Monday, July 02, 2007

The Cook, the Chef, a Rat and His Brother: Pixar and Disney Concoct a Savory Delicacy called “Ratatouille”

Geez, Paris is certainly having the best summer ever. “Paris, je t'aime” was an ode to the powers of love in Paris. Michael Moore's "Sicko" painted a portrait of the healthcare industry by exploring how France’s national healthcare is superior to the USA’s. And now we have a sweet animated film about a rat with a taste for great food set in Paris, France. Yes, you read that correctly. This movie is about a rat who loves gourmet food so much he dreams of being a great chef. This is a premise only Pixar could pull off with such delight and enthusiasm that while watching it, nothing else in the world will seem to matter. It’s a truly delicious treat.

Pixar has first taken the cardinal rule of CGI animation and tossed it out like a bad piece of cheese: making non-stop, clever pop-culture references. This film relies on intelligent writing and good storytelling instead of useless wisecracks. Also, instead of setting this film in 2007, they set it anytime. This is a movie that can be viewed 50 years from now and it’ll still be just as timeless. We get a real story with real characters that are extremely lovable. This is in the vein of the early Disney classics. It’s the first Pixar film that feels like it was meant to stand the test of time.

Remy (Patton Oswalt) the rat is a cute little rodent who lives somewhere in France with his entire rat infested colony. He argues with his brother who insists that eating garbage is a nice way of living. Not only is the animation of these rats amazing but they’re also just wonderful characters that you want to take home with you. We open the film learning about Remy’s wanting to explore outside the colony; he dreams of being more than just a rat scrounging for garbage to eat. Then he’s suddenly separated from his family and he winds up in Paris which is the home of his favorite (deceased) chef’s restaurant: Gusteau's. There he ends up meeting the goofy and lonely Linguini (a human, voiced by Lou Romano) who has just been hired as the new garbage boy. This is a top tier restaurant and we get our evil villain sous-chef, Skinner (Ian Holm) who is supposed to be next in line after Gusteau’s death. But it turns out that Linguini may have an even closer connection to Gusteau.

Then we get scenes in which Remy is able to help Linguini become a great chef in the kitchen much to the other kitchen workers’ jealousy including Colette (voiced wonderfully by Janeane Garofalo). The scenes in which this young man and rat form a quick bond are priceless and charming. Their banter is witty and Remy's ablity to conrtol Linguing under his chef's hat (by pulling on his hair) is so witty it's beyond believable. The animation here is simply stunning and it never takes away from the fun storyline. The simulated camera movements are technically proficient and create a sense of fluidity that’s nearly indescribable. The voice work is top-notch and having a few no-names with the stars definitely works in its favor.

I was never a really big fan of “The Incredibles,” but it was a good film. Writer/director Brad Bird is obviously a tremendous talent in that he obviously had a vision that ended up being a cinematic masterpiece. He manages to make the basic premise of “rats in a kitchen” into a hard-warming, intellectual film that pushes computer animation the farthest it’s ever gone. There are no gimmicks; no need to release the film in 3D. This is true American filmmaking that just so happens to tell a story set in Paris. And there aren’t too many chefs in the kitchen like on most animated films; Bird is the solo credited writer.

Another aspect worth mentioning was the way they were able to turn a food critic (voiced menacingly by Peter O’Toole) into a full fledged character with obvious jabs at critics in general who get pleasure in writing negative reviews (it is fun after all). There is pleasure in watching someone else crash and burn and I enjoyed this little poke at criticism in general. (Much more than Lady and the Water’s horrific attempt at criticizing critics last summer)

This is a movie that kids will love; there’s plenty of fun mischief and colorful characters. And adults will love it even more. Even if you don’t like rodents or cooking much, you will find lots to enjoy. I like whipping up food in the kitchen and I’ve never found rats to be particularly creepy so I was overwhelmed with joy after watching “Ratatouille.” This is almost guaranteed to win at next year’s Academy Awards for Best Animated Feature, unless “The Simpsons Movie” ends up being the next “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.”

Speaking of which there are so many nods here to other classic Disney animation. We get a hero who longs to be somewhere else (The Little Mermaid). Someone who pretends to be something he’s not (Aladdin). A non sappy portrait of family values (The Lion King). And not to mention cute talking critters (take your pick). And let’s not forget that Remy suffers from Disney’s single-parent syndrome. See, this is destined to be a classic. Do yourself a favor and savor the sweet taste of Disney and Pixar’s latest gem. GRADE: A


Kevin's Film Blog said...

Just so you know I didn't look at your review until I had posted mine. I guess great minds think alike, right? I should have figured you would use the cook, but can you blame me for using it as well?

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