July 01, 2007

MOVIES: Ratatouille (Brad Bird, 2007)

Brad Bird has two mighty impressive films to his credit already -- The Iron Giant and The Incredibles -- and he tops them both with Ratatouille, which is an absolute joy.

The hero is Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt), a rat with a superb sense of taste and smell who dreams of dining on better dare than the garbage that his pack is content with. His culinary hero is the late, great Gusteau (Brad Garrett, in a performance with more warmth than I'd have thought him capable of), whose philosophy is "anyone can cook."

Remy gets the chance to prove himself as a cook in the kitchen of Gusteau's restaurant, working in partnership with Linguini (a charming performance by Pixar animator Lou Romano); Remy hides under Linguini's toque and controls him like a puppet by pulling his hair -- there's some beautifully timed slapstick comedy in these sequences -- creating dishes which just might bring Gusteau's back to prominence.

The animation here is spectacular. There are some stunning vistas of Paris; the food looks so appealing you'd swear you could smell it; the characters are vivid and fun to watch. Remy looks like a rat without being entirely repulsive, and the movie overcomes our visceral disgust at the thought of a rat in the kitchen with great charm. A few scenes involve water, a traditional challenge for animators, and they are thoroughly convincing. (Between Surf's Up and this movie, it appears that great strides are being made in water animation.)

Voice casting is also solid. Oswalt has a marvelous EveryRat quality as Remy, and the thrill of doing something that you love clearly comes through in his performance. There's also a magnificent supporting performance from Peter O'Toole, dropping his voice into its most sepulchral register as the dessicated food critic Anton Ego, who gets the most perfectly executed flashback sequence you'll see at the movies this year. The weak link in the cast is Janeane Garofalo as Colette, the romantic interest for Linguini; if she had simply dropped the bad French accent, it would have helped immensely.

But the story is charming, and the movie is beautifully crafted; particular kudos to Michael Giacchino for his lively score. The show I went to was packed, and everyone -- kids and parents -- was delighted throughout; there was great applause when the movie ended. This one will be on my "best of" list at the end of the year, for sure.

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