"...easily the most entertaining film of a somewhat disappointing summer..."

Pixars Rat Rebound to Greatness

(070607) We're all tired of movies inundated with adorable, computer-generated critters so pop-culturally astute they should have their own blog. The Wild? Barnyard? Over The Hedge? Madagascar? Talk about a menagerie of mediocrity. Now comes Ratatouille from Disney-owned toon kingpin Pixar and director Brad Bird, who helmed the accurately entitled The Incredibles and the shamefully under seen The Iron Giant. Ratatouille is not merely the smartest, funniest, most joyous, most lovingly crafted film of the summer thus far, but it ranks among Pixar's finest, and it marks a resounding return to form for Pixar after last year's visually impressive but underwhelming Cars.

The story centers on a rat named Remy (Patton Oswalt) who aspires, of all things, to become a great chef. Hardly a slam-dunk premise as these things go, but Bird proves that, even when armed with unlikely or oft-repeated ingredients, a fine chef can conjure magic.

Bird, who cut his pencils and wit on The Simpsons, has served up a dish with uncommon gusto, discovering an unlikely on-screen alter-ego in Remy. Brought to breathtaking life by Bird's animators, Remy is both a genius and a misfit, admired for his gifts, derided for his dreams. He is possessed, we learn, of a keener-than-the-norm sense of smell that makes the food (i.e., garbage) his rat friends and family scarf down unpalatable to him. Rather, Remy considers himself an aficionado of cuisine, much to the gentle scorn of his well-meaning but dim brother Emile (Peter Sohn) and world-weary father Django (Brian Dennehy). Remy eventually gets his chance, however, when after being separated from his clan he winds up in the kitchen of a Parisian restaurant founded by Remy's famed hero, the chef Auguste Gusteau (Brad Garrett), who became an icon for his populist credo: "Anyone can cook." Even a rat, so Remy extrapolates.

Not that Remy can thank his hero personally -- Gusteau died shortly after a devastating review from gaunt, mirthless critic Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole) ruined his reputation. Now the restaurant is a shadow of its former self, run by a duplicitous head chef Skinner (Ian Holm) who has more interest in churning out microwave dinners than tantalizing meals. When Remy surreptitiously spices up the soup of the day, however, the restaurant's fortunes slowly turn for the better. So do Remy's -- as he teams with a gawky, clueless garbage boy Linguini (Lou Romano). The deal? The human gets the credit, the rat gets to cook -- albeit by yanking Linguini's hair to guide him.

Although there is a romantic interest for Linguini -- Colette (Janeane Garofalo), the kitchen's sole female cook -- the story's most captivating romance is between Remy and his art. The same could be said for Bird. Even though he works in an industry where brand names trump originality, he has found a way to have his cake and eat it, too. Bird's ace-in-the-hole, though, his wonderful grace note, turns about to be a fellow named Anton Ego (marvelously voiced by Peter O'Toole), a Parisian restaurant critic who ultimately looms as Remy's greatest test.

At its core, "Ratatouille" is really the story of the artist and the creative impulse, of the artist's obligation to follow that impulse in the face of what friends, family, society may say. Where it leads Remy is a place past the initial euphoria of popular acceptance, and toward a day of judgment before Ego, who is judging not the food, but the art behind it. It's rare for a filmmaker to hold such a generous view of the role of critic, and the less said about Ego's role in the story, the better. Suffice it to say, he fares a little better than the guy in "Lady in the Water."

"Ratatouille" is so fresh and fun and original and wonderful that the very least I could do is get through this review without any lame cooking metaphors. Assembled with such loving care and ambition, This is easily the most entertaining film of a somewhat disappointing summer as well as one of the best movies of the year.

Directed by:    Brad Bird & Jan Pinkava
Written by:    Screenplay by Jan Pinkava, Jim Capobianco, Brad
Starring the Voices of:    Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano
Released:    06/29/07 (USA)
Length:    111 minutes
Rating:    Rated G suitable for all audiences

RATATOUILLE 2007 Buena Vista Pictures Distribution
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