© 2007 Ray Wong
Like the titular dish (and a clever wordplay), Ratatouille is simple, subtle, yet a wonderful experience to be enjoyed by everyone, young and old.
Remy (Patton Oswalt) is an ordinary rat with an extraordinary sense of smell and taste. Remy's idol is world-renowned chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett), whose motto is that "anyone can cook." Remy dreams of becoming a chef, too, but his family thinks he's nuts, until his sense of smell saves the whole clan -- that is, Remy is assigned the task to sniff out poisonous food.
A disaster on the home front forces the clan to move, and in the process Remy gets separated from his family and ends up, through the sewers, in Paris; and finally at Gusteau's kitchen. When a garbage boy, Linguini (Lou Romano), messes up the soup, Remy comes to the rescue. The trouble is, the soup is a sensation and the head chef, Skinner (Ian Holm), thinks that Linguini is a fake and demands him to re-create the soup. Having no choice, Linguini teams up with Remy in a Cyrano-de-Bergerac way: Remy would cook by hiding in Linguini's toque and controlling Linguini's hands and body. Working together with Colette (Janeane Garofalo), Linguini develops strong feelings for her while trying to conceal the fact that he can't cook.
Remy's cooking is creating a stir and reviving Gusteau's reputation as one of Paris's best restaurants, and rousing the curiosity of food critic Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole), who was responsible for taking two stars away from the once five-star Gusteau's. Meanwhile, Skinner suspects something is behind Linguini's success and he's determined to smoke out the rat, so to speak.
The voice talents in Ratatouille are phenomenal in that they all fit the characters perfectly, delivering lively and affecting performances. As Remy, comedian Patton Oswalt (The King of Queens) is delightful, reminding us of Nathan Lane but also creating his own brand of friendliness in his voice. As the klutzy Linguini, Lou Romano (The Incredibles, also Pixar's artist) is perfectly goofy and sincere. Remy and Linguini don't really talk with each other (while Remy can understand the humans, his speech comes off as squeaks in Linguini's ears), but their individual voices still create a wonderful overall dynamic.
Ian Holm (The Aviator) is remarkable as the frantic, conniving Skinner. He gave Skinner a wildly comical voice, which in the hands of a lesser actor could very well go over the top. As Colette, Janeane Garofalo (Southland Tales) is sweet but spunky. Sometimes she does go over the top and it's a bit difficult to understand her faux French accent. Brad Garrett (Music and Lyrics) provides a jolly and heartfelt voice for Gusteau, the chef who inspires Remy (and later becomes his conscience) to follow his dream. The standout is the formidable Peter O'Toole (Venus) as the feared critic. He helps make Anton Ego become one of Pixar's most impressive "villain."
As writer and director, Brad Bird (The Incredibles) is involved in every aspect of the production, and his magical touches are evident everywhere. Bird's previous works such as The Incredibles and Iron Giant have cemented his place in the world of animation, and Ratatouille will only further establish him as a god. As with The Incredibles, the film is light in tone, high on humor (but void of crude potty jokes), and great with memorable characters and a plot that moves and twists. Sure, the theme of "follow your dream" is not new, especially in family films, but Brad Bird's story goes beyond that. For a G-rated family animation, the story is surprisingly mature. Clearly Brad Bird and Pixar have adults in mind when making this film. While children will definitely enjoy the animation, the action, and the cute characters, the themes are quite mature, and adults will truly appreciate the humor, dialogue, and story. It's not as flashy as The Incredibles or Cars, but I really appreciate the maturity of the story and the broad range of humor (from physical slapsticks to simple, funny lines).
Good writing is only half the battle. I'm pleased to say that Ratatouille does not disappoint as far as the animation is concerned. It's one of the most delightful, beautiful and amazing production even by Pixar's stellar standards. The rats move like real rats (without being grotesque), the furs look real, and Pixar has perfected the water, which is one of the hardest thing to animate. When the characters get drenched, you can feel how their furs clump together or their clothes cling to their bodies. When they cook, you can almost smell and taste the food, which looks deliciously real. And Paris literally comes to life with amazing details -- sometimes the sceneries are so photorealistic we really feel that we're there. The CG animation has the striking fluidity of hand-drawn animation, coupled with the details of CG, giving us a full experience.
For an animation nut like myself, Ratatouille is a marvel to behold. The story is wonderfully thought out, the performances pitch perfect, and the humor delightful. And for everyone else, the film simply entertains with an unexpected and satisfying finish. Even if you don't care about the lessons, you will no doubt be wowed by the quality of the animation and the lighthearted story about love, friendship, and food. After the movie, I bet you can't wait to rush home and find a recipe for ratatouille -- I did.
Stars: Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Peter O'Toole, Ian Holm, Janeane Garofalo, Brad Garrett
Director: Brad Bird
Writers: Brad Bird, Jim Capabianco, Emily Cook, Kathy Greenberg, Jan Pinkava
Distributor: Pixar/Buena Vista
MPAA Rating: G for some intense moments that may scare little children
Running Time: 122 Minutes
Script – 8
Performance – 9
Direction – 9
Animation – 10
Editing – 8
Production – 10
Total – 9.1 out of 10