"Ratatouille" Is a Film That Really Cooks
There ought to be a word for an expertly cut trailer that includes all the best scenes from an otherwise terrible movie. This phenomenon seems to be occurring more and more often as the average film gets worse and worse, to the point where a good trailer simply isn’t enough to sell a film. It seems that the best you can hope for is to say, “That was a cool trailer. I hope the film doesn’t suck.”
It doesn’t help when a film gets as much pre-release attention as Disney/Pixar’s Ratatouille. The fact that the studio felt the need to release a nine-minute clip of a 110-minute movie to promote it can also make one feel like the film is getting the hard sell, as though it were a used car that the dealer really wants to get off the lot before someone realizes it’s a lemon. Even if you’ve enjoyed the trailers and the clips, this feeling will only grow when the first gag of the finished film turns out to be a recycled freeze-frame joke from the earliest trailer.
Luckily, all of these feelings turn out to be completely unjustified. Ratatouille is a delightfully entertaining film from start to finish—a breath of fresh air in an increasingly stale atmosphere for animation and filmmaking in general.
The film centers on Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), a rat with a hyper-sensitive sense of smell and taste who discovers the art of cooking and begins to aspire to more than the garbage that his father Django (Brian Dennehy) and brother Emile (Peter Sohn) are satisfied with. An accident separates Remy from his family and plops him squarely in Paris, where he befriends hapless garbage boy Linguini (Lou Romano), the newest employee of the former five-star restaurant Gusteau’s. Before long, Linguini makes a name for himself in the kitchen with the help of Remy and assistant chef/romantic interest Colette (Janeane Garofalo). His developing success as a celebrity chef eventually pits the pair on a collision course with the mean-spirited and greedy head chef Skinner (Ian Holm) and the funereal food critic Anton Ego (a marvelous Peter O’Toole).
As in most of their movies, Pixar eschews the trend for celebrity stunt voice casting, and opts for many lesser known names and in-house talents. Patton Oswalt is wonderfully charming as Remy, grounding his pie-in-the-sky dreaming with his extremely down-to-earth voice. Janeane Garofalo gives the performance of a career as Colette, alternating between stereotypical Gallic apathy, cautious and tentative trust, and the fury of a woman betrayed. Peter O’Toole probably has the most star-wattage in the cast, but his delightful performance as Anton Ego is perfectly modulated and dripping with venom for the majority of the movie. Finally, Pixar animators Lou Romano and Peter Sohn show great skill as Linguini and Emile, respectively, but their casting says volumes about Pixar as a creative environment. There isn’t another animation studio in Hollywood that would have trusted such important primary and supporting characters to amateur actors instead of a Hollywood name-of-the-moment instead.
It has become a cliché to note that the Pixar animators have outdone themselves with each subsequent film, but the visual artistry of Ratatouille builds on its predecessors marvelously. One of the most interesting tricks in the movie ends up being one of the simplest: visually communicating the sensation of eating. It’s a small thing, but comes closer to explaining the multi-dimensonal beauty of truly great food in ways that most other food movies have never quite managed. A sewer flood sequence early in the film is amazing to watch for the fluid dynamics alone, but is also a terrific nail-biter of a scene. Remy and his rodent friends get quite convincingly soaked several times, advancing and combining the fur effects of Monsters Inc. with the water effects of Finding Nemo and The Incredibles. The rendering of Gusteau’s kitchen is awe-inspiring, with textures, colors, reflections, flame effects, and physics all combining to create a perfectly believable working kitchen and food that looks good enough to eat. Finally, Pixar’s Paris is stunningly beautiful, nearly worth the price of admission all by itself.
However, what can easily be missed is that all the technical razzle dazzle is done in service of some of the finest, old-fashioned character animation since the heydays of the Disney Animation Studios. Remy and the rest of the rats are never animated as people in mouse suits. Just as the characters in Lady and the Tramp never lose their essential doggy-ness, the rats of Ratatouille are anthropomorphized, but never lose their essential rat-like qualities. Remy’s accurate rat-like behavior makes it all the more remarkable that he remains such an appealing character throughout the movie. The people are similarly well-animated, with all of them communicating character information by the way they move. The loose-limbed and gangly Linguini is fundamentally different from the cool and efficient movements of Colette, the aggressive stomping of Skinner, or the spider-like motions of Ego.
All the stated reasons studio flacks or moviegoers have come up with for not seeing this movie turn out to be so much bunk because Ratatouille is a sumptuous meal of a film. Good food enables survival, but great food does far more than just nourish the body. It turns the act of eating into something higher and more beautiful, and appeals to multiple dimensions. Ratatouille is the cinematic equivalent of such meals. It celebrates great food and is a worthy addition to the classic foodie movies like Tampopo, Big Night, and Eat Drink Man Woman. Remember to stay all the way through the end credits for little hand-drawn bits of Remy and an amusing little aside about a rising trend in animated films. You’ll also want to make a reservation at an incredibly nice restaurant after the movie is over. Trust me, you’re going to be hungry, and eating good in the neighborhood isn’t going to cut it even if the ads say you’re part of the family.
Ratatouille is accompanied by a new short, “Lifted,” which centers on the worst alien abduction ever and may be the most flat-out hilarious short Pixar has made so far.
All images in this review are © Disney Enterprises, Inc. and Pixar Animation Studios