I’m also a fan of director Brad Bird. Specifically, I’m a major fan of his animated movies. After his terrific films The Incredibles and The Iron Giant, he could retire and no one would fault him.
So when I heard in early 2007 that Oswalt would be the lead voice in Ratatouille, a Pixar film directed by Bird, I was ecstatic. My favorite comedian, a genius of animated film, and inarguably the powerhouse in animated storytelling? I couldn’t wait.
A rat named Remy (Oswalt) dreams of breaking free from his family’s pack of scrounging rats and becoming a gourmet chef, following his idol Gusteau (Brad Garrett).
I really, really wanted to love Ratatouille. I was ready to follow Remy for two hours on his quest for something more than stealing garbage to survive…to rise above the stigma of being a rat and live his dream of being a great chef.
But 30 minutes in, the story detours from Remy’s quest and to the trials of Linguine (Lou Romano), a garbage boy at Gusteau’s restaurant who’s mistakenly praised for a terrific soup that Remy made and is forced to repeat his success (with a large assist from Remy, who hides under Linguine’s chef hat and pulls his hair to move Linguine’s arms).
So for the middle third of the film, it’s all about the humans: Linguine trying to repeat his earlier, accidental success; fellow chef Colette (a terrific yet unrecognizable Janeane Garofalo) begrudgingly helping him; and the surly head chef (Ian Holm) trying to stop him.
And frankly, the whole gimmick of Remy sitting under Linguine’s chef hat and working him like a puppet feels beneath Bird – and for a Pixar film, it smacks of laziness.
I hate to be simplistic, but with Disney and Pixar, I want – and expect – escapism. Bring on the talking animals or objects, not a cast of animated humans. (For the record, The Incredibles were superhumans, so they get a pass.) I mean, think of the Disney animated films with predominately human casts: Pocahontas. The Hunchback of Notre Dame. Hercules. Tarzan. All largely forgotten.
Still, it’s unfair to fault Bird for all of Ratatouille’s shortcomings. According to the excellent book The Pixar Touch, Bird inherited the project from Pixar brass after they felt original director and story creator Jan Pinkava’s vision was lacking.
On the plus side, the way Ratatouille treats food and cooking is irresistible. You will want to eat rich, delicious meals after the movie ends. And as usual with Pixar, the animation is flawless. (Can we officially take this as a given from now on?) The movements, the expressions, the scenery, the Paris skyline…simply amazing.
Going into Ratatouille, I was really hoping (and was quite confident) that based on the talent involved, it would be my favorite Pixar movie. Unfortunately, it rests just above A Bug’s Life as my least favorite.
Will your kids like it?If you're kids are like Dash, they’ll probably be less critical of Ratatouille than adult Pixar snobs like myself – though with a 111-minute running time and long stretches of dialogue without action, I wouldn’t be surprised if they lose interest before the end.
And even though Ratatouille is rated G, there are some elements which make you wonder why it wasn’t rated PG, including:
• Comic gunplay as an old lady shoots at the rats infesting her home
• Skinner tells Linguine “welcome to hell” on his first day as a chef
• Skinner gets Linguine drunk to get the truth about how he cooks so well
• A whole subplot of whether Linguine is Gusteau’s illegitimate son
• Rows of dead rats hang in a storefront window of a pest control company
Will your FilmMother want to watch it?My wife was as underwhelmed with Ratatouille as I was. If you’re looking for a Pixar film to enjoy together, there so many better ones to choose from. May I suggest: The Incredibles, Monsters, Inc., Finding Nemo…
• Director: Brad Bird
• Screenwriter: Brad Bird
• Stars: Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano, Brian Dennehy, Peter Sohn, Peter O'Toole, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo
• MPAA Rating: G
Buy Ratatouille for less at Half.com >>
Buy The Pixar Touch (2009 Paperback) for less at Half.com >>
Buy The Pixar Touch (2008 Hardcover) for less at Half.com >>
Rent Ratatouille from Netflix >>