Ratatouille

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This review was written for the theatrical release of "Ratatouille." 

Brad Bird and Pixar Animation Studios are proving to be an unbeatable combination. Bird, the cartoon writer-director with delightfully off-kilter sensibilities, and Pixar, the cutting-edge computer-animation company that places so very much emphasis on character, have their second hit together in "Ratatouille," a follow-up to the universally popular "The Incredibles." Who would think a rat in a restaurant's kitchen would induce anything other than comic slapstick involving knives and cleavers flying in all directions? Yet Bird builds a comic world in which a rat can become a chef and food can take on an almost unbearable sensuality.

Yes, there's something in the kitchen for everyone in "Ratatouille," so the Mouse House should clear a wing in its hall of fame for Cousin Rat. "Ratatouille" might not reach the international boxoffice heights of "The Incredibles" -- then again, maybe it will -- but the film does rep another huge leap in CGI technique and imagination by the Pixar folks.

Heroes with impossible dreams are the stuff movies are made of. But "Ratatouille" gives us two seemingly hapless protagonists battling impossible odds. The first is Remy (voiced by comic Patton Oswalt), an uncommon French rat who refuses to nibble on garbage. Mais non, he prefers haute cuisine delicacies out of human kitchens. Indeed, his hero is Paris' culinary superstar Auguste Gusteau, whose motto -- and best-selling book -- is "Anybody Can Cook." But did Gusteau have Remy in mind?

The second hard case is Linguini (Lou Romano), a garbage boy at Gusteau's eponymous restaurant. In a way, his is the more desperate case because he loves the world of food but can't cook worth a lick. When Remy, momentarily stranded in Gusteau's, sees the mess Linguini has made of a soup when no one was watching, he quickly hurls ingredients in from all over the kitchen, turning the soup into the best thing that kitchen has produced in ages.

It seems old Gusteau has passed on to that kitchen in the sky. His sous chef, Skinner (Ian Holm), drawn to look like an evil and miniaturized Cantinflas, is content to coast on the restaurant's name while crassly expanding into frozen food. When Linguini receives credit for Remy's artistry, Skinner is forced to hire him as a cook. But Skinner challenges him to repeat his "accidental" soup recipe. When Linguini comes to the startling realization that a rat actually created the soup, he knows his goose, you should excuse the expression, is cooked.

But wait! Linguini and Remy develop a means to communicate. Through trial and much error (meaning much slapstick), Remy learns that by perching on the top of Linguini's head under his chef's hat and pulling tuffs of thick hair to manipulate limbs, he can pilot Linguini through his food-prep station. Soon, Linguini/Remy have the old magic back in Gusteau's kitchen, light a romantic fire underneath its sole female cook, Colette (Janeane Garofalo), has Skinner doing a slow burn and attracted the unwanted attention of the town's haughtiest critic, Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole at his most imperial and majestic self).

Cartoon food certainly has come a long way from the spaghetti-by-candlelight scene in Walt Disney's "Lady and the Tramp." In Bird's kitchen, sauces steam and bubble over brilliant flames, red wine shimmers in crystal glasses, vegetables slice, grate and chop in a frenzy of tiny flying objects, and the camera and cooks are in constant motion in a choreographed ballet with swift, tuxedoed waiters. Everything is so realistic in its textures, colors and smells -- yes, you'll swear you can smell the food -- that the next time you switch on the Food Channel will bring disappointment: It doesn't look like Gusteau's!

The movement of all the characters from the rats, right down to their hairs and tail, to the humans flying this way and that has an authentic precision that adds to the comic action immeasurably. But trumping even the photorealism of this Parisian fantasia is the utter charm of it all.

The parallel rat world is rendered in equally imaginative details so that Remy becomes an outsider in his own community by his insistence that food is art. The symbiotic friendship between Remy and Linguini carries genuine sympathy and caring. An engaging chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett) appears to Remy frequently as "a figment of your imagination" to offer advice and support to Remy. And the ratatouille dish that breaks the great critic's heart is a reminder that all great food takes you back to mama's kitchen.

Bon appetit!



RATATOUILLE
Buena Vista Pictures
Walt Disney Pictures presents a Pixar Animation Studios film
Credits:
Director: Brad Bird
Screenwriters: Jan Pinkava, Brad Bird
Producer: Brad Lewis
Executive producers: John Lasseter, Andrew Stanton
Supervising technical director: Michael Fong
Production designer: Harley Jessup
Director of photography/lighting: Sharon Calahan
Music: Michael Giacchino
Story supervisor: Mark Andrews
Editor: Darren Holmes
Cast:
Remy: Patton Oswalt
Skinner: Ian Holm
Linguini: Lou Romano
Django: Brian Dennehy
Emile: Peter Sohn
Anton Ego: Peter O'Toole
Auguste Gusteau: Brad Garrett
Colette: Janeane Garofalo
Horst: Will Arnett
Running time -- 111 minutes
MPAA rating: G

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