Thursday, February 3, 2011


I have finally seen every full length Pixar film that people actually seem to like. Ratatouille was one of the better ones, sliding nicely into my favorites with The Incredibles, Wall-E, and Toy Story 3. Like the first one it was directed by Brad Bird, who also did the excellent The Iron Giant before joining America's best animation studio. He's moving on now to live action with the next Mission: Impossible, and it will be interesting to see how his great storytelling talents survive the transition to huge budgets and name brand actors. Ratatouille does everything that Pixar is good at extremely well, and except for a couple hiccups here and there is really just a great movie from start to finish.

A lot of Pixar stories can be boiled down to "The Secret Lives of _____", and it's not inaccurate to use that formula here by filling in the blank with rats. The movie portrays them as more or less the creatures we know them, except with intelligence enough to fully understand English and grasp how they're regarded by humans. They're still mostly content to eat garbage and avoid direct contact, but due to an advanced sense of smell and taste Remy, played by Patton Oswalt, has developed an appreciation for human cooking, and the food of a famed French chef who claims that "anyone can cook" in particular. After his family is forced to leave their home he winds up in Paris, in the kitchen of the very same chef he admires, two years after his death. Through an unlikely but entertaining series of events he ends up helping a hapless but likable garbage boy become a successful cook in the restaurant, and even more unlikely he turns out to be the cook's heir, and that's where the real story begins.

The highlight of the film is the animation, which is both technically impeccable and marvelously kinetic and fun to look at. The animation of the rats is lifelike, to a creepy extent when there are swarms of them on the screen, and the humans are wonderfully characterized through unique mannerisms as well. The absolute best bits are whenever Remy is tugging on the garbage boy's hair to trigger his muscles and perform the steps of cooking without being seen, an idea that is hilariously absurd and even more hilariously animated. It's just the essence of pure physical comedy, perfect in how it doesn't need dialogue even while the boy's meek excuses for his awkward actions accentuate the humor. The relationship between them is a really interesting one, Remy unable to actually speak to humans but able to get his points across with squeaks and gestures. There's plenty of talent to go around with the voices, including well-known comedians, great actors like Ian Holm and Peter O'Toole, and some solid work by people you've never heard of.

If I had an issue with the movie, it's that a large part of the conflict that makes up the meat of the plot in the later stages isn't really justified in the movie. A rift forms between the human and rat leads, and there's no real reason for it, especially since the apparent cause is in complete opposition with what they seemed to want only a few scenes earlier. The movie needed something to happen, and they just sort of swept the need of actually having it make sense under the rug. It doesn't do to much to damage the rest of the movie though, which while not as deeply emotional as the most recent Pixar outfit, is still incredibly entertaining work. It's amazing how an action sequence featuring a rodent trying to get through a window in a busy kitchen can be more exciting than live action stuff that can cost millions to film. I guess I'll watch Cars some time and hope it's at least a fraction as compelling as stuff like this.

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