Friday, June 29, 2007

Review by Sombrero Grande

There’s a scene in Ratatouille where a group of restaurant-goers tell their server they’ve really enjoyed the soup they’ve had at the restaurant before, but now they’re really in the mood to try something different. In the past I’ve gushed about the films Pixar has dished out over the past few years, and tonight as I sat down to partake in yet another of their offerings, I too was interested in something a little different. Like the restaurant patrons I was watching, I put my faith in Pixar to serve up something new to surprise and delight my movie-going taste buds. And Pixar did not disappoint.

Ratatouille ranks among Pixar’s best films, and with a catalog like Pixar’s that’s really saying something.

The film is absolutely gorgeous; easily Pixar’s most beautiful to gaze upon so far. Paris comes to life with vivid, romantic colors and textures. The animation isn’t just eye candy here; it’s a full course meal for your retinas. Early on in Pixar’s movies they avoided doing much with water or fur, but in Ratatouille they’re not shy about showing off how they’ve perfected not just each individually but both combined. Early in the film they seem to delight in tossing Remy the rat into liquid as much as the story will allow for, and the results always look remarkably realistic. And, most shocking of all to me, the computer-generated food in the film actually looks good! It will make you hungry, I swear! I could practically taste the cheese, smell the soup and feel the texture of the vegetables on my tongue as I sat, mouth drooling.

As delicious as the visuals are, they’re mere flowery garnish for the main course: the story itself. I’m not going to spoil the meal by giving away much of what you’ll encounter in the film; I’ll just give you a taste. Remy is a rat who isn’t content just to eat garbage stolen from humans’ compost heaps. After seeing a famous chef on television, whose motto is “anyone can cook,” Remy becomes obsessed with combing the best ingredients he can find to concoct new and exciting flavors to savor. When this obsession lands he and his extended family in trouble, he finds himself in Paris and discovers the restaurant the bears the name of the chef that continues to inspire him: Gusteau’s. It’s in there that once again he can’t help but experiment with cooking, and again lands himself in trouble, only this time he finds a way that he may yet be able to pursue his newfound love of creating delicious dishes.

The story sounds simple, even a little odd, but it unfolds, twists and turns with such zest and mastery that it’s seems impossible to resist its warmth and charm. The climactic moment of the film comes down to a very tiny thing—the mere tasting of an item—yet the result is so simply and elegantly executed that it actually brought a tear to my eye. There’s no big, exciting chase scene like at the end of so many of Pixar’s other films, but the flawlessly executed climax in Ratatouille is no less exciting or impactful than any of the others.

The voice cast is top notch here, all disappearing into their roles. Ian Holm is simply superb as the restaurant’s conniving current head chef. Peter O’Toole is remarkable as villainous critic Anton Ego. Comedians Patton Oswalt (as Remy), Will Arnett, Brad Garret and Janeane Garofalo shine, virtually invisible in their roles. Proving that big names aren’t always necessary in animated films (I’m glaring in your direction, DreamWorks), two of the film’s biggest parts actually went to two Pixar art department employees: that of Remy’s friend Linguini (Lou Romano) and brother Emile (Peter Sohn). Romano and Sohn may not be names that will sell a movie, but they prove their worth and hold their own amongst the likes of Holm and O’Toole just fine.

Knowing that this was initially intended to be Pixar’s first movie made without Disney’s distribution (or--ahem--meddling) makes me wonder if certain plot points in the film are meant to be metaphorical. When Remy happens upon Gusteau’s restaurant it has fallen on dark times…a little like a certain animation studio. The cooks still toil tirelessly in the kitchen long after Gusteau has passed away, yet their leader insists on milking the restaurant founders’ name to hawk cut-rate frozen meals that continue to cheapen Gusteau’s name yet sell to the masses like hotcakes. Substitute the “frozen meals” for “direct-to-video animated sequels” and you should see what I’m getting at.

In Ratatouille, Pixar is serving up a fresh and new multi-layered story, chocked full of engrossing performances (both vocal and animated) and coated with a lustrous eye-catching glaze. As I sat through the film’s credits, resting satisfied as if having just eaten one of the best meals in memory, I knew that whatever the master chefs at Pixar have cooking in their kitchen, I will continue to be first in line to taste and savor. Leave the frozen fixin’s to chill for some other time; tonight you need to feast on Ratatouille.


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