voices of Patton Oswalt, Brian Dennehy, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, Sir Ian
Holm, Peter O'Toole, John Ratzenberger
Director: Brad Bird
Parents that have taken their kids to see the other “children’s fare” released this year may be surprised by the subtlety of “Ratatouille.” This is not a kid’s movie so much as it’s a family movie, meaning people of all ages will enjoy it. Indeed, the adults laughed much harder and more often at the screening I attended than the kiddos, but don’t let that dissuade you. This is easily the funniest, smartest and most entertaining movie you could ever hope to show your kids in this or any other year.
“Ratatouille” is about a rat named Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) who realizes that he literally has a nose for cooking. The only problem, of course, is that he’s a rat, meaning he can never be found in a kitchen, ever. After a run-in with a gun-happy old woman (she catches him in her kitchen, natch) separates Remy from his family in a sewer-based wild rapids chase, Remy arrives in Paris, eventually landing at the door of the restaurant once owned by his idol Chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett). Remy is enthralled seeing the cooks at work, and horrified when the new garbage boy Linguini (Lou Romano) begins messing with the soup du jour. Remy sneaks into the kitchen to fix Linguini’s mistake, and in the process makes a new classic. The head chef Skinner (Sir Ian Holm) sees Remy, and orders Linguini to kill him. Linguini, however, can’t do it, because he knows about Remy’s gift, and the two agree to work together in order to keep Linguini from getting fired while allowing Remy to do what no kitchen in the world would let him do. Chaos, naturally, ensues.
That’s the longest plot synopsis I’ve ever written, and it doesn’t even scratch the surface of what “Ratatouille” delves into. There is a father rat who disapproves of Remy’s trust of the humans. There is a female human love interest who thinks Linguini’s skills are genuine. Most importantly there is Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole), the villainous food critic who just happens to be the greatest critic in movie history. The mere sight of him had me and my colleagues in stitches – a radical departure from, say, the movie critic in M. Night Shyamalan’s “Lady in the Water” – and the casting of O’Toole as Ego is nothing short of genius.
It is to writer/director Brad Bird’s immense credit that “Ratatouille” is so relatable while openly acknowledging that it exists in a world completely outside our own. We are, after all, talking about a movie that asks us to root for a restaurant – a French restaurant, no less – that serves food made by rats. Rats and frogs, that’s not an easy sell on paper, but no one sings the absurd better than Bird. Remember, this is the man behind “The Incredibles,” arguably the greatest superhero movie of all time, and “The Iron Giant,” which BE editor Will Harris openly admits brought him to tears. Bird knows his way around both the human element and the superhuman element, so in his universe, it would be perfectly logical for a rat to understand English and want to be a chef.
“Ratatouille” also serves as another example of how smart casting trumps stunt casting. Take a look at the movie’s leads: Patton Oswalt, Brad Garrett, Peter O’Toole and Lou Romano, with Janeane Garofalo as the love interest. There isn’t a studio alive that green-lights the live-action version of “Ratatouille,” yet they are all pitch-perfect for their roles here. The funny doesn’t end there, either; Will Arnett and Brian Dennehy appear as well – as does John Ratzenberger, the sole voice actor in all of Pixar’s movies – but their performances are played on the down-low. Bird knows to put the emphasis on material first and find the right voices later, which is why his movies, well, blow everyone else’s out of the water.
“Ratatouille” looked like a spectacular gamble, especially coming on the heels of the disappointing (though largely successful) “Cars.” But that’s what we get for doubting the vision of Brad Bird, who’s still the only non-Pixar employee that has had the privilege of directing a Pixar movie. Parents should be advised, though, that they may end up enjoying the movie more than their little ones. A long run time (110 minutes) plus sly humor might make for restless kiddos. But take them anyway. Pixar is brain power.
Pixar goes the bare-bones route for the second time in a row with their latest release (“Cars” also received equally short shrift). There are no audio commentaries or making-of featurettes, but there are two very funny short films: “Lifted,” which was shown before the movie in the theaters, and “Your Friend the Rat,” where Remy and Emile map the migration of the rat and its relationship with humans (from the rat’s perspective, mind you). The only other extra is a feature on food, though if you watch the rats moving around in the title screen, you might find an Easter egg or two.