In keeping with my lifelong tendency towards discovering cool stuff long after the rest of the pack, I finally watched Ratatouille - the previously "best animated film of, like, ever" right when WALL-E is poised to become the "BEST animated film of, like, EVER!" Timing be damned: Ratatouille is a fantastic Pixar film and I had a lot of fun watching it.
The story is that of Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), a young rat with a sophisticated palate who, slightly estranged from his overbearing father (Brian Dennehy), finds himself in Paris and dreams of becoming a chef. The problem with this is quite clear: even in cartoons, rats aren't welcomed in the kitchens of Michelin-starred restaurants and Remy must lurk in the shadows of the declining restaurant of his chef hero, Gusteau. When young (human) Alfredo Linguini inadvertently ruins a pot of soup in the kitchen, Remy saves the day and the soup. Alfredo strikes up an unlikely alliance with the rat: under Remy's guidance, Alfredo is able to keep his job as a cook; using Alfredo as his surrogate, Remy is able to create culinary masterpieces. There are villians, of course - the head chef Skinner (Ian Holm) who is sure Alfredo is up to something; and the scary, sneering food critic Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole) - and a love interest for Alfredo, tough-talking, motorcycle-riding, chef-on-the-rise Colette (Janeane Garofalo).
Because it is a Disney film, there are fairly obvious themes at work: going after your dreams whoever you are and whatever those dreams might be; accepting and appreciating those who are different from you; tapping into hidden potential. In addition, critic Anton Ego has a meta-speech towards the end of the movie that I particularly liked where (and I paraphrase) he admits that even the greatest of critics is still less than the person whose work he is criticizing (it's only slightly less blatant than Lady in the Water where the critic gets eaten by a toothy porcupine-wolf-beast).
The animation is, as expected, outstanding. The humans' hair and skin is much more realistic than in previous Pixar films; effects like rainwater on rat fur and the light reflecting on sewer tunnel ceilings are fantastic. The animators also obviously spent a ton of time observing rats as their movements and mannerisms are incredibly realistic.
DVD extras: the hilarious film short, Lifted, about the most inept alien abduction ever (the facial expressions on the big alien are priceless); an informative look at rats throughout history entitled Your Friend the Rat and hosted by Remy and Emily; a featurette called "Fine Food and Film: Conversations with Brad Bird and Thomas Keller" - Thomas Keller being the chef/owner of The French Laundry; and Deleted Scenes which are extremely interesting from a film-making point of view: crude B&W animated drawings that were cut before time and money was spent adding the fancy-schmancy animation that is the hallmark of Pixar films.
There is something for everyone in Ratatouille: talking rats, haute cuisine, hope, passion, creativity, gorgeous views of nighttime Paris, snooty French accents, brotherhood and friendship and a little bit of smooching. And Mr. Mouse, who pronounced it a "silly cartoon movie," still stayed awake all the way through the end of the credits - which tells me he liked it despite himself.
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