Ratatouille: Ridiculous Premise; Delightful Movie!

Ratatouille - OnesheetWho on earth would want to make a movie about a rat that wanted to be a chef? Given the rather nasty PR the rodents get, the idea of a rat working in a kitchen would have to be considered creepy – at the very least! Although it wasn’t his original idea, PIXAR’s Brad Bird took the idea and, somehow, managed to create not just a charming rodent hero, but a summer movie that really is for kids of all ages…

Remy [voiced by Patton Oswalt] is a bit different from other rats. To begin with, he’s blue – not a subtle, only-in-a-certain-light blue, but a rather sky-like blue. Then there’s his repugnance at the fare his family considers edible. To paraphrase his brother, Emile [Peter Sohn] if you don’t really know what you’re eating, everything can be edible. This philosophy makes Remy shudder…

So, this charming, epicurean rodent leaves his farm home [partly because the old lady who lives there has discovered the rodents’ nest and has taken a shotgun after them] and gets separated from the rest of his family. When he pokes his head up above the sewers, he discovers he’s in Paris.

Meanwhile, Linguini [Lou Romano], a hapless, uncoordinated fellow approaches the chef at Gusteau’s for a job. A letter he delivers to the chef, Skinner [Ian Holm], informs him that Linguini is Gusteau’s son but not to tell him – just give him a job. Skinner, who has taken over the restaurant [and turned Gusteau’s name into mud with a series of frozen fast foods attached to the name], freaks out, but gives the kid a break – more to keep him nearby while a DNA check can be made.

As a garbage boy, Linguini surreptitiously tries his hand at tweaking a soup – but Remy happens to have found himself in the kitchen and fixes it. The soup is a hit and Linguini now has to repeat the feat – this after catching Remy in a jar and being ordered to kill him. The kid has a gentle heart and is unable to do the deed, when he discovers that Remy can understand him – and learns that it was the rat that saved the soup. They work out a partnership whereby Linguini appears to be a great chef, but problems ensue…

Ratatouille - Remy Stealing Cheese

Brad Bird [Iron Giant, The Incredibles] has done something remarkable here. As with his efforts in the giant robot and superhero genres, he has taken the comedy genre and twisted it around to work with a lead character that we should, by rights, despise. How does he do it? By showing us Remy’s family, who are much more ratlike, and then showing us how different – and kind of noble – Remy is.

Another clever device is the way that Remy is guided by what appears to be the ghost of Gusteau [Brad Garrett], but is really his unconscious coupled with his conscience. When he ignores Gusteau, things go horribly wrong. When he listens, they go much better.

Being a movie about a French rat who wants to be a chef, there are a lot of great food-related visuals. There are also slapstick gags right out of French farce, and, of course, a little romance. When Linguini appears to have created two wonderful dishes, Skinner assigns Colette [Janeane Garofolo] to teach him the basics and keep an eye on him – and she slowly falls for the unassuming, if a bit gawky kid.

Ratatouille is a film about family, for better or worse – and Remy’s definitely falls into the “or worse” category. It’s also about loyalty and betrayal – and there are several betrayals to be found here: Remy is betrayed by his family; Remy is betrayed by Linguini; Collette is betrayed by Linguini; Linguini is betrayed by the entire kitchen staff – just to name a few…

Ratatouille - Caught In The Act

Not all of these betrayals are repaired, though the ones that matter most to Remy and Linguini [and therefore, us] are – but it is not an easy road, and the world’s most unlikely kitchen staff is required to stave off the final bow [a potentially bad review from uber-critic Anton Ego]. The result is a film that does what movies are supposed to do: it makes us laugh, it makes us cry and it makes us think [just a little].

At one hundred and ten minutes [probably one hundred without credits for the legions of animators who worked on it], Ratatouille is one of the longer PIXAR films, though it never drags – at least for the adults in the audience [littler kids may find the romantic stuff a bit boring, or yucky, but it never overstays its welcome, so they can probably deal]. Bird has turned a blue rat into a nuanced character and set him on a series of adventures that would have to be equated with the tasks of Hercules when seen from Remy’s point of view.

Bird even makes use of PIXAR’s resident good luck charm, John Ratzenberger [who has been in every PIXAR feature], in a role where his voice is almost completely unrecognizable – a character named Mustapha.

In terms of quality, PIXAR is now eight for eight. If there’s any justice, they will be eight for eight at the box office, as well.

Final Grade: B+

EM Review Posted By Sheldon Wiebe

Originally Posted 06/29/07

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