Director: Brad Bird
Starring: Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Janine Garafolo
After the disappointing detour into mediocrity that was “Cars,” one could fear that perhaps the Disneyfication of Pixar meant that a great era of animation was ending prematurely. This would appear to not be the case, because “Ratatouille“ is an enchanting cinematic experience on a par with “Toy Story,” “The Incredibles,” and even “Finding Nemo.”
Writer-director Brad Bird, who also did “The Incredibles“ and the beloved under-the-radar hit “The Iron Giant,” creates a compelling tale from not the likeliest of subjects: A French rat who finds a way to become a top Parisian chef. Bird’s story bounces all over the place with well-placed surprises and diversions. He masterfully finds ways to give us familiar and satisfying confrontations with catalogue bad guys that feel fresh and surprising, partly because he lets his plot pinball around a bit, making its essential progressions feel unforced.
As a director, Bird amazes with breakneck action sequences. There’s an early bit where our rat hero, Remy, is swept down a sewer in a — literally — breathtaking rush of water. I had visceral flashbacks to being caught in big waves at the beach, thrown around for several disorienting seconds before recovering myself. The film is that good at putting that kind of action on the screen. There’s also the character design — vermin both endearing and creepy, humans caricatured in a way that looks classic, French and just oddball enough to remind us that we have a rat’s-eye view of life. The quality of the animation is stunning: Sweeping vistas of Paris, difficult details like the sway and sweep of hair, or the nearly translucent edges of a torn piece of baguette.
Bird also manages a nice bit of romance between Remy’s human puppet, the untalented kitchen boy Linguini, and a struggling chef, Colette, voiced by Janeane Garafolo. The film touches on romance, dreams, family, and the struggle to prove oneself, in a satisfying mix that should affect children and adults alike.
This film hits the multiplexes at the same time as “A Mighty Heart” and “Live Free or Die Hard.” It is more masterful and magical than either, but it creates a triumvirate of new releases meaning, for a short time, Hollywood has something truly compelling to suit any taste.
Several years ago, I saw “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon“ and “O Brother, Where Art Thou“ within a month or two of each other, and the strange combination had been a revelation, both films leaving me feeling renewed in my love of movies, in the possibility of what can be done on the screen, the possibility of a movie, as the lights go down, to transport you into another, more marvelous world. I came out of “Finding Nemo” amazed at how perfectly a story could be crafted to hit every emotional note. “Ratatouille” also provides that kind of experience. Anyone who loves movies should see this film. Anyone who doesn’t, will by the time the lights go back up.