Reel Opinions

Friday, June 29, 2007


You have to certainly hand it to animation director Brad Bird. He never makes the same movie twice, and everything he's done has literally been the best in its genre up to that point. After mainly working on television animation with shows like The Simpsons, Bird launched into theatrical films with 1999's The Iron Giant, an affectionate and heart-felt nod to 1950s sci-fi that was one of that year's best films. He didn't reappear until 2004 with The Incredibles, which was once again one of my favorite films of that year, and still stands as one of the best superhero movies ever made in my opinion. Now he brings us Ratatouille, and those expecting something as fast-paced and exciting as his last film will be sorely disappointed. This is a movie that wraps itself in dialogue and wonderful characters, but never once becomes dull or talky. Kids will love the loveable rodent leads and the spellbinding animation, and adults will enjoy the wit and intelligence of the screenplay. Oh, and the spellbinding animation.

Remy (voice by Patton Oswalt from TV's King of Queens) is a very unusual rat. Unlike his rodent brothers, Remy has a very strong pallette which allows him to detect and recognize different flavors. His father (Brian Dennehy) uses Remy's evolved sense of taste and smell to sniff out rat poisons in food that they find, but the young rat dreams of something more. He idolizes a deceased French gourmet chef named Gusteau (Brad Garrett), and wishes he could use his talents to experience all the great tastes and flavors of the world. When Remy's rat pack find themselves forced to flee from their home, he becomes separated from the others. The path that he takes as he searches for his family leads him directly to Gusteau's famous restaurant in Paris, which is now under the management of the spiteful Chef Skinner (Ian Holm), who wants to sell out the Gusteau name with a series of frozen dinners and cheap gimmicks. While exploring the restaurant, Remy comes across a young man named Linguini (Lou Romano), a garbage boy with dreams of being a real cook, but no talent to achieve his goals. When the two discover they share a common bond and goal, Remy and Linguini strike an unusual partnership where the rat will coach and manipulate the aspiring chef in the ways of fine dining.

In a day and age when animated films seem to move a mile a minute, and don't want to slow down for anything, Ratatouille is almost daring in the way that it concerns itself not so much with plot and filling the screen with as many gags as possible, but with fleshed out and immediately likeable characters that audiences can identify themselves with. The opening moments that introduce us to Remy and how he stands out from his family and the rest of the rats is genius in the way that it allows us to immediately sympathize and attach ourselves with the character. We want to see the little guy succeed almost from the instant we see him. The movie only improves from there, as Remy is forced into the world of humans and fine dining. The relationship that he builds with the lonely dreamer Linguini works, because even though they can't directly communicate with each other (Linguini hears Remy's "words" as just little squeaks), they have an obvious understanding and wish for the same things out of life. The movie takes its time in letting their friendship grow so that, once again, we want to see them both succeed. The screenplay by Brad Bird does not let any character suffer or be pushed by the wayside. Everyone, even the lowliest comic relief, plays some important role in the overall story, so that not a single scene or line of dialogue is wasted. Less one think that this movie will be a bore for children, there is plenty of humor and slapstick that had the kids in my audience rolling in the aisles along with the adults.

There are so many little things to captivate while watching Ratatouille that it's almost hard to believe they're all coming from the same film. Everything comes together, though, and nothing seems out of place. There is a genuinely sweet relationship that develops between Linguini and a female chef named Collette (voiced by comic Janeane Garofolo with a surprisingly convincing French accent) that is surprisingly warm, honest and low key for a family film. But what is perhaps most surprising about the film is the handling of a certain character named Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole). Ego is a harsh and highly respected food critic who single handedly started the downfall of the Gusteau name when he released his scathing review years before. While he acts mainly as a heavy source of dread that hangs over the heroes as the restaurant starts to regain some credibility, he gets the very best moment of the film when he gives an intelligent monologue on just what it is to be a critic. Unlike last year's stinker, Lady in the Water (which also used a critic as somewhat of a villain character), Bird does not use the character as a source of ridicule to those who may not approve of his work, but instead, tries to understand them. He becomes a much deeper character than initially anticipated, and when he delivers his speech near the end, I couldn't help but nod my head. It certainly helps that O'Toole brings the right amount of gleeful menace and humanity to the character.

The cast is generally sound all the way around. Patton Oswalt strikes the perfect balance as Remy, so much so that I really can't picture any other voice coming out of the character. It's almost a shame he doesn't get to share any dialogue with most of the other actors in the film, since aside from his rat brothers, no one can understand him. In the other lead role, Lou Romano is a real find as the rat's human companion. Mr. Romano has worked behind the scenes on various animated films, and although this is not his first acting job, this could easily make him a star. Like Oswalt, he is pitch perfect in his line delivery, and is able to make Linguini into a character we generally care for. Aside from the previously mentioned Garofolo and O'Toole, Ian Holm is also a stand out in the supporting cast as the true villain of the film. More so than the actors providing the voices, I think it is the animation that truly brings this movie to life. From the stunningly realistic movements and gestures of the rats, to the beautifully realized photo-quality backdrops of Paris, this movie is an absolute marvel to look at. There's not a single scene in this movie that looks average, everything is a wonder. I look forward to watching this film again, just to spot the details that I missed the first time around.
Once again, Brad Bird has delivered a film that's pretty much guaranteed a spot somewhere when I think back on my favorite films of the year. Ratatouille is just a fantastic piece of entertainment, and is certain to reach just about anyone who watches it in some way. After the severely disappointing and flat-out boring Cars, this is a wonderful return to form for the Pixar studio. It certainly helps that the animated short that proceeds the film (a movie called Lifted, which is about an alien's training day as he tries to abduct a sleeping man from his home) is one of the freshest and funniest that the studio has ever done. There is only one word I can think of to describe my experience with Ratatouille, and that word is joy.



Post a Comment

<< Home

Powered by Blogger