"Ratatouille" is the latest from Pixar Animation Studios and the follow-up from director Brad Bird to his well-regarded animated feature "The Incredibles". The film comes at a time when some audiences are getting a little indifferent towards CGI animated features, simply because - like special effects in live-action pictures - audiences have reached the point where even remarkable visuals don't impress quite as much as they used to.
However, it's difficult to not be stunned by the animation on display in "Ratatouille", which I have to say stands as technically the most remarkable CGI feature I've ever seen. Not only is the film's animation exceptionally detailed (from the hairs on the characters to the care taken regarding background details), but it's also the visual style of the picture, with its jaw-droppingly beautiful portrayal of Paris (especially some of the night scenes.) This is the first time where elements of the film literally looked like images of real items that were digitally brought into the film. In one scene, a piece of bread grabbed my attention and held it: I can't remember seeing an animated item look so real.
"Ratatouille" opens at a house in the French countryside, where Remy the rat (voiced by Patton Oswalt) lives with his massive family in the rafters of an old woman's house. An old woman who is completely unaware about her "roommates" until Remy and brother Emile (Peter Sohn) head into her kitchen to try to snag some spices for Remy's latest idea for a dish. When she accidentally destroys the hiding place of the rat family, they must escape for the river, and that's when Remy is separated from the group.
To back up a bit, Remy is a rare rat with taste buds. Desiring the finer things, Remy is more picky with his meals and his sniffer even saves family members from potentially toxic eats. His dream is to be a chef and his hero is famed French chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett), who passes away early in the movie. After being separated from his family and winding up in the sewer, he's visited by the ghost of his idol, who urges him to head up to the streets, where he finds his way into the kitchen of Gusteau's, which is now being run by the irritable Skinner (Ian Holm). As he skitters about the kitchen trying to keep away from all the humans bustling around the place, he eventually finds his way out - but not before being tempted to try and fix up a horrible soup that's cooking on the stove.
While he is caught by the restaurant's new janitor, Linguini (Lou Romano, sounding a lot like Jon Heder), the soup goes out and the customers love it. The chef thinks that his new janitor created it and demands he create more - and that he dispose of the rat. Linguini needs the job and can't cook, but on his way to get rid of the rat, he realizes that the rat can. So, the two eventually work out a way for Remy to essentially "control" Linguini so that Remy can be the chef he wants to be and Linguini can keep his job. Thankfully, the filmmakers have decided to not let Remy talk to Linguini, and the little rat's attempts to communicate to and control his new human friends result in some hysterical sequences.
To say more about the story would be giving away too much, as "Ratatouille" manages to take a fairly simple plot and still often surprise, entertain and make it all feel fresh. The voice work is also marvelous, as Oswalt offers a funny, moving and engaging effort as Remy, while Holm turns in a wonderfully unlikable effort as the villain of the piece. There's also a fantastic small performance from Peter O'Toole as Anton Ego, the food critic who can make or break a restaurant. The final scenes of the Ego character and what happens are examples of how the film takes situations in sweet, unexpected directions.
Only a few little things in the film don't work, the most notable one being the romance between Linguini and fellow chef Colette (Janeane Garofalo) It's not that either of the voice performances are bad or the characters aren't developed; it's just that it feels unnecessary and it's almost one too many elements in a film that has a lot going on (at 110 minutes, the picture is a tad overlong.) As for the visuals, again, "Ratatouille" really requires multiple viewings, because some viewers may get almost distracted admiring the incredible amount of work and detail that obviously went into the smallest details of the film's images. The film's few action sequences are tense and exciting, especially a chase sequence between the chef and Remy that heads through the streets and across boats.
"Ratatouille" also does a remarkable job getting the feel of cooking down wonderfully, the magic and art of cooking. As someone who spends a good deal on spices and loves using them to add flavor to dishes and make something more out of average meals, I felt the movie understood the joy of taking different flavors and the joy of creating something that surprises and dazzles the taste buds.
"Ratatouille" is Pixar's best since "Finding Nemo" and certainly another in a long line of superb works from Bird.
VIDEO: The film is presented in 2.35:1 (1080p/AVC) on this Blu-Ray edition. Before turning on this Blu-Ray edition, I thought, "Gee, the DVD looked pretty good." That was before seeing this Blu-Ray edition. As fine as the DVD presentation looked, it simply pales in comparison to this jaw-dropper of a Blu-Ray effort. Sharpness and detail are absolutely breathtaking, as there's a level of depth and definition to the image that is nothing short of magnificent. I could say that every element of the film - from the food to the rat fur to the kitchen and the streets - looks crystal clear, but that would be an understatement.
The presentation suffered from no concerns - no noise, no wear, no edge enhancement, no nothing. This was a delightfully smooth, crisp and clean presentation at all times. If the presentation wasn't already wonderful, colors look improved here, appearing brighter and richer, with excellent saturation and no smearing or other faults. This is simply an A+ effort and certainly a big choice to show off what the format is capable of. This is just simply perfect.
SOUND: The film is presented on Blu-Ray in PCM 5.1. The film's sound design is not particularly aggressive, nor does it need to be. However, the rear speakers do come into play during several moments in the film to deliver an assortment of sound effects and ambience. Audio quality is terrific, with crisp dialogue and a rich, full-sounding score.
EXTRAS: The extras are presented in HD.
The DVD edition of the movie offered a disappointing collection of just a few minor extras. Thankfully, the Blu-Ray edition not only carries over those extras, but adds a wide variety of new ones. Carried over from the DVD: "Lifted" (the very amusing alien abduction animated short that played before "Ratatouille" in theatres), "Your Friend, the Rat" (an educational short starring Remy and Emile), 3 deleted scenes and an interview with director Brad Bird and chef Thomas Keller. Note: "Lifted" is the directorial debut of legendary sound designer Gary Rydstrom, who has been the sound designer on previous Pixar films, as well as many others.
New for the Blu-Ray edition is...a lot, actually. There's a commentary from director/writer Brad Bird and producer Brad Lewis, complete with picture-in-picture feature ("Cine-Explore") that allows viewers to see elements like storyboards play in the corner at times throughout the picture. Additionally, the film stops at points to play short featurettes on the making of the film (more on those later) before taking the viewer back to the movie.
When the "Cine-Explore" feature is turned on, the commentary plays and the movie pauses at certain points to jump to additional video materials. These include footage of animation meetings and more general production featurettes ("Care and Feeding of Your CG Rat," "Building Parts," "Tiny Rat Cameraman," "A Woman in a Man's World," "Behind the Swinging Doors," "Something New," "Where the Color Isn't," "My Dad the Composer," "Good Enough to Eat" and "2D Animation.") The snippets are quite informative, providing a good look at the massive amount of technical work involved in making the feature, as well as the process of making style and story choices. The featurettes run as much as a few minutes each and viewers can either to choose to watch these play automatically at points throughout the film or on their own.
We also get five extra deleted snippets, as well as an additional score featurette and a touching featurette regarding an animator who passed away ("Remembering Dan Lee"). "Gusteau's Gourmet Game" is an entertaining and surprisingly slick (for a game on a Blu-Ray title) that has the player attempting to prepare dishes in different parts of the kitchen, trying to get the correct ingredients together and keep up with orders as they pile up.
Final Thoughts: Sweet, engaging and often hysterically funny, "Ratatouille" is one of the year's best films. The Blu-Ray edition of the film not only offers a stunning video presentation, but fine audio and more extras than the DVD. Highly recommended.
The Film A