Film review by: Witney Seibold


            It’s hard to imagine young children who can get behind the concepts of artistic purity, and achievement of the perfect dish, but that doesn’t stop “Ratatouille,” Pixar’s latest animated film about a rat aching to be a chef, from being intelligent, sweet, funny, entertaining, and an utter delight to watch.

            “Ratatouille” is reminiscent of older “family” films in this respect. Films from the 1950s Disney live-action archive, or animated features from the 1970s, were merely kid-friendly, and not necessarily geared specifically at kids, allowing them to be full-blooded adult movies with full-blooded adult themes. But all in a way kids would like. So when we see Remy the Parisian rat (Patton Oswalt) talking about being clean and combining flavors, the kids and the adults can get it, but when we see threats of overcommercialization, nasty restaurant reviews, and misplaced parentage, the kids can take it in strike while the adults smile. Not just peppered with obtuse pop-culture references (I’m talkin’ to you, Shrek), but actually adult.


            Remy lives with his rat clan in a provençal French household. The other rats are content, nay, pleased, with stealing garbage. Remy, though, has such a finely tuned sense of taste and smell, that the only thing the other rats find him good for is poison-sniffer. After a disaster, Remy is separated from his family, and fins himself in the sewers of Paris, underneath Gusteau’s, a once-legendary bistro, now reduced to three stars, and suffering the recent loss of Gusteau himself. Remy, unable to resist and guided by the words of the dead Gusteau (Brad Garrett), sneaks into the kitchen, and, through an odd series of events, befriends a bumbling janitor named Linguini (Lou Romano). They soon find that Linguini can pose as the real cook, while Remy does the creating.


            There’s also a tentative romance with hotshot cooking assistant Colette (Janeane Garofalo), and some suspicion from the angry kitchen head Skinner (Ian Holm) as to who Linguini’s real father is. Skinner also plans on selling off the restaurant’s name to a series of microwaveable “American” foods, cheapening the place even further. The climax involves a showdown with a cadaverous food critic named, of all things, Ego (Peter O’Toole).


            The animation is first-rate, and director Brad Bird (“The Incredibles,” “The Iron Giant”) has proved himself as a formidable talent to be reckoned with in the field. I wasn’t as big a fan of “The Incredibles” as the rest of the world, but I adore “The Iron Giant.” He lends a sense of pacing and purity to the film that is rare to find in most hyperactive animated features. There are even a few brilliant sequences where taste is represented visually, both in swirly colors and in flashback. Like I said, some of the selling-out/food purity stuff may be lost on the smaller kids, but they’ll still have a great time with some of the jokes, and they’ll understand who the good guys and bad guys are.


            Another boon to the film is the performances. Romano plays his part as the bumbling lead as well as anyone, and Oswalt, although a French character, sounds like he’s from, well Portsmouth, Virginia. In fact all the rats sound like Brooklynites. All the other actors, though, actually play French people, and have to do more than rely on their status as Celebrity Voice Actors to get by. Ian Holm is not at all recognizable in hi role, and really sinks his teeth into the chewy French vowels of Skinner. This is also the first time in a while where I’ve seen Garofalo, who usually slides by with her wry sarcastic charm, actually act a bit. She puts on a convincing French dialect, and gives Colette more life and movement than she would have otherwise. Peter O’Toole doesn’t change his voice, but then, he doesn’t need to.

             It’s odd to see Bird attacking critics as harshly as he does in this film. Bird’s films have been almost unanimously praised by film critics, so I can’t imagine what beef he has. Perhaps, with the humanizing of the “evil” Ego is Brid’s way of asking for clemency on behalf of critics everywhere. If that’s the case, thanks, Brad, for taking our side.

Published in: on July 10, 2007 at 6:38 pm  Leave a Comment  

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