Yes, they have done it again. "Ratatouile" is a great animated film. It isn't their funniest film, but it is one of their best. It seems like director Brad Bird is trying to create a more film like animated feature. His film just happens to be animated and have talking rats.
"Ratatouile" is fantastic. And for many reasons.
First and foremost is director Brad Bird. Bird worked for a while on "The Simpsons" and then went on to direct an animated film called "The Iron Giant". "Giant" tells the story of a young boy who finds a robot who looks like he was transported from a 50s Sci-Fi film. Because of this, the film has a decidedly retro look and appears very traditionally animated. As a result, Warner Bros. buried the film and it never achieved the audience it deserved. Then Bird moved on to Pixar and directed "The Incredibles". In one word: Incredible. This was the animated version of a James Bond film and a super hero film all rolled into one. Great characters. Great animation. Great story. "The Incredibles" is one of my favorite films of all time.
Now Bird returns with this very different film that shares one similarity. In both cases, Bird seems to be making films that just happen to be animated. He crafts the story and the characters with such remarkable ability, making them appear as though they are human actors. And I think this will help his films transcend and become classics remembered by future generations.
The beauty of "Ratatouile" is that it takes our misconceptions, our prejudices and some of the reality of life in Paris, and a gourmet restaurant, and combines them into a very amusing mix. It continues the Pixar tradition of building real worlds, real environments for these characters, making the films a little more genuine in the long run. As with all Pixar films, the animation is stunning, but in "Ratatouile", they have gone even one step further. The backgrounds, the textures, the appliances, Remy's fur, are almost photo realistic. Even the facial expressions and mannerisms of the characters seem real and if they didn't look like cartoon characters, you might think they were human.
Remy (comedian Patton Oswalt, who has a lot of television work to his credit) is a rat who lives with his father and the rest of their large clan, in the French countryside. While his father, his brother, Emile (Peter Sohn) and the rest of the clan are happy to eat garbage, Remy aspires to something greater. He sneaks into the cottage of an old woman and learns of a famous chef, Gusteau (Brad Garrett, TV's "Everybody Loves Raymond"). The chef is on the old woman's television set and his bestselling cookbook, "Everyone Can Cook" is on her shelf. Remy steals the cookbook and one thing leads to another and he ends up in Paris. When he arrives at Gusteau's, the famous chef has passed away from heartbreak; one of his famed five stars was recently taken away by the evil food critic, Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole). But the famous chef appears as Remy's alter ego when the rat gets trapped in the kitchen. Linguini (Lou Romano) is hired to be the new garbage boy despite the misgivings of the new head chef Skinner (Ian Holm) who regards the boy suspiciously. After Linguini ruins a pot of soup, Remy can't resist sneaking up to the pot and creating a masterpiece. But Linguini is given credit for the soup and the garbage boy soon realizes the rat made the soup and they work out a deal. But Skinner becomes suspicious and is convinced there is a rat. Linguini meets the one female chef in the kitchen, Collette (Janeane Garofolo) and she resents that she has to teach the new boy about the kitchen. When word of the new soup meets Ego's ears, he decides to review the restaurant again, causing everyone to panic.
Incredibly, there is a lot more to the story that I haven't even touched.
I wouldn't recognize Patton Oswalt if he was standing directly in front of me, but he does a great job providing the voice for Remy. He has a lot of television work to his credit and has been around a while. Oswalt brings a quiet angst to the role; Remy wants to be so much more than he is and all of the people around him aren't willing to support this, so he becomes frustrated. He knows there is more to the world and it is inconceivable that his family isn't interested in finding out more.
Throughout the film, he talks to Gusteau, who becomes his alter ego. Their conversations are funny and help to create one of the most unusual animated duos to appear on screen in some time. Gusteau actually wants to help Remy become a chef and this rings very true. For a famous chef, who wrote a cookbook called "Anyone Can Cook", it would be natural for him to want to help anyone or anything that even expressed a desire.
Brad Garrett is great as Gusteau. It takes a lot of work to even identify the voice as Garrett, and really the tell is the deep timbre of Gusteau's voice. Garrett doesn't play the role like a French Caricature, which helps to balance the film a little. He is merely very enthusiastic and the enthusiasm shows throughout.
Part of the brilliance of "Ratatouille" is how the film plays with both the stereotypes and misconceptions of the French and some of the more realistic aspects of life in Paris. The film begins with a prologue setting up the status of Gusteau. A news story talks about his life, his bestselling cookbook and his famed restaurant. It also introduces the food critic, Anton Ego, when the story reveals how Gusteau's restaurant received five stars, then had one taken away. I have seen many articles about famous French chefs who have become suicidal when one of their Michelin stars was taken away. This is the type of detail the little kids in the audience would never get, but some of the adults might, and it helps to make the experience more interesting for them.
Because Gusteau is so natural and seems so realistic, this provides a nice counterpoint to Skinner, the sous chef who takes over when Gusteau dies. Skinner, played by Ian Holm, is the complete opposite of Gusteau. Nervous his new empire might be taken away, scheming to make more money, and going a little crazy because he believes Linguini has a rat in his toque, Holm plays the character very broad but it works very well. He has the energy level and instincts of Wile E. Coyote. It is a fun performance and the character is great.
Janeane Garofolo plays Collette, the one female chef in the kitchen. Because of this, she is very tough and protective of her position. So, naturally, she resents having to baby-sit the new chef. But she also becomes Linguini's friend and ally, until she feels she has been betrayed. It is a nice performance, one that could easily be found in a non-animated film. Because it is fairly realistic, it helps "Ratatouile" seem more believable, more natural.
The big surprise for me was Peter O'Toole. I didn't realize the actor was even involved and it took me a while to place him as the food critic Anton Ego. O'Toole brings every nuance of his voice to the evil, stern character. Tall, with a hawk like nose, Ego walks into a room and expects to be noticed, but he doesn't acknowledge anyone who does notice him, which makes him all the more menacing. O'Toole does a great job of giving the character a lot of depth and menace. There is a brilliant scene late in the film which helps to make the character all the more believable.
There are so many levels at work in "Ratatouile" I have only managed to scratch the surface. Brian Dennehy plays one of the characters and John Ratzenberger also provides a voice. It wouldn't be a Pixar film without him, would it?
"Ratatouile" is a great animated film.
As is the tradition with Pixar films, they are showing an animated short before the main feature. "Lifted", directed by Gary Rydstrom (an Oscar Winning sound engineer many times over for many feature films) tells the story of an alien cadet who is trying to pass one of his tests. The test? To extract a sleeping farmer from his bed in his farmhouse and bring him up to the spaceship. His instructor looks on with great displeasure. This is a hilarious delight and a great way to set the mood for the rest of the film.