FILM REVIEW ‌ Ratatouille 

Good, But Not Incredible: Pixar salvages a good film out of Ratatouille, if only by a whisker

click to enlarge Rat-a-tat-tat: this film's greatest strength is its vocal cast
  • Rat-a-tat-tat: this film's greatest strength is its vocal cast

Ratatouille
Buena Vista Pictures
Directed by Brad Bird
With Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Ian Holm, Peter O'Toole, and many more
Rated G

Remy is a Parisian rat with a nose for fine dining. While his family is content to scarf down garbage, Remy is saddled with a more discerning palate. It's not just that he likes eating good food, he loves cooking it too. It's his passion, his obsession, and — he being a disease-ridden scavenger — it's also his curse. Things change for Remy when he meets a kitchen boy named Linguini (voiced by Lou Romano) and convinces him that he can cook. Ratatouille hinges on how Remy convinces Linguini that he's more than a normal rodent, and the film avoids the usual Dr. Dolittle route often used in such cinematic animal/human relationships. During their initial encounter the movie sticks staunchly to the idea that in the eyes of humans, even the ones he befriends, Remy is still just a rat. Remy convinces Linguini through happenstance, and Linguini's reaction to the revelation that a common kitchen rat can cook brilliant dishes is real, and grounded. Because director Brad Bird plays things so real, it adds a layer of complexity to their relationship and the movie. It's something Pixar's never really tackled before. Usually, their movies are focused on exploring worlds outside our own, with no real interaction between the places they're taking us and our reality. Sure, the toys in Andy's room come to life, but they never actually interact with Andy. In Finding Nemo, there's never a moment where the fish suddenly start hanging out with humans. Even in Monster's Inc., we're exploring a hidden world beneath our own, and it's only a small child who crosses between the two. In Ratatouille the secret world of rats and the familiar world of man collide, and making that work without turning the film into a garish, Looney Tunes cartoon is a pretty tall order. Bird pulls it off, but just barely. The movie feels uneven in parts, as if it were stitched together. Linguini's first meeting with Remy seems authentic, but then the next day when Remy starts driving him around like a puppet, it feels like something lifted from an episode of Pinky & the Brain. Remy's ruminations on what it's like to be a rat who's also a foodie are great, but his secret conversations with an imaginary, ethereal human chef are bizarre. The ghost-chef character plays like something they added in at the last minute to fill in narrative holes in the script. Ratatouille's greatest strength is its voice casting. Diminutive, geeky comedian Patton Oswalt provides the voice of Remy, the film's rodent star. Luminaries like Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Peter O'Toole, Brad Garrett, Will Arnett, Pixar staple John Ratzenberger, and even Janeane Garafalo (doing an amazing French accent) voice supporting characters, but they're so seamlessly merged into their parts that you'll never notice any of them. You won't recognize their words as anything other than the characters they're supposed to be voicing, and I can't think of any higher praise that can be given to a vocal performer. Ratatouille may not be on par with some of Pixar's instant classics like Toy Story or The Incredibles, but it's a solid film from the only movie studio that, so far anyway, can do no wrong. Brad Bird was brought in to save Ratatouille mid-production, and he does his job. For my part, I wonder why Bird agreed to take over such a problematic project to begin with. After The Incredibles, you'd think he'd have all the clout he needs to stick with his own ideas. Whatever the reason, bringing him in to finish it seems to have been the right move. Rumor has it that Brad's major modifications to the film included changing the rats to make them more rat-like, and in fleshing out the movie's human element, in particular the love story between Linguini and female sous chef Collette. Those are the parts of the film which work best, but it's in fitting those two worlds together that the movie sometimes has problems. There's no way for us to know what Ratatouille was like before Bird took over, but the end result works well enough.


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