Ratatouille


Robin Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Robin Clifford 
Ratatouille
Laura Clifford of Reeling Reviews
Laura Clifford 

Remy (voice of Patton Oswalt) is a very special little Parisian sewer rat. He has a sense of smell and taste unlike any other rodent and aspires to be a great chef. Linguini (voice of Lou Romano), the garbage boy at a prestigious Paris restaurant, lacks any such talent. When chance throws this unlikely pair together, Remy gets the chance to live his dream and create his culinary masterpieces in “Ratatouille.”

Robin:
Uber animation director Brad Bird, who brought us such marvelous stories as “The Iron Giant” and “The Incredibles,” does it again with his latest yarn about a little rat with great aspirations. Remy marches to a different drummer than the rest of his more pedestrian clan who are interested in eating garbage, not creating haute cuisine. When separated from his extended family, Remy lands on the doorstep of the prestigious restaurant once owned by the late star chef, Auguste Gusteau (voice of Brad Garrett).

Young Linguini is desperate to keep his lowly job at Chez Gusteau where he is constantly screwing up. He accidentally spills a kettle of soup and, badly, tries to make things right. Little Remy observes his inept attempt and, surreptitiously, fixes the soup, creating a wonderful taste sensation in the process.

Chef Gusteau’s successor and new boss at the restaurant, the diminutive martinet Chef Skinner (voice of Ian Holm), thinking that Linguini is responsible for the marvelous potage, sees the young man as a threat. He appoints the garbage boy to the position as top chef at the restaurant, knowing that the one off wonder is bound to fail.  He does not know, though, that Remy and Linguini have secretly teamed up to create a new super chef, with Remy controlling the young man (from under his toque) to show up the arrogant Minion.

Ratatouille” is another feather in the Disney/Pixar collaboration cap with its outstanding computer animation, brilliant production design and phenomenal camera” work. The eye that watches over the comings and goings in the Gusteau kitchen rivals the best of live cinematography as it fluidly moves around capturing the action of the bustling preparations of the teams (both human and rodent) as they prepare Remy’s gustatory delights.

The vocal talents that bring to life the animated characters are spot on – from comedian Patton Oswalt’s Remy, Lou Romano’s Linguini and Janeane Garofalo’s chief assistant chef (and Linguini’s love interest), Colette, to the rodent voices of Remy’s brother Emile (Peter Sohn) and father Django (Brian Dennehy) (in an homage to the great Basque guitar impresario Django Reinhardt). Legendary Peter O’Toole gives a fully developed vocal perf as the haughty food critic Anton Ego who can make or break a restaurant with his critique.

Ratatouile” is a richly diverse animated adventure that is a true film for all ages. There are moments of laugh aloud comedy sprinkled throughout and I had a smile firmly planted on my face from beginning to end as I watched, in awe, the truly wonderful story unfold. Remy is one little rat that I would not mind being in my kitchen. I give it an A.

Laura:
Remy (voice of Patton Oswalt, "Failure to Launch") is not like other rats.  His heightened sense of smell is married to a sophisticated palate and the young rat likes nothing better than to experiment with flavor and texture.  After becoming separated from his extended family, Remy winds up, in of all places, Paris's Five Star Gusteau's, a most rat phobic location, where gangly garbage boy Linguini (voice of Lou Romano, "The Incredibles," "Cars") is about to lose his job.  Remy intervenes and Gusteau's 'anyone can cook' credo is proven when Linguini's soup becomes a hit.  Together, the rodent and the garbage boy become a star chef known for elevating even peasant food like "Ratatouille."

writer/director Brad Bird can stand in any pantheon of great animation artists on the basis of three works alone - The 'Amazing Stories' television series "Family Dog" episode, his theatrical feature debut, "The Iron Giant," and his debut Pixar outing "The Incredibles." "Ratatouille" isn't in the same heavenly league as those works, but it is head and tails better than most other animations out there including Pixar's last effort, "Cars."

"Ratatouille" has a classic three act structure.  We're first introduced to Remy is his natural habitat and learn what makes him special.  While his fellows value quantity, Remy looks for the finer foods in life and is willing to take risks to attain them.  Venturing into a country kitchen while its human inhabitant sleeps, Remy samples herbs and spices while watching reruns of his hero Chef Gusteau's (voice of Brad Garrett, TV's "Everybody Loves Raymond), cooking program.  But when he is finally discovered, his entire colony gets banished in the bargain.

Escaping to the sewers, Remy is separated from the others (in a hair-raising episode more terrifying than anything in "Flushed Away").  When he comes to, the country mouse is in the City of Lights and cannot believe his luck.  There right before him is Gusteau's fabled restaurant.  But Gusteau's star is waning since its owner passed away, leaving the kitchen to Skinner (voice of Ian Holm), a stunted little man whose passion lies more with profits than with haute cuisine.

Remy manages to tour the kitchen in a perilous scene where discovery would mean certain death, and, with a tiny imaginary Gusteau hovering by his ear, encouraging, the rat attends to the soup pot Linguini had ruined. The startled young man accepts his kudos, then after hours catches the rat responsible for his unexpected success in a jar. Linguini carries the captured rat to the Seine, but when he realizes the little guy actually understands him, he does not drown him. Remy initially runs away, but something about the sad sack human draws him back.  Slowly the two become friends and Remy discovers he can control Linguini's movements using his hair like a puppeteer's strings.

And while that last idea never really works and proves the film's imaginative failing, "Ratatouille" has other ideas that do, like the central conceit of a rat finding himself in a kitchen by being paired with a human who brings disposes of what the rest of his ilk live off of.  Remy's dad, Django (voice of Brian Dennehy), doesn't understand him and his brother Emile (voice of Peter Sohn, "The Incredibles") is a happy slob whose visits to the restaurant's back door become more and more problematic.  A mystery about Linguini's past is no real mystery, but Skinner's focus on the lad has him think he's seeing rats and Remy's imaginary 'figment,' the fluttering Gusteau, is an amusing moral guide.  Perhaps most inspired is imperiously snobby food critic Anton Ego (voice of Peter O'Toole!), a creation seemingly stepped out of a Tim Burton film. Many a filmmaker has taken potshots at critics, but Bird makes his a brave and unlikely hero.  Bird also neatly differentiates between his human and animal worlds.  Remy may talk to his fellow rats, but a human hears only a squeak.  Scale and the rats' scurrying movements are beautifully rendered, most significantly when Remy returns to the human who almost did him in.

The computer generated animation is exceptional.  Parisian backdrops and nightscapes glow, kitchen knives gleam.  The characters are lovingly defined and Remy himself is the most memorable animated rodent since Disney's Gus and Jacques in Disney's 1950 "Cinderella."  The film's climatic scene, where Gusteau's kitchen is overrun with cooking rats, is a bit of mind-blowing brilliance.

"Ratatouille" may not be on the genius level of Bird's prior work, but it is thoroughly winning.  You may never look at a kitchen rat the same way again.

B+
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