Thursday, April 22, 2010
Archive: "Ratatouille" (2007)
With "Ratatouille" Pixar is back in top form and director Brad Bird ("The Incredibles") is the animation genius working in Hollywood right now. If you've been wondering where all the genuinely good cartoons have been, it's because this director has been working diligently on this one. This is arguably Pixar's best creation yet, and it's not only the best animated film of the year but also ranks among the greatest animated films in recent memory.
Remy (Patton Oswalt) is a rat who lives in the countryside of France with his father and clan of rats. Remy has been raised by these garbage-eaters, but he strives for human food and delicacies. In his meantime, he sneaks into a nearby old woman's house where he can take in the aromas, flavors, and textures of all different kinds of foods. Remy admires a famous chef on TV named Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett), who insists in his cookbook that "Anyone Can Cook." Remy discovers that the chef Gusteau has actually died and that his restaurant is failing. Soon, though, in the figment of his own imagination, Remy attains his own personal floating Gusteau ghost that acts as his conscious during his new journey.
After a horrible incident that sends Remy down into the depths of the sewers and separates him from his rat clan, that's when his new adventure begins. Just as "Finding Nemo" brought the undersea world to life in a vast array of colors, sights, and sounds, this film does the exact same thing to the Paris landscape and the inside of a restaurant kitchen. Remy ends up conveniently stumbling across Gusteau's very own restaurant where he first witnesses newcomer Linguini (Lou Romano) stepping in. This poor klutz of a guy is only here to get a job as a garbage boy just because his now dead mother knew Gusteau. Soon enough, however, basically by mere coincidence, Linguini and Remy team up because Linguini realizes that this little rodent had snuck into the kitchen and concocted the soup that Linguini had gotten credit for.
Linguini has no idea about cooking but Remy sure does, and this unlikely duo works out a plan where Remy sits underneath Linguini's hat, amusingly tugging at his hair like a puppeteer controlling his actions, eventually making him the most celebrated chef in Paris. What works about their partnership is that it's not like Remy can speak to Linguini, and yet the little rat can still understand his human friend. Remy's facial expressions, glances, hand motions, and shrugs are perfectly understandable and keep the separation between the rat and the human perspectives, both of which are presented. Remy does eventually meet back up with his rat family and he ends up needing their help, which leads to a dozen of these rodents swarming into the kitchen, a scene that is fittingly icky and hard to look past. The film acknowledges this, however, and further clarifies that rats still don't really belong in the kitchen.
Linguini has other help in the kitchen aside from the furry creature under his hat. There's his mentor, Colette (Janeane Garofalo), a tough and passionate chef who holds her own as the only woman in the entire restaurant. She unwittingly becomes the competition of inspiration against Remy, and she also unknowingly becomes the love interest of Linguini. There's also the head chef, Skinner (Ian Holm), who was given the position after Gusteau's death; he sets himself out to discover just what exactly Linguini's secret is. He also wants Gusteau's restaurant to himself to promote his horrible line of frozen foods. Lastly, there's the absolutely terrifying Anton Ego (veteran Peter O'Toole), whose bad review could shatter the future of Gusteau's restaurant forever.
The film's grand climax is where the movie gets its title. It involves Remy preparing a rustic meal made up of common vegetables, which is to go out to the horrid Anton Ego for review. Faced with such a dish of ratatouille, the critic goes against his own will to find the right words to describe it. This ending moment is so touching and unexpectedly moving because it is so unpredictable and organically brought about. The resolutions are fitting because Remy's original moral struggle of choosing between family and personal ambitions is handled with perfect subtlety. There's a lesson at the end, yes, but it's never blatantly mentioned and isn't at all too heavy-handed.
Pixar always has been at the top of the CGI list with its own dazzlingly unique look, and "Ratatouille" is no exception. This is a masterpiece in animation as there is great attention to detail throughout with plenty of visual flourishes to admire. From the rats' matted fur to the bustle inside the kitchen, it's all handled with great care and precision. Two chase sequences in particular, one in the kitchen and the other in the sewer, are beautiful thrills to behold. Everything here is as imaginatively rendered as Remy's greatest culinary dish. All of the action is also orchestrated to a score by composer Michael Giacchino, who also did the score for "The Incredibles," which flows smoothly and fits the mood wonderfully.
Although G-rated, this is unlike many other animated movies out there. It avoids annoying sidekicks, pop culture references, and big name voice acting; instead, it goes with honestly good storytelling and memorable characters, all of which could easily go up against any live action movie. Pixar has yet again defined the way in which we watch animated films. No longer can these be called movies just for kids because there is something for everybody. Just as entertaining as it may be for children, it's by far even more enjoyable, hilarious, compelling, and heartwarming for the older crowd. Brad Bird had better make room for some more Oscar gold because "Ratatouille" is an instant classic.