MRR Movie Review: Ratatouille

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Written and directed by Brad Bird, this Pixar animated comedy is about a blue rat named Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) who aspires to become a chef. The film's title comes from the tasty Provençal dish made by slowly cooking vegetables, usually including tomatoes, onions, eggplant, zucchini and peppers. The movie takes place mostly in a beautiful Paris, where Remy manages to sneak inside a renowned restaurant. There he works out a deal with a garbage boy named Linguini, and they team up to prepare some culinary delights. Peter O'Toole voices an acerbic food critic called Anton Ego.
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Movie Review: "Ratatouille"

-- Rating: G
Length: 111 minutes
Release Date: June 29, 2007
Directed by: Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava
Genre: Animation/Comedy/Fantasy

"Ratatouille" is Pixar's eighth animated feature film and the second directed by Brad Bird. This witty and intelligent take on Parisian food culture features a heroic rat named Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) and his human friend and cooking partner, Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano). Perfect for both children and adults, the fun and exciting film solidified Pixar as the studio of choice for those looking for smart and entertaining family fare.

The tale takes viewers to France, where Remy, with his extraordinary sense of taste, leads his family to the finest of thrown-out foods. He can even sniff out rat traps, preventing his fellow rats from meeting a disastrous end. Due to this sense, Remy has become something of a foodie, and chef and cookbook writer Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett) is his favorite inspiration. When Gusteau suddenly dies due to a bad review by noted critic Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole), his ghostly form visits Remy, inspiring the young rat to head to Paris and take on cooking for as a career. Remy goes to Gusteau's restaurant, but since a rat is hardly an obvious choice for a chef, Remy teams up with young Linguini, who has been hired by head chef Skinner (Ian Holm) as the garbage boy. With Remy controlling Linguini by pulling on his hair, the two create several culinary masterpieces. With word spreading of this new chef, Linguini soon finds himself preparing a dish for Anton Ego.

One of the most appealing aspects of the film is its voice work. Oswalt and Romano shine as Remy and Linguini, while Ian Holm adds a comic despicability to the slimy Skinner. Acclaimed actor Peter O'Toole's contribution as the pompous Ego is absolutely perfect, managing to both skewer and pay respect to all of those who make a living critiquing the work of others.

Even though it is a children's film, "Ratatouille" touches on several themes that raise the film above the average animated movie. For starters, the film has some nods to Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables," with the French locale and the class system between the rats and the humans paying homage to the famous novel. The relationship between the rats and the humans could also stand in for many class and racial conflicts, with Linguini and Remy's acceptance of one another symbolizing a step toward harmony. Both of the main characters are undervalued by their peers, with their gifts being constantly pushed aside for the greater good of their family or workplace.

The movie emphasizes these themes by underlining the dramatic difference between the rats and humans. Bird and his group of animators could have made the rats cute, but instead tried to make them as lifelike as possible, having them squirm along in packs in the dark underbellies of the Paris sewer.

Having directed "The Iron Giant" and "The Incredibles," two critically-acclaimed movies, director Brad Bird had already made a name for himself as a filmmaker who could create beautiful animated landscapes along with compelling stories and intriguing characters. With "Ratatouille," he upped his game by intertwining human and animal characters with a photorealistic depiction of Paris.

Paris has never looked better on film than it looks in "Ratatouille." The filmmakers immersed themselves in the city for a week before recreating it for the film in a manner that is both lush and realistic. This romantic vision of the famous French city lets audiences feel they are there alongside Remy and Linguini as they race to create their next treat. The scene where rats pouring through the city streets and into the Seine takes animation to a whole new level, making it one of Pixar's finest achievements.

"Ratatouille" was originally supposed to be directed by Jan Pinkava, but Bird took over in 2005. He changed several of the story's plotlines, made the rats more lifelike, and eliminated Auguste Gusteau early in the story. His tonal and stylistic changes struck a perfect balance as the film tried to appeal both to its young audience and parents. The results are nothing short of a masterpiece.

The film won the Oscar for Best Animated Picture in 2007, rewarding years of hard pre-production work for Bird and his Pixar staff. Since then, Pixar has produced several acclaimed and financially successful films, but very few have hit the heights that "Ratatouille" reached.

Rating: 4 out of 5