Pixar and Disney are back. This time instead of talking dolls (“Toy Story”), talking fish (“Finding Nemo”) or talking cars (“Cars”), we’ve got talking rats. That’s right, those cute and cuddly carriers of the Bubonic Plague are the main characters in Ratatouille! Can Pixar transform rats into an animal that’s sweet and caring? Read on, and I’ll tell you if the animation studio that can do no wrong has lost their magic touch.
Ratatouille is the story of Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt, “Reno 911!: Miami”), a rat from a humble family living in the suburbs of Paris. He realizes, however, that he is different than his trash eating brethren — he can actually smell the ingredients in food. This leads him to believe, after watching shows and reading the books (yes he can read and understand English) of master chef Auguste Gusteau (voiced by Brad Garrett, “The Pacifier”) that his true calling is in creating fabulous foods, not in dumpster diving. And what luck he has too, as he soon finds himself in Paris, in none other than Gusteau’s very own restaurant, after being separated from his clan. More luck befalls our furry friend, as the restaurant hires Linguini (voiced by Lou Romano), a pathetic excuse for a man with aspirations of becoming a chef, as the floor scrubber. Of course he cooks as well as he cleans (terribly) and with the help of Remy, he swiftly rises up the culinary ladder. Trying to tear him down are famed food critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O’Toole, “Stardust”) and current head chef of Gusteau’s, Skinner (voiced by Ian Holm).
The first aspect of Ratatouille that struck me is, of course, the graphics (it is an animated feature after all). A side effect of all the advances in computer generated imagery (CGI), is that all animated movies are now graded on their realism and Ratatouille is no different. As you know, Pixar has set the bar time and again with the aforementioned movies, so I believe their pictures should be graded with a tad more scrutiny. And based on that, I have to say I wasn’t overly impressed with the presentation. That’s not to say that the overall work is shoddy or uninspired (there are some very impressive scenes), I simply got the feeling that there really weren’t any artistic advances made.
On the other hand, the movie is quite funny. While there are a few amusing moments early on in the movie, the laughs really start when we’re introduced to Linguini; lets just say he isn’t the brightest bulb in the package. What’s especially clever is how Remy figures out how to get Linguini to do his bidding. There are a few obstacles that need to be overcome for Linguini and Remy work together — Linguini is an idiot; Remy can’t speak human English and rats in restaurants don’t mix. The solution (think marionette) is quite ingenious and comical at the same time.
Yet most importantly for me, is the movie, as with 90% of all Disney productions, is woven around a strong theme. I’m a big proponent of movies that provide to the children watching them a strong moral compass (hence the reason I’m a fan of Disney). The point of Ratatouille is the simple and true premise that “Anyone can do something if they put their heart and minds into it.” Remy is your basic woods rat plodding along with his everyday life smelling the food of his colony so they don’t get poisoned. He’s aware of the bigger picture and even against the wishes of his father he makes his dreams come true (of course some luck is involved). It’s a great theme to watch unfold.
Overall, Ratatouille is another Pixar/Disney hit. The story is enlightening, funny and well directed. The voice casting is good too (I’ve always thought Patton Oswalt would make a terrific rat or pig). And even though the animation isn’t groundbreaking it provides enough visual “oomph” to engross the viewer. It’s certainly not the best offering from the powerhouse duo but it is nonetheless a well polished product. Ultimately, all that matters is your children will love it and it’ll more than adequately feed the inner child in you.