One of my favorite modern storytellers in the animation genre happens to be Brad Bird. Not only is the man a wonderful writer, but he gets modern story themes and basic characterization, all the while building on adult themes that children can understand but will also appeal to adults as well. One of the most underrated and innovative filmmakers in film today, Brad Bird only seems to get better with every film. “Iron Giant” was a masterpiece of friendship and alienation, “The Incredibles” was a wonderful take on the dysfunctional family in modern suburbia, and now Bird yanks Pixar from its horrible “Cars,” with this fantastic follow-up “Ratatouille.”
Remy is a rat that is mostly reduced to playing second banana to his father who is the leader of his clan. But Remy has an innate ability to smell the individual ingredients of food which helps him to identify rat poison in the clan’s hunting trips, but his flavor and smell grant him a wish of becoming a chef. But… he’s a rat, so that’s a goal he may have to give up. Pixar has this ability to grab the most unlikely actors and grab the best performances from them, and that’s also reflected by Brad Bird who can also pull great performances from almost anyone; Vin Diesel, Jason Lee, and now Patton Oswalt who is just great as Remy, the small rat in Paris with humongous aspirations. Like mostly every Disney film ever made, “Ratatouille” presents themes of familial discord, tragic loss, and the apparent lack of parental guidance that breeds a sense of independence in our hero and in turn helps him discover something about himself.
“Ratatoiulle” is gladly never overbearing in its cutesiness and that’s due to Brad Bird’s ability to take a device and comfortably set it down into the middle ground. Bird’s film is cute enough for the kids to enjoy, but mature enough for adults to endure; Bird takes an often disgusting and wretched animal like the rat and successfully depicts them as sympathetic creatures just trying to survive like us. Remy eventually loses his family after an attack by an old woman, and accidentally drifts into his favorite chef’s (played by Brad Garrett with his usual skill) restaurant where he comes across inept aspiring chef Linguini. Remy’s chef of course becomes his own Jiminy Cricket in scenes that can easily rip from “Pinochio” but have a sheer sense of comedy that avoid such pitfalls.
Bird has a wonderful sense of writing pure characters that manage to stand out among usual children’s film archetypes. There’s Gusteau the humble chef, Skinner the angry head chef with a fear of crowds who plans to yank the restaurant when a surprise heir appears, Collette is the head chef who takes a resentment to Linguini’s accidental success, and Linguini who exemplifies the tenets of Gusteau and in turn discovers he can actually cook thanks his own Jiminy Cricket, Remy. The chemistry between Linguini and Collette make this film worth watching, among other excellent elements, as they form a slow friendship based around instruction that blossoms into a charming romance. There are also exemplary respective performances from Lou Romano as Linguini, Janeane Garofolo, Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, and Peter Sohn. There’s also the stand out Peter O’Toole as the central antagonist Ego, the most fearsome food critic in all of France. As is typically the case, Pixar pulls off an amazing job animating.
Though at this point they don’t seem to be too focused on realistic human characters, the landscapes paired with the astonishing details make “Ratatouille” a step up from the bland affair that was “Cars.” As for the human and animal characters, the animation fantastic regardless and the designs are just wonderful Disney style improved by Pixar. “Ratatouille” is also in its core a wonderful story about living your dream and beating the obstacles that prevent you from achieving them. And it’s funny, very funny. But most of all, it’s a down to Earth take on the rat that manages to compel and bring a touching theme of symbiosis and friendship to the Disney canon, and “Ratatouille” simply fails to be anything below exceptional. Bird’s film is like an actual dish upon which the story is based upon. It’s a mélange of top notch production quality, great performances, amazing animation, and a universal story of friendship that collectively form a wonderful follow-up to “Cars.” Brad Bird proves his weight in gold once again with “Ratatouille” a great rebound from Pixar that takes the unlikeliest of characters shows that Mickey is nothing compared to Remy.