Ratatouille (2007)

Posted by on Dec 20, 2011 in Buddy Movies | 0 comments

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Disclaimer: Some drunkenness, but otherwise quite nutritious.

Ratatouille is quite possibly the strangest boy-and-his-pet story ever told, as it couples two species that have been sworn enemies for centuries. But this Brad Bird-written and co-directed feature may also be the most insightful, refreshing, and believable treatment of the sub-genre that filmmakers typically reduce to a long-overused formula.

The Pixar flick follows Remy (Patton Oswalt), a rat who lives with his thousand-member strong family at a colony within a European cottage (somewhat reminiscent of Watership Down). Remy is, well, different. While his brother Emile (Peter Sohn) gleefully stuffs his face with garbage, Remy has a tender palette and unique nose for cuisine. The trait doesn’t come too handy as a rat, however, and Remy’s father (Brian Dennehy) appoints him to poison checker. Remy hates his life as a thief, and much prefers a human’s taste for food and comparative cleanliness. He spends most of his time inside Ratatouille2the cottage’s kitchen watching the cooking channel and idolizing famed chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett), whose mantra and book title is “Anyone can cook.”

“You read! Does dad know?” Emile asks him.

“You could fill a book – actually a lot of books – with things dad doesn’t know. And they have. That’s why I read.”

We then learn that Gusteau tragically died after fearsome critic Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole) gave him a scathing review. That doesn’t stop Remy, as his desire to discover and create delicate combinations of food remains strong. That is, until he gets into trouble with the shotgun-toting old woman who lives in the cottage and discovers the colony. As the rats flee their home through the sewers, Remy is separated from the pack and winds up in Paris and immediately visits Gusteau’s restaurant. While excitedly overlooking the kitchen, Remy sees the clumsy new garbage boy Linguini (Lou Romano) spill some soup and replace it with random ingredients. The exciting scene that follows has Remy maneuvering himself throughout the kitchen unnoticed, trying to remedy the situation. When a critic raves about the creation, chef Skinner (Ian Holm in a role reminiscent of Napoleon from Time Bandits) must allow Linguini to continue cooking. Since he noticed Remy fixing the soup, Linguini is hesitantly forced to ask a rat for culinary advice.

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Though we can’t taste or smell the foods Remy so passionately creates, the background fades to black on a few occasions to reveal an expressive field of music, color, and light. It effectively gives us insight and allows us to feel how Remy must about the delicacies he devours. Everyone will surely get a kick out of the training scene in which Remy and Linguini must secretly work in tandem in the kitchen. It’s strange, but Remy speaks very little for the duration of the film. The first time I watched it, I can’t say I noticed because that little rat is as expressive as is required for us to completely understand.

As is the case with all Pixar features, because it’s their raison d’être, this one is an astonishing visual spectacle. For the first decade of its existence, Pixar merely tried to make things look lifelike. Now they’ve improved the images to the extent that they look better than real. I’ve never seen such flaky, porous bread, or explosive flames (maybe it’s just that I buy crappy bread and fireworks). The detail put into rain and sewer water that comes after the colony’s unveiling is especially astonishing. And, lest we forget, it wouldn’t be Paris without an incredible cityscape at sunset.

Perhaps it’s the fact that the animation team worked alongside a French restauranteur that makes the story seem real, or maybe it’s the fact that the buddy movie subplot doesn’t rise to the fantastical. The movie makes it very clear throughout that rats are, and always have been, a pest to be reckoned with. It’s the open-ended conclusion that gives us a sense of hope, while leaving the future of the relationship entirely in our hands.

Like a good meal, Ratatouille is filling, refreshing, and delicious – so much so that it leaves you hungry for more.

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