Pixar has made some good films and it has made some great ones. At its best, it has produced the Toy Story movies and Finding Nemo. The latest out of the studio, Ratatouille easily belongs among their finest titles, with its unforgettable characters and its lustrous, vivid animation. “The Rat” is easily one of 2007’s very best offerings, and yeah, adults like it too.
Ratatouille follows the misadventures of a rat born to be a chef. If you follow the belief that chefs are born not made, the film’s main character Remy (Patton Oswald) had no choice but to follow his impulse to create unique flavors rather than eat the garbage humans threw out.
Remy belongs to a loyal family of rats who’ve huddled together through feast and famine, yet he is slightly different from his brethren. Food is not just food. Every ingredient is special. And only the best ingredients will produce the most spectacular results. When Remy’s family is uprooted (the old lady who lives in the house they’ve infested tries to kill them, as anyone would) from the rural French countryside, Remy gets separated from the pack and must find his own way.
As fate would have it, he ends up in the cooking capital of the world, Paris. Remy finds the restaurant of his own idol, Chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett), who met his own untimely death after a particularly harsh restaurant review by the city’s toughest food critic, Anton Ego (Peter O’Toole).
Remy must find a way to cook and live in Paris. But how does a rat cook anywhere? His mere presence is a notch below cockroach. At the same time, a hapless boy turns up in Gusteau’s famous kitchen. Linguini (Lou Romano) needs a job but can barely walk two feet without knocking things over.
It makes no sense whatsoever and it’s completely improbable, but this movie will make you believe that it’s possible for a rat to control the arms of Linguini to make him do the cooking a little rat would never be allowed to do.
It’s worth mentioning that the studio has had a hard time selling the concept of this film and thus have been pimping it hard with TV spots and billboard ads. Apparently, the title was a problem. Apparently, the subject matter (rats+food) was off-putting. Apparently, the film wasn’t tracking well with its target audience.
Pixar and Disney took a risk with the rat movie, no doubt. But they knew they had something special on their hands if only they could get butts in the seats. The film opened at number 1, beating Live Free or Die Hard, astonishingly.
No matter how we all feel about rats, we want Remy to succeed because we know he has the goods and we know he was given a raw deal from birth. Writer/director Brad Bird has made a film not unlike his last Pixar movie, The Incredibles, in that this film, like most of his previous work, has one foot in the melancholy. To that end, it is reminiscent of “old Disney.” Animated films used to be darker and sadder than they are today. But Bird brings some of that back, though not enough to suck out the joy.
Ratatouille works on every level, but it especially works because we believe it. We believe Remy wants to be a chef so much he’d almost rather die than not cook. We believe that Remy is a true chef and that his talent comes from within. We believe that a rat is capable of knowing the difference between garbage and gourmet.