If there’s one thing that the folks who run Pixar Studios understand very well, it’s the concept of entitlement. If these guys ran government, I suspect they’d find a way to balance the budget, ensure world peace, and guarantee a way to make everyone’s personal dreams come true. But being in the world of films, specifically animated films, I can’t think of another movie house that truly understands the concept of giving viewers every single penny’s worth when sitting down to enjoy one of their films. They’ve essentially become the greatest movie company in the history of the medium, managing to spread their unique world view among a multitude of varying directors, subject matter, and an ever-changing subject matter.
Director Brad Bird is a curious magician, perhaps closer in spirit to Don Bluth than Walt Disney, but all the better for it. The mystical element that’s often forgotten in motion pictures is motion itself, which in my opinion comes not with characters simply moving on-screen but moving within ourselves. The ability to stir our emotions and reflect the realities of life in palatable bites is the gift of the true storyteller, and this gift is certainly within Brad Bird. From his days on The Simpsons to The Iron Giant and The Incredibles, Bird has shown a consistent commitment to character over circumstance. His worlds are populated with characters set on leading their own lives, concerned less with the rules of destiny than personal validation. We care for these characters because they care for themselves, a trait not often found in most films, let alone animated ones.
With Ratatouille Bird achieves a greater sense of artistic purpose than ever before, and by that I’m referring to the title character of Remy and his grand ambitions of being a great chef. The world Remy and his family of rats populates may be intrinsically linked to the streets (and restaurants) of Paris, but the film itself exists within its own space and time. I was often reminded of the fantastic French animated film Tripplettes of Bellville, which this movie shares a distinct flavor with. From how Remy controls chef/garbage boy Linguini to the fantastic set-pieces that span kitchens, sewers, and farmhouses, the methods and maneuvers here all feel fresh like a juicy ripe tomato and just as sweet. I won’t spoil any of the film’s specifics to make a point, other than to say keep your eyeballs peeled to the screen as often as you can, as it’s simply overfilled with fascinating eye-candy and spectacle.
I was genuinely shocked to see that one particular scene, in which Remy’s father exposes his son to the realities of the human-rodent relationship, was left in the final film. It’s such a dark, complex moment that should by all convention should cause change in our hero, but we’re taken aback when it doesn’t. Remy’s complexities are defined within him, not by his knee-jerk reactions to moments he confronts. In this way he’s Pixar’s most vulnerable creation yet, and the most sympathetic.
The animation is jaw-dropping fantastic, realistically the best I’ve ever seen. I’m sure that animation fans will be yelping over how detailed the rat hair is, or how well the backgrounds and weather conditions were rendered, but there’s so much more to love. Like peanut butter and jelly, animation and rodents have always gone well together, and these computerized rats are certainly no exception. The character designs behind Remy and his family are uniformly excellent, with a startling mix of realism that really surprised me. This was probably the first time I’ve ever been able to see inside of a animated rat’s nostril, a small thing but meaningful nonetheless. The colors zip and pop off the screen, harkening back to the wonderful expressive work that came out of the Disney Studious during their 60’s-era output. And yes, the backgrounds are some of the most detailed ever seen in any film, animated or otherwise, as is the rodent hair. The human characters are all nicely done, especially the amazing model of chef extraordinaire Gusteau, and his large portions of personality.
The voice-acting is, as expected, spectacular. Is there another company that cares for every aspect of its characters as much as Pixar? Although the voice-talent here may not be as commercially recognizable as their past films, the acting here is superb on all accounts. Patton Oswalt plays Remy to absolute perfection, giving the lead a truly unique voice unlike anything I’ve ever heard before. Ian Holm, Brian Dennehy, Will Arnett, Brad Garrett, and a cast of many others do wonders with their roles, but are almost unrecognizable with their French accents and personalities. Janeane Garofalo in particular shines as the sweet Colette, probably the best role of her career and could signal a new start for her. But it’s Peter O’Toole’s work as the heinously evil food critic Anton Ego that really takes the cake, and will forever remain one of the most chilling voice performances I’ve ever heard in a film. He’s that good, and if there’s any justice will be recognized for his work come award season.
The soundtrack is splendid, with a wonderfully subdued, French-accentuated score by Pixar maestro Michael Giacchino in what’s possibly his most mature work yet. Videogame fans may know his work best from the Medal of Honor series, but his creations here (much like with The Incredibles) display a real sense of maturity and respect for the material, and would sound wonderful playing in the background of any kitchen or homey setting. It felt like Paris, and it felt right.
Pixar’s Ratatouille is indeed a wonder, a magical thing that never really loses its enthusiasm for itself or its audience. I suspect that many of the film’s greatest accomplishment’s will require multiple viewings, a trait common amongst the world’s greatest treasures. As it stands, this is the best film I’ve seen so far this year, and I’m certainly in no rush to dislodge it from that position. The folks at Pixar are indeed wizards in their craft, as the company once again proves to have a genuine heart that beats alongside the pulse of all that is good and generous in their field. They operate on a level that’s so far removed from the rest of their industry, all lost faith in the medium is restored, and with each new release the promise of creation fulfilled. But the movie itself is also great fun and hugely entertaining, which in this age of hack sequels and rehashes should do quite nicely.
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