Who knew Ratatouille could be such a perfect dish? Pixar’s latest attempt at CG animation comes soufflé’d with dynamic characters, a wonderful ‘greatness can come from anybody’ formula, quite a few big splashes of humor, and a topping of the best CG animation we have seen so far. In this medium, Pixar proves just how far ahead they are.
Ryan Flashback's to Childhood After Sampling Ratatouille
Let’s face it, moviegoers and critics alike have come down hard on CG animations. No matter which studio a computer-generated film might come from, we still enter theaters with God-like expectations. If any film in this genre falls short, we immediately criticize. We are all to blame, including me – especially since we are also the same moviegoers that later catch the same CG-animated film on DVD (or even HBO) and ask ourselves, “Why the hell didn’t I like this again?”
Pixar is one of the last few guarantees in this business. While Shrek the Third, a franchise I used to consider a ‘guarantee’, fell short this summer, Ratatouille succeeds on so many levels.
Kicking off with the animated short Lifted, Pixar knows how to get the crowd, what’s the word, animated. The story of an alien in training as he attempts to abduct a human from his home by tractor beam is absolutely classic. Audiences will laugh out loud during this brief segment and enter Ratatouille with a smile on their faces.
Ratatouille introduces us to a rat named Remy. Part of a giant colony that enjoys infesting homes and stealing from the garbage, Remy has secretly taught himself how to understand humans and how to read. In his words, there are a lot in these books that other rats [and his dad] don’t know. His aspirations? Auguste Gusteau.
A deceased five-star chef, Auguste Gusteau becomes Remy’s imaginary guide and conscience. After an incident at a home that Remy and his colony infested, Remy gets separated from his family and accidentally winds up at Auguste’s once-famous restaurant. As it turns out, the restaurant has gone from five to three star, thanks in part to the replacement chef’s affection for frozen dinners. In comes Linguini, a down on his luck boy who has absolutely no idea on how to cook. After an incident with the restaurant’s soup, Remy comes to Linguini’s aid. The only problem is that Remy is a rat, something that doesn’t belong in a kitchen; let alone that of a fine dining restaurant. Other cooks become aware of the rat’s presence and ask Linguini to kill it.
Linguini and Remy’s relationship forms soon after. Keeping a bit of realism in this extraordinary tale, Remy can only understand Linguini. Linguini must instead go off nods of ‘no’ or ‘yes’ from Remy. When Remy talks to fellow rats in what sounds like English to us, we hear his squeaks from Linguini’s point of few. Very well done. Though Remy can understand humans, Pixar did not try to break the voice barrier by having Remy speak directly to Linguini. The whole puppet effect, well, that’s another story.
The message to Ratatouille is simple: Not everybody can be great, but greatness can come from anybody or, in the case of this story, anything. By doing so, people will learn to be tolerant of one another and of other species.
Though Patton Oswalt’s voice fits the character Remy perfectly, he doesn’t have the range of emotion that Owen Wilson did in Cars. Fortunately for the film, this was not a requirement for the character. While with the humans, Remy remains absolutely quiet, with his actions and not the dialogue there to describe exactly how he’s feeling. The supporting characters fill in nicely including Janeane Garofalo’s Collette. A charming character that comes with a blend of emotions including jealousy, hate, sadness and compassion, Collette is obviously the romantic interest in the film.
Linguini also sells as the upcoming star that lets a little fame get to his head. Voiced perfectly by Lou Romano, Linguini is the selling point of the film. Even when he goes astray, audiences will be cheering for him to choose the right course (mind the pun).
Though I don’t want to give characters away, Pixar also delivers a refreshing surprise by making us hate some characters at the beginning and then later give each the chance to develop into somebody we love. This fact also works vice versa for others as well.
Coming in at 110 minutes, some might worry that Ratatouille is too long for small children. The film disperses hilarious segments throughout the entire running, keeping audiences of all ages thoroughly entertained as the story progresses.
Last, but certainly not least, is the film’s animation. Wow, have we come a long way. Remy and many other rats get wet – yes, with water – during repeat occasions in the film. The most startling part is that when their backs are turned to us they look exactly like live-action wet rats. Ratatouille has to be the first CG animation to perfectly integrate water and liquid. Pixar shows off with rain, wet hair on both rats and humans, wet clothes, splashing water and soup, plus other underwater effects. Bravo. Top it off with incredible soft lighting and one has to wonder if some scenes were actually live-action.
In a world with growing expectations, it is good to see that there are some still up to the call. With its charming characters and story, Ratatouille represents some of the best that Pixar has to offer. I guess we can now forgive them for Cars. Damn our high expectations!