"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: "Ratatouille" is presented by Disney Home Entertainment in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen. Likely a direct-from-digital transfer, the presentation is simply dazzling. Sharpness and detail are exceptional, as even the smallest detail of the animation comes through crystal clear. No edge enhancement or pixelation are spotted, and the film's rich color palette looked marvelous, as even the most subtle of hues were reproduced very well.
SOUND: The film's Dolby Digital 5.1-EX soundtrack 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: Sadly, not much is included in the way of extra features. I would have liked to have heard a commentary from Bird, but there's no commentary here. All we get is: "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.
Final Thoughts: Sweet, engaging and often hysterically funny, "Ratatouille" is one of the year's best films. The DVD presentation offers outstanding video quality and fine audio quality, but comes up short in the extras department. Still, this is one of the most entertaining films I've seen in a while, and I'd highly recommend it on DVD.
The Film A-