I might as well come right out with it: Any attempts to discount Pixar’s absolute mastery of the craft of computer animated features are absolutely futile from this critic from this moment forward. Until now I’ve been pretty consistent in giving their ballyhooed works 4-star ratings due to the sheer cleverness of their plots and the attention to detail of their visual prowess (sometimes even tainted in protest by Disney’s habit of over-promoting) but 2007’s Ratatouille has managed to so thoroughly touch upon every single element of what makes a classic film that it nearly single-handedly atones for every set of Toy Story bed sheets or Finding Nemo lunchboxes bartered the world over.
Well I suppose as is customary, I should begin this review with a short synopsis of the story with one caveat: Ratatouille really doesn’t lend itself to summation. I knew this going in when all of the pre-purchase research I did led to the same shaky conclusion: Really, a tale about a cooking rat in France? Never mind all that! This is to French rat chefs what Wall-E is to your trash compactor or what Monsters Inc is to applying for a job at the electric company. In other words, Pixar takes a fairly mundane concept and packs it so chock full of charm and personality that we would be captivated just looking at an animated lamp. Oh wait, they’ve proven that already but I digress.
Ratatouille centers on the tale of Remy, a gray rat gifted with a sense of smell. With aspirations of using his talents to concoct gourmet dishes, he is instead given the most un-romantic task of sniffing out rat poison for his rodent colony.
When his family is forced to abandon their home in the walls of a cottage in the French countryside, Remy is separated from his brood and ends up in the sewers of Paris. In hunger and desperation, Remy has a hallucination of his lifelong idol, the recently deceased chef Auguste Gusteau. Following Gusteau's advice, Remy finds himself at the skylight overlooking the kitchen of Gusteau's world famous restaurant. By fate, destiny or just good fortune, the wheels are in motion to put Remy in a position to showcase his repressed talents.
Well if after having read all this, the plot sounds awesome to you, congratulations. You are already ahead of where I was going in. I really couldn’t imagine a full-length animated feature film (and one at 111-minutes at that) about said topic being terribly intriguing and yet I was pleasantly surprised almost immediately.
Like most Pixar pieces the exact source of the charm isn’t even easily identified. There is abundant attention to visual and textural detail on a near frame per frame basis, the voice acting is spot on and the character animations are, well, pure Pixar and yet even still I can’t help but profess a certain degree of subtle wit and faultless timing that never allows the viewer to forget this is a high class Disney venture through and through.
Pacing is downright spectacular with just enough character building and story-setting to establish the tone of what’s to come. The action wastes little time revealing itself and is remarkably satisfying throughout the multiple incarnations contained within.
The scoring is Michael Giacchino, which, suffice to say, is downright spectacular with beautiful soaring compositions and personal mood-setters scattered throughout.
In all it’s difficult to adequately isolate just what it is that makes Ratatouille so wondrous. I like to think that, like all of Brad Bird’s works, there isn’t a single factor that outshines the others so much as it’s the culmination of years of lessons learned both in 2D and 3D animation mediums.
The script contains the type of polish and fineness that comes only with years of tweaking and rewriting. Scenes flow with deliberate prose, sequences form with near-poetic resolve, and the grand story arc is seamless in its delivery.
About the only thing I can say that even resembles a complaint about this work is the simple reality that of all the Pixar pieces, a strong argument could be made that this one is the most adult-oriented of the lot. Not that kids won’t marvel at the bright colors, cute characters, and general onscreen action, it seems much of the subtleties, humor, pacing and gourmet food integration will certainly be better appreciated by the older set.
In all I’m quite proud to finally slap a perfect 5-star rating on a Disney/ Pixar property. This one finally delivers, for me anyway; the potential hinted upon in every Pixar film prior and since and does so with style, grace and humor. Director Brad Bird concludes his interview on the disc by saying that he loves the medium of computer animation and that fact’s apparent here from beginning to end.
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