Thursday, July 05, 2007

Ratatouille: A weird, wonderful feast

"Ratatouille," the story of Remy, the rat who just wants to cook, is much more "Babe: Pig in the City" than "Babe" in tenor and tone. And that's just fine by me.

The opening sequence, in fact, is downright terrifying. When I was a kid, and I probably shouldn't admit it, I was thoroughly frightened by two animated movies. My mother tells me I had to leave the theater when the Orcs first appeared in that rather lame Ralph Bashki take on "Lord of the Rings." And, for a much more rational reason, I was horrified by the far superior "Watership Down."

Remy and his rat pals aren't subjected to quite the level of animal violence that so freaked me out in that classic tale, but they're still put in more genuine peril after he rats out (I couldn't resist) the location of their colony in an old French farmhouse than has existed in an animated movie in many, many years.

What made it so at once both hard and thoroughly intriguing to watch was that it all looks so real. Even John Lasseter and Andrew Stanton must have been squirming when they watched this unfold.

But then, and in wonderfully abrupt fashion, director Brad Bird injects "Ratatouille" with another element we've been missing in animated flicks for a long time: Magic. I had seen the best nine minutes of "Ratatouille" beforehand on YouTube, but that still didn't take away from the thrill of discovery when Remy first scampers up the rooftop to find Paris in front of him. It's a vista that would make Hayao Miyazaki smile broadly.

And next, from when he's looking down on the kitchen at Gustave's with his guardian angel, the late Gustave (Brad Garrett), to when he falls through the window and lands in the chaotic kitchen's sink, it's as exhilirating as any animated sequence since "Fantasia." And no, I'm not exaggerating here; it's just that good.

At this point, Pixar movies, at least for me, tend to drag. For long stretches of both "Cars" and especially "Finding Nemo," I was just bored as our heroes had to learn their lessons. "Ratatouille" largely avoids this by having Remy and the human would-be chef he guides like a marionette (Lou Romano) learn by doing rather than talking about doing.

Watching Remy and his friends - who, let's not forget, are rats - take over the kitchen is more than a little unsettling, but Bird manages to inject it all with so much charm that it still goes down well (the music, a lilting, French-sounding accordion tune in almost all the restaurant sequences, helps a lot.) If kids can get past the logical (and sanitary, of course) leap of kitchen rats, and I'd imagine it would be easier than it was even for me, still very much just a big kid, what can they learn? Two things that every person should learn early in life: Paris is one of the most beautiful places on Earth and cooking is just tons of fun. Hopefully, for parents everywhere, they don't take away the idea that having a rat for a pet would be anything close to a good idea.

A quick word about the voices: I'm happy that I somehow didn't know going in that British heavyweights Ian Holm, as Skinner, the diminutive but domineering head chef at Gustave's, and Peter O'Toole, as the delightfully dour food critic Anton Ego, were on board. They're both great, and the moment when O'Toole's Ego gets his first taste of ratatouille is as close to a moment of grace since the first "How the Grinch Stole Christmas."

So, in the end, how good is "Ratatouille"? Well, Brad Bird directed my single favorite animated flick in "The Iron Giant," and I have a strong feeling that, once I see "Ratatouille" a few more times, it will hold almost as lofty a place in my heart. If you haven't seen it, do so right away.

P.S. I had planned to see "Transformers" too, but with the big smile on my face at the end of this one, I didn't want to disturb the vibe by watching giant robots battle to save the Earth. That will have to wait until Saturday.

16 comments:

carrie_lofty said...

Hey Reel,

My girls are 3 & 4 years old, and they were quite scared of the Orca attack scene in Happy Feet. Can you comapre the scary rat opening to that one? You've talked before before about kids' reactions to viewings (such films as Surfs Up), so how did this one go down with little ones? Any laughter? Boredom? Coz my girls totally tune out during the sleepy James Taylor part of Cars.

Thx,
lovelysalome

Reel Fanatic said...

I would say this was creepy more than scary, Carrie ... As much as the rats being in peril, it was just the sight of all of them running out of the colony at once that really freaked me out a bit ... I think, though, that kids that young wouldn't be bothered as much by it because they probably wouldn't know just what effect a hundred rats or so would have on your house

RC said...

you can imagine my delight when i clicked over to your site after typing up my own first round of thoughts from Ratatuille that your thoughts were right on pitch with mine.

This is a stunning film and your comment about learning by doing is such a true observation.

I completly agree with your sentiments. And thoughts!

--RC of strangeculture.blogspot.com

Mercurie said...

I didn't get to see Ratatouille yesterday, as my best friend was under the weather. We postponed it until this weekend. But it is good to hear it'll be worth our while.

Marina said...

Loved every second of it and the fact that it kept a smile on my face for 2 days is a testament to just how good it is.

Linda said...

I also LOVED this film. Brad Bird is amazing (yes, I own Iron Giant and The Incredibles). I have friends that are particular about the preparation of their food. The kitchen scenes with the rats would be mega drama for them! I'm recommending this film to ALL of them hehe. I agree with you on the sweeping scenes of Paris. A gift to have animation be that dramatic! Loved it!!

Bob said...

I just saw it and I loved it too. Ego's restaurant review near the end was the best written and best delivered monologue I have heard in a very long time. Bravo to Bird and O'Toole.

lylee said...

Glad to see I'm not the only one who absolutely LOVED Ratatouille. Only "Toy Story" and "The Incredibles" outrank it in the Pixar canon.

It's also so refreshing to see

-how an animated film can be funny and delightful and open to multilayered intepretation/ appreciation without relying on snarky would-be-clever cultural commentary that does nothing to advance story or character. (cough)Shrek sequels!(cough) So many of today's animated movies are going to age so badly. "Ratatouille," on the other hand, feels timeless

-how famous actors doing the voice-over can actually subsume their personalities to the characters, and not the other way around

-how a movie can pack a few surprises, plot-wise (who else thought the will and the letter were going to mark the big denouement of the movie? or that Linguine would turn into a great chef?), yet still leave us feeling thoroughly satisfied

And as a person of a critical rather than creative bent, I, too, loved Ego's final speech.

Reel Fanatic said...

I think you've nailed one of the many things that makes this movie so exceptional, Lylee ... I was bracing for the moment at the end of the movie where Linguini would start to cook and find out that he had somehow been transformed into a great chef ... I probably could have forgiven that because the rest of the movie would still be so wonderful, but I'm so happy Mr. Bird didn't take that easy way out

Justin said...

I liked it a lot as well. In fact, I was so caught up in the story that I never thought about who the voices were (outside of Patton Oswalt, which I knew going in) and was surprised to see the list. Anyway, can we say that Brad Bird is the best director of animated films ever?

Kookie said...

Am definitely watching this one when it reaches our shores...next week. Soon, I hope.

Lorraine said...

Oh, huzzah. I really want to like this movie for a lot of reasons and I'm glad you recommend it. It's playing at the little tiny adorable theater down the streetso I expect The Child and I will get there sometime this week.

Reel Fanatic said...

I'm just about ready to concede that, Justin, but it might take one more masterpiece for him to dislodge Hayao Miyazaki from the top spot in my heart .. Bird is apparently going to make a live-action movie for Pixar next, so it should be fascinating to see how that turns out

Divinity said...

Finally saw it on Saturday and enjoyed it immensely. Will have to see about getting The Iron Giant out of the library.
My brother doesn't post about movies often but he recently reviewed another in the parade of Paris-inspired films, the subtly-titled Paris, Je T'aime: http://artfanaticism.blogspot.com/2007/07/paris-jaime-ta-fromage.html
He's got an interesting list of best-ofs at the end.
I, on the other hand, saw The Valet which deserves a review soon.

Reel Fanatic said...

My parents just managed to see Paris, Je T'aime and enjoyed it a lot, Divinity .. My father, however, didn't realize going in that it was a series of short films, so was more than a little confused before he figured out what was going on

Ratatouille Online said...

The film is animated masterpiece. I recommend this film to everyone when it hits the big screen. Though , It was not a perfect but still go for it. you will be more than happy after seeing it..:-)