, Finding Nemo and Cars) films. Saturated in rich colors the action scenes in the busy kitchen as Remy assists in the making of soups and such while trying to avoid detection are breathtakingly beautiful. Intricately choreographed and exquisitely detailed these kinetic kitchen scenes absolutely sparkle—large copper pots bubble over with delicious looking sauces, vegetables are chopped by expert hands, waiters move to and fro, while a team of chefs labor over hot stoves. It’s a frenzy of action that will make your eyeballs dance.
As usual Pixar pairs the visuals with a solid, funny story populated by interesting characters. Director Brad Bird has given Remy a real personality, giving the ‘lil chef an endearing and funny non-verbal vocabulary of nods and shrugs to communicate with Linguini. When he does speak to the other rats (in English, no one in this French restaurant actually speaks French) he actually has something to say. Bird and his co-writers avoid the trap of so many other animated films that mistake clever pop culture references for dialogue. As a result the movie has the classic, timeless feel of old school Disney family films.
The relationship between rat and man—Remy and Linguini—however unlikely, is nicely realized and offers up a family friendly messages about friendship and cooperation. The characters are aided by nice voice work from Janeane Garofalo as the smart and oh-so-French Colette, Ian Holm’s psychotic chef Skinner, and Peter O’Toole’s as the snotty food critic Anton Ego who is reduced to tears by food that reminds him of his mother’s cooking.
Ratatouille is Pixar working at the top of their game. It’s a delicious feast for the eyes mixed with a timeless, charming story.