How good, and how much fun, is "Ratatouille"? So good that when it was over, all I wanted to do was watch it again. And how rare is this...
How good, and how much fun, is “Ratatouille”? So good that when it was over, all I wanted to do was watch it again. And how rare is this experience, in this summer of bloated sequels? Rarer than, let’s say, a rat who loves to cook — and a screenwriter who knows how to transform a potentially unappealing tidbit of a story (A rodent? Around food?) into a feast.
The wizards at Pixar, working with writer/director Brad Bird (they previously teamed up for the equally stellar “The Incredibles”), have once again delivered a technically impeccable film with humor and heart — and with surely France’s most hygienic rat, Remy, at its center. Winningly voiced by Patton Oswalt, Remy has a familiar Disney dilemma: He has a wistful dream that seems impossible. Like a puppet who wants to be a boy, or a mermaid who wants to walk on land, his goal is intimidatingly remote: He’s a rat who wants to be a chef in a world-class Paris restaurant.
Remy has, you see, a refined palate; he’s a creature disgusted by the garbage his fellow rodents devour and a moralist bothered by the fact that the garbage isn’t really theirs to take. “It isn’t stealing if no one wants it,” advises his father, between bites. “If no one wants it,” counters Remy, “why do we steal it?”
Bored with his swill-swigging rat pack, Remy has a secret life, sneaking into kitchens and watching his hero, Chef Auguste Gusteau (voiced by Brad Garrett), on television cooking shows. One day, a cuisine-related crisis causes panic, evacuation, Remy’s inadvertent separation from his gang and his subsequent arrival (via sewer) at Gusteau’s five-star Paris restaurant. His journey from sewer rat (though one that’s scrupulous about handwashing) to celebrity chef, with help from a skinny garbage boy named Linguini (Lou Romano), is the movie’s unlikely arc, told with affection, charm and plenty of good cooking. (You wish the movie included recipes.)
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It’s no surprise that, like all of Pixar’s movies, this one looks breathtaking, but the expressions on the animated characters seem even more nuanced this time around. Remy, his fur glowing a bluish-gray (he looks a bit like a rat version of Grover from “Sesame Street”), can talk with his eyes: He can look ashamed, triumphant, tentative, disappointed, panicked and ultimately very happy, and we go through the emotions with him.
Likewise, the human characters have memorable trademarks. Gusteau, mostly seen as a dream figure, has no neck, just cheeks that slide all the way down to his shoulders. Linguini has fiery red hair and a chin so pointed it could slice bread. His nemesis in the kitchen, Chef Skinner (Ian Holm), sports a nasty comb-over and a thin John Waters mustache. And Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole), a food critic known as the Grim Eater, has the spindly, vampire-with-glasses look of a Tim Burton character — which makes it all the more rewarding when he, too, reveals his heart.
Witty, precise details abound throughout “Ratatouille,” such as the oven mitt in which Remy sleeps, and the way a chef describes a great crust as “a symphony of crackles.” And it all takes place in a picture-perfect autumn Paris, where golden leaves float above the Seine, and the rainbow-hued windows of Notre Dame glow quietly in the night. (The rats, for the record, all have French names but sound American, while most of the humans speak with zesty Gallic accents. Perhaps this is because the rats can talk aloud only amongst themselves? Remy, in the kitchen with Linguini, can only mime and nod. I suppose, in a world that can encompass a rat chef, there’s a sort of whimsical logic to this.)
Ultimately, as Remy learns to make peace with his desire to blend rathood with culinary aspirations (“I can’t choose between two halves of myself,” he says), “Ratatouille” emerges as a sweet tale of finding one’s bliss, however unusual that bliss may be. Like the meals it depicts, it’s delicious, and I can’t wait for a second helping.
Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or firstname.lastname@example.org