the film snob

A cyberspace journal about my experiences as an NYU film school grad student, reviews of current and classic films, film and TV news, and the rants and raves of an admitted (and unapologetic) film snob.

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Esse Quam Videri -- To be, rather than to appear

Friday, June 22, 2007

Ratatouille












Pixar hasn’t made a bad movie yet. Sure, some may have been better than others, but in terms of producing a dud — it simply hasn’t happened. Well, you can stop holding your breath. Not only is Ratatouille not a bad movie, it is easily one of Pixar’s best!

Ratatouille is the story of Remy, a French rat trying to live the American dream. (Imagine making your film’s protagonist a rat! Mickey Mouse is one thing, but vermin?!) Remy has an extremely discriminating palette. While his father, brother and rest of his colony gorge themselves on rotting trash, Remy wants only the finest foods and dreams the impossible dream of one day working in a five-star gourmet restaurant. His inspiration is the late Chef Auguste Gusteau, who appears to him with advice much as Obi Wan Kenobi did to Luke Skywalker.

When Remy, separated from his colony, finds himself in the sewers beneath Paris’ famous Gusteau restaurant, he knows it is his destiny to work there. But how to fulfill that destiny? That is when fate brings along a down-and-out garbage boy named Linguini, and together they form the ultimate odd couple. Remy, who knows how to cook but obviously can’t be caught in the kitchen, hides in Linguini’s hat, and steers the young man’s clumsy body like a marionette by pulling his hair this way and that. It is a ridiculous conceit — but it works like a charm. Before long, the pair are on their way to becoming the greatest chef Paris has ever seen.

Ratatouille is enchanting filmmaking. Few filmmakers can pull off unadulterated magic like Pixar. There is an almost physiological reaction that occurs when the Pixar logo lamp bounds onto the screen. It is the herald of something special and wholly unique. True, there are still 2-D artists who decry the rise of computer animation. High-falutin technology it may be, but there is no denying that Ratatouille possesses the heart of soul of all the 2-D (and 3-D) masterpieces that have come before it.

Pixar’s computer animation just gets better and better. Ratatouille employs some of the most luxurious sophistication yet seen in any CG-animated film. There is so much going on. The animators have outdone themselves creating a world of breathtaking detail and minutiae. Paris is palpable, be it swaddled in the warm light of a setting sun or prowling the damp stink of the sewer. But more than that, the Gusteau kitchen, where most of the action takes place, is incredibly dense and complicated. To master their furry friends, the animators kept live rats on their desks, and for the human subjects, they studied such Gallic heroes as Brigitte Bardot and Charles de Gaulle!

What is amazing about this or any other Pixar film is that you completely buy the characters, be they human or animal. Much of that credit has to belong to the stellar voice cast including popular stand-up comedian Patton Oswalt, Brian Dennehy, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, Academy Award nominees Ian Holm and the legendary Peter O’Toole as a food critic more walking corpse than man. Oh yes, and let’s not forget Pixar’s good-luck charm, John Ratzenberger.

Unlike other Pixar entries, Ratatouille is full to the brim with classical physical comedy. Channeling Buster Keaton, the filmmakers have crafted several exhausting sequences in which Remy dashes between people legs, leaps across furniture and is catapulted through space. It’s a dangerous world when you’re only a few inches high. The result is a thrill ride equal to that of any amusement park.

Pixar’s geniuses have always made films as entertaining for adults as they are for children. Ratatouille may be their most mature-skewing film yet. Don’t worry, your kids will still squeal with delight, but you and your older children will also walk away enthralled. Like all of Pixar’s films, Ratatouille is a morality play wrapped in a cotton candy shell. It encompasses the great themes of unconditional friendship, something Pixar has mastered before and mines again here. But more than that, Remy’s aspirations for something better, and his desire to buck the expectations of others while staying true to himself is a universal premise especially resonant with teens and adults.

Ratatouille is a delicious, delightful stew of a film, a classical fairy tale told with the language of 21st century technology. Like all good fairytales — to say nothing of animation — the real magic is in taking a premise that is utterly unbelievable and fashioning it into something completely convincing.

It's been popular lately to make fun of the French. But they will love this movie — and so will you. It is a work of pure joy and whimsy.

Note: The opening short, a Pixar trademark, is as fun as the feature. Lifted is about an extra-terrestrial trainee being judged on how well he can handle an abduction.

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