At La Ratatouille, the food doesn't just taste funny...
It tastes HILARIOUS!
Take Ratatouille for example. Here we're given most of the main characters as either ultra-cute rodents or strange and rubbery humanoids. However, as you look at these slightly humanized Rats, you see big white eyes that play in the virtual light like marbles, glowing and glinting in their tiny sea of ones and zeroes. The fur is individually accentuated, which is common now, But the way this hair changes, moves and reacts is a treat for animation and special effects fans. The human characters don't look like "real people" a la "Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within", but move in such a uniformly realistic way and evoke such passion and pathos from their rubberized faces that it's almost incredible to see what Pixar is giving us here. In both human and rat, the flesh reacts to light and blemish the way real flesh might. The way sunlight shines through the translucent rat ears and the variably visible whiskers looks like the way sunlight might shine through a real pet's ears and whiskers. Though this doesn't look "real", as in real rats and people, it looks like something out of reality... like a plush toy or action figure given life in the real world. No, not every studio can do this. No, this isn't commonplace. This is Pixar, once again, at the lead of the pack, as they were with 1986's Luxo Jr., with 1995's Toy Story... all up until now with 2007's Ratatouille!
And... lucky for us all, the same is true for 2006's Lifted, the animated short that Pixar has released just before Ratatouille scampered on screen. This Gary Rydstrom-directed tale of an Alien Abduction gone HORRIBLY, HORRIBLY wrong is absolutely hilarious. As a young extraterrestrial trainee tries to learn the tricks of the human-catch-and-release law, his impatient supervisor takes notes and prepares to give him the grade he so richly deserves. There are enough laughs in the five minutes of this one to fill up three full length CGI flicks from some other studio.
Just a Lamp Hop later, Ratatouille burst through a plate glass window and on to the screen. This is our first shot of Remy (appropriately voiced by Patton Oswalt) as he escapes from the wild shot gun of a World War I Gas Mask wearing home maker. Maybe that's not your usual exposure to a cartoon rat, but Remy's not your garden compost variety Rat either. With a hyperactive sense of smell and a talent for knowing what tastes go with what, Remy has developed the wild dream to become a Cook, just like his mentor, the great (though now fallen and... dead) Parisian Chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett), who soon begins appearing to Remy as a ghost(!). Of course, to do this, he's got to defy his garbage-loving Patriarch daddy Django (Brian Dennehy) and big (and I do mean "big") brother Emile (Peter Sohn)... oh, and he also has to escape Madame Dub-Dub-One with the mask, helmet and gun.
This mishap sends him away from La Familia and into the sewers of Paris, along with his idol Gusteau's book "Anyone Can Cook".
Up from the sewers and into the streets, Remy actually finds the Bistro of Gusteau himself, now run by a diminutive toad-like frog named Skinner (Ian Holm)... the man who stands to inherit Chez Gusteau (and all its frozen food licensing) should no Heir be found. On cue, in walks a young dufus named Linguini (Lou Romano), the son of an (also now demised) former lover of Gusteau. Yeah... you get it, right?
Though he wants desperately to be a Chef, he has almost as much talent with cooking as the star of Lifted had with abducting farmers. Enter Remy, who has more talent in the pinky of his paw than most French Chefs have in their entire bodies. Well, except Paul Prudhomme (I'm from Louisiana... just be glad I didn't say "Justin Wilson"). Rats in the kitchen... no es bueno (I live in Southern California now). But a human who can be controlled like a marionette by a friendly and talented rat... now that has potential. But before it can work, he has to win over his lovely and talented kitchen podnuh Colette (Janeane Garofalo) and most frighteningly, the Grown-up Goth Kid turned Restaurant Critic... Anton Ego (played by, I kid you not, Peter O'Toole).
So, how many worlds are colliding here? Rat Colony, Upper Crust French Cuisine, Struggling French Restaurant, Aspiring Freezer Food, Young Star Crossed Lovers, Unappreciated Rat Puppeteer playing Being John Malkovich under the young Chef's hat. That's a lot.
And speaking of different worlds, it's hard to reconcile just where all these accents came from. Virtually everybody sounds like just as much of a Yank as I do... Except for some of the rats who sound like something out of The Sopranos (or at least "Goodfeathers"), Peter O'Toole who sounds just a tad like... Peter O'Toole and the Gusteau folks who (shockingly) all sound French.
There's no rhyme or reason here, but really... who cares? It's all in Pixar fun, and the divergent sounds here are all part of the wild dichotomy that goes into Ratatouille, the tasteful movie about Rats in the Kitchen. Just as the mixture of the real and the surreal has shaped the animation here, the weirdness of varied accents, ghosts (figments or not), love subplots, consumption of mass quantities of alcohol and all kinds of other seemingly at-odds plot points has made Ratatouille a weird, but wildly fun movie, from the opening crash to the peerless animated closing credits (A+).
Pixar (and Disney) fans will find much to appreciate here, most notably in the relm of animation. There's also a lot of fun in the screenplay written by The Incredibles' Brad Bird. The story originated Pixar veteran Jan Pinkava, was shaped by Jim Capobianco, Emily Cook and Kathy Greenberg, along with Bird himself, who also directed. This is a very different sort of film from The Incredibles or The Iron Giant, but manages to be a heck of a lot of fun and, yes, action packed even though this is primarily a "cooking show".
The voice talent is also a lot of fun. In addition to the main roles, the voice cast includes Will Arnett, Julius Callahan, James Remar, Teddy Newton, Tony Fucile, Jake Steinfeld and Brad Bird himself. Oh, and, eh... It's a little known fact that Pixar Favorite John Ratzenberger lends his chords to this one too.
Yep, too many chefs spoil the Stew, be it Ratatouille or anything else. But no critic has been able to assault Pixar yet... even if Brad Bird does a pretty scathing London Broil on critics through the pen of a certain character here. I'm still giving Ratatouille my Highest Rating. Partly because... I agree with him... but mostly because Ratatouille is a very fine, very fun film, very well done, and very tasteful... even if it is about rodent chefs. So until a new book comes out called Nobody Should Cook by Anthony Bourdain, telling us that now it's somehow "unsanitary" to have rats employed in Restaurants... I'll see you in the next reel.
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