When the publicity material for Ratatouille (pronounced Rat-a-too-ee) started rolling out late last year I must admit I wasn’t all that impressed with what I saw. A rat with culinary passions working in a French kitchen seemed … a tad pedestrian.
Whereas the previous Pixar animated features have always been big on concept and delivery, Ratatouille seemed like it wasn’t being ambitious enough.
With the film appearing rather low-key, I feared that perhaps the stellar reputation enjoyed by the animation powerhouse for over a decade was coming to an end.
However, after actually watching Ratatouille, I must say that it is possibly the most impressive piece of storytelling ever produced by Pixar and The Incredibles director Brad Bird.
RÃ©my (Patton Oswalt) is a country rat looking for more from life than just using his heightened sense of smell to check the family food stockpile for poison. RÃ©my dreams of being a gourmet chef just like his idol, France’s recently deceased chef-extraordinaire, Gusteau (Brad Garrett). Being a rat though, as you might have guessed, does not afford him many opportunities to pursue his passion.
However, when the attic where RÃ©my and his family stay is destroyed, RÃ©my is swept away – quite literally – through the French sewer system into Paris. Shortly after his arrival he meets an out of luck garbage boy, Alfredo Linguini (Lou Romano), who just happens to work at Gusteau’s restaurant. Forming an unlikely partnership, RÃ©my might just be able to fulfill his dream while Linguini wins the heart of the kitchen’s sole female cook (Janeane Garofalo).
Ratatouille could have so easily slipped into the generic animation pile so often associated with Disney (which wisely purchased Pixar in 2006) and its straight to video sequels. Instead, as the story develops and the characters are introduced, you soon find yourself wanting to experience much more.
I realise that using a food analogy to describe a film largely concerned with the happenings of a restaurant is a clichÃ© but I can’t help but assert that Ratatouille is a brilliantly layered and sumptuous filmic feast.
Starting its production process with a little controversy – the film’s original creator and director, Jan Pinkava, left the project shortly after it began in 2005 due to unexplained circumstances – Brad Bird was eventually brought on to helm Ratatouille. I love Bird’s work (The Iron Giant is the one of the most unappreciated pieces of feature length animation ever produced) and his skill as a director is reaffirmed with this latest effort.
Bird and the team at Pixar have crafted an animated film that speaks to more of an adult audience this time round than any of their previous films. That’s not to say Ratatouille isn’t suitable for kids, not at all, but the depth of the characters and the way they interact with each other is beyond anything Pixar has done before. They push the envelope and one only has to look at the tragic figure of renowned food critic Anton Ego (voiced by Peter O’Toole) to appreciate this.
Ratatouille is a fantastic film that surprised me with its three dimensional character driven performances, bouts of physical comedy – Linguini being controlled by RÃ©my is superb – and its creative re-envisioning of the Pixar values of family, friendship and togetherness.
As always the animation is fantastic but this time around it takes a back seat to a remarkably crafted story. Go and see it!