Like I need to say anything about how great Pixar is. Arguably (who’d argue?) the only American animators left who still treat the medium with a modicum of respect, their latest, Ratatouille, may be their best, a big deal since their past catalog is mostly gold.
What blew me away about Ratatouille, besides the gorgeous animation, is the marvelous way the story is structured. The main character, Remy, is a rat who loves the finest food. When he winds up in Paris he befriends a struggling restaurant worker, Linguini, and together they become the biggest chef(s) in France since Remy’s idol, Chef Gusteau passed away. Pretty simple. But how does Remy wind up in Paris? What about Remy’s rat family? Who’s Linguini and what’s his deal? How do they communicate? What are the other restaurant workers like? What about the ghoulish restaurant critic, Anton Ego, voiced superfluously well by Peter O’Toole?
The movie acknowledges and examines every possibility a story about a rat who cooks food could foster. Huge (big!) congratulations are in order for Brad Bird and his team for taking the time to cultivate and nurture a story so rich and charming instead of taking the quick easy route so many of their competitors take. They don’t oversimplify anything, or overcomplicate. In my Ultimate Hellsing article I point out anime’s tendency to treat their audiences like ADD-rattled blockheads, telling (and telling and telling) instead of showing. Well, the rats talk, but the humans don’t understand them. They can’t speak through words! The way Remy and Linguini interact and grow to know one another is such a clever, simple visual accomplishment. It’s pure fantasy, but it works and it’s hilarious. Look for the Weekend at Bernie’s gag.
The voicework is fabulous all around. I don’t think I ever liked Janeane Garofalo in anything so her unrecognizable turn as hot and bothered Colette, Linguini’s co-chef, was a nice surprise. Anyone knew she could be so French? Ian Holm also masks his refined Britishness, turning in a gruff, maniacal performance as a pint-sized chef jealous of Linguini and Remy’s skills. Brad Garrett, who most will know as the sunken-eyed brother in Everyone Loves Raymond – I remember him as Lobo in the DC animated universe – plays Remy’s idol, Gusteau. Despite his death in the beginning Remy manifests him into a Jiminy Crickett-esque conscience, offering optimistic advice when Remy’s down.
These performances are outstanding because they’re actual performances. They don’t sound like Robin Williams or Zach Braff, just phoning some bullshit in. Peter O’Toole doesn’t do anything drastically French as the others though he still takes the cake as the critic Anton Ego. He delivers a climactic monologue near the end so sublime it’s worth the price of admission alone. He could read the ingredients on a tube of toothpaste and still garner a nod and a tear. Pure magic. Will Arnett, Gob of Arrested Development, er, fame is also somewhere in the movie according to IMDB but, blast it, I couldn’t tell who he was. Still, Will Arnett’s in the movie!
Brad Bird and J.J. Abrams mainstay Michael Giacchino, a Grump Factory favorite, makes beautiful French jazz music. Which means no pop bullshit! I know, I know, I bitch and bitch but it needs mentioning. The music’s fantastic, particularly a bouncy song that plays twice in the film, that I’d get the soundtrack for. It’s sweeter than candy.
There are a few scenes that got me thinking too. Like, “what the heck does that mean?” type of stuff. The one that sticks out most in my mind is an interlude between Remy and his father, who hates humans. Rat Dad takes Remy to someplace to show him a pretty disturbing sight, a demonstration of mankind’s violent nature. It’s completely unexpected and would have shattered the tone of the rest of movie but it fits, somehow, and I don’t exactly know why or what it means. Interesting stuff to stick in a “kid’s movie.”
Which it isn’t really. Pixar movies are about adults. They just happen to feature bugs, cars, toys and superheroes. And rats. Ratatouille is prooooobably the best movie of 2007, so far, so there’s really no excuse to miss it. Be sure to stick around during the credits for some spiffy 2D animation.