Director: Brad Bird
Cast: The voices of Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano, Brian Dennehy, Peter Sohn, Peter O'Toole, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofolo
Running Time: 1:50
Release Date: 6/29/07
Review by Mark Dujsik
A step down for writer/director Brad Bird and a step up for Pixar animation from their respective last projects, Ratatouille is a visually astounding comedy that's missing the emotional significance and thematic complexity of the computer animation studio's best work. The disappointing Cars showed that Pixar could make mistakes, but it seems collaboration with Bird means something will gel. His last film The Incredibles had social satire, inventive action, and relatable characters to more than compensate for the generic moral, but Ratatouille really only has amazing backgrounds, solid physical comedy, and an excess of charm to make up for the "Do what you want to do no matter who you are" and "Don't judge a book by its cover" themes. And they do serve as a counterweight—to a degree. Some of the backdrops here are as astounding to look at now as it was when Pixar first brought out the feature-length, computer-animated splendor of Toy Story over a decade ago. The stories are either weakening or becoming more obvious, though, and Ratatouille suffers a bit compared to Pixar's strong sextet of an introduction.
Remy (voice of Patton Oswalt) is a rat living with his family in an old woman's house on the outskirts of Paris. He's different from the rest of his clan in that he has highly developed senses and appreciates finer cuisine and not the garbage his father Django (voice of Brian Dennehy) and brother Emile (voice of Peter Sohn) insist he eat. He walks erect to keep the paws he eats with clean and watches the famous chef Gusteau (voice of Brad Garrett) on television, taking to heart the famous chef's lesson, "Anyone can cook." Remy's daring in the woman's house is repaid with his family's home being uncovered, and in a mass evacuation, Remy is separated, left only with Gusteau's cookbook and delusions that the spirit of the chef is talking to him. When he makes his way into the City of Light, Remy finds himself in the kitchen of Gusteau's now only three-star restaurant (it lost a star for declining quality and another at the chef's death), where Linguini (voice of Lou Romano) convinces head chef Skinner (voice of Ian Holm) to allow him to work in the kitchen. Remy's once again caught, but Linguini saves him, thinking they could work as a team.
Linguini longs to be a chef but cannot cook, while Remy longs to be a chef but would be killed upon sight in a kitchen. After a dreadful first attempt that leaves Linguini covered in bite-marks, the solution to their quandary comes when the pair discovers that the rat can manipulate the man like a marionette by pulling on his hair. Lots of physical comedy results, and the folks behind the characters follow in suit: Lou Romano gives Linguini a Jerry Lewis-esque vocal quality, and the animators give the character a similar physical slipperiness. The story follows the path of Linguini trying to hide his secret for a while, with Skinner participating in treachery with Gusteau's will and Colette (voice of Janeane Garofalo), the kitchen's only female chef, falling for the bumbling but apparently brilliant new guy on the side. Remy comes into conflict with his family yet again. His father shows him a local pest shop so his son can see what humans do to rats, and Emile starts looking for scraps from the kitchen. It's all fairly typical stuff, but Bird's script is full of enough inspired comic moments to keep it appealing.
Remy crawls through an apartment building, where we get an amusing slice-of-life view of Paris, Skinner chases Remy through the streets, and overall, this is the most impressive-looking computer-animated feature to date. The textures of the spaces—from the walls of Linguini's studio apartment to the tiles on the floor of the kitchen—are so intricately detailed, they appear authentic. Then there's the juxtaposition of those backgrounds with the cartoonish characters, and it just looks amazing. The story takes a while to kick into a similar gear, but with the appearance of food critic Anton Ego, the film begins its path to a truly inspired climax. Ego is voiced by Peter O'Toole, who fills the role with an initial spite and somehow turns it complex, and his appearance at the restaurant brings Remy to the spotlight in a turn of events that sends a health inspector running. Linguini gives an exceptionally bad motivational speech, and there's a hilarious flash of the critic's past. A lot of plot elements are set up but never fully developed (the characters in the kitchen never make an impression, the romance is sidetracked, and Remy's identity conflict is a bit much), and the attempts at an emotional connection later on just don't work.
That might not be a problem with the material itself, but it is at least partially a result of occasionally scattershot focus. Ratatouille has a lot going on (I dare not say "has a lot on its plate," except as a parenthetical), but Bird's primary focus on physical comedy does work. So, it works, but Pixar has set expectations higher than just that.
Note: The short "Lifted" opens the feature, and it sets the tone perfectly with its own brand of nonstop physical humor.
Copyright © 2007 by Mark Dujsik. All rights reserved.