Directed by: Brad Bird
With the voices of: Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Peter O'Toole, Janeane Garofalo and Brad Garrett
Opens: Today, August 3
Brad Bird refuses to talk down to his audience.
His first two animated features - "The Iron Giant" and "The Incredibles" - are as complex, nuanced and challenging as anything in live-action cinema.
With "Ratatouille," Bird and his Pixar colleagues raise the bar so high the rest of the industry will be left playing catch-up.
A tale of a rat with a gourmet's palate and the inept young cook he befriends probably shouldn't work (rats - in the kitchen ? Ewwwww!) and yet it does.
Moreover, "Ratatouille" is the most beautiful animation I've ever seen, a totally beguiling blend of the cartoonish and the photo-realistic featuring human characters with faces so expressive they seem real. They're clearly caricatures, but their ability to project genuine emotion is a quantum leap ahead from "The Incredibles."
Our hero is Remy (voiced by comic Patton Oswalt), an outsider even among rats, His pals are happy to chow down on any old garbage, but Remy has a sophisticated nose and tastebuds. He actually sees taste (it's as if he's surrounded by fireworks).
Remy is separated from the rat colony and washes up in the sewers of Paris. He finds himself in the kitchen of Gusteau's, a once-famous restaurant that Remy knows from watching the late Chef Gusteau's TV cooking show. At first he's terrified and intimidated by this bustling environment (shot from a rat's-eye view to maximize its dangers).
But finding himself in a modern kitchen, Remy can't help but surreptitiously toss a few ingredients into a pot to create a yummy soup.
Credit for this culinary coup goes to Linguini (Lou Romano), the bumbling teenager who mans a mop and totes garbage. Eventually rat and human form a symbiotic relationship: Concealed by a chef's hat, Remy perches on Linguini's head and directs his actions by tugging on his hair (sort of like a heavy-equipment operator). The other chefs wonder about Linguini's spastic movements, but they can't argue with his culinary creations; after years in decline, Gusteau's is finally regaining its former glory.
Linguini's success worries Skinner (Ian Holm), the disdainful, dictatorial and height-challenged head chef, who believes that he'll inherit Gusteau's estate and has already begun marketing a Gusteau line of frozen food. This kid could ruin his plans.
The rodent/human collaboration will have its toughest test when the restaurant is visited by stuffy food critic Anton Ego (who looks like the vampire in the old silent film "Nosferatu" and has been perfectly voiced by Peter O'Toole). Remember superhero fashion designer Edna Mode in "The Incredibles"? Like her, Ego has a show-stopping look and personality.
"Ratatouille" (it's named after a vegetable stew popular with French working folk) may start too slowly for some viewers, but Bird's characters are so interesting and expressive that even in repose they fascinate. Bird isn't afraid to let a bit of stillness creep into his work.
I've a few minor quibbles with the storytelling. For example, Bird has Remy being visited by the ghost of Gusteau, who becomes his in-the-hat confidant. That's just one too many story threads for the film to comfortably handle.
But for the most part "Ratatouille" is a delight - with explosions of delicious humor and a gorgeous look that will have you rethinking what animation can accomplish.