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#722 - RATATOUILLE

#722 – RATATOUILLE


The name Brad Bird should mean something to you. Only three movies into his cinematic career and the man is already a demigod. Bird earned his reputation by working on 181 episodes of The Simpsons, back during the first seven seasons. Every interview I have ever seen or read of people who worked on the show then credit Bird as a creative force.

When he made the movie to movies, his first effort was a little-seen 2-D animated movie called IRON GIANT. The film was simple, elegant, beautiful and one of the best American animated movies of the ‘90s. If you ever have a chance to check it out, please do so.

Then Bird moved to Pixar, and made his first film for them, THE INCREDIBLES. Many have tried the “Superhero at home” angle, but no one has ever gotten it as right as Bird did.

I mention all this to say that when I heard Brad Bird was the director of RATATOUILLE, I knew I had to see it. I talked my mom and sister into going when the picture moved to the dollar theatres, and good times were had by us, by the others in the theatre (including some small children); in other words: by all.

At this point in their existence, the term Pixar should be enough for people to want to see the movie. Taking the mantle after Disney’s Power stretch of ’89-’94, Pixar now makes the best American animated movies. (As a companion piece to this review, I planned to rank the eight Pixar films, but found myself unable to do so. I would however, love your opinion, as I have laid out the movies here.)

Pixar makes animation with computers, or 3-D, but if that is all it was, I would not be so impressed. Pixar’s secret is John Lassiter, a man who cares about animation more than you can imagine. He was at Disney for the hey-day, and then started this new company with an idea toward innovation, but never forgetting story and characters. One of the smartest things he did was bring in Brad Bird.

If you are not a Pixar devotee, let me briefly bring you up to speed on RATATOUILLE. Our story is of a rat named Remy. Born with an incredible sense of smell, Remy is a food connoisseur, not content to eat garbage like the rest of the rats. Through a series of strange events (are there any other kind in animation?), Remy finds himself removed from the French countryside he grew up in, apart from his family and pack, and living on the streets of Paris. There Remy hooks up with a human named Linguini. The young man has just gotten a job in a once proud restaurant called Gusteau’s, which has now fallen on hard times. Linguini knows nothing about cooking, but Remy does….hilarity ensues.

(The movie is much much more complicated than that. In fact, it may be the most complicated Pixar movie to date, but as is my habit, I refuse to tell you the plot. You can learn that when you see the movie, or if you really must know, look it up somewhere else.)

We have all seen animated animals. We have all seen animated talking animals. We have all seen animated talking animals intersect with humans. RATATOUILLE does not break any new ground there, although that is not to say they do not achieve excellence. I just want to talk about things you have not seen.

First, RATATOUILLE is gorgeous to look at. Quite possibly this is the most visually arresting American animated movie ever. To begin with, you have the city of Paris. Well, to be more precise: you have the city of Dream-Paris, the way my mother or any starry-eyed Francophile dreams of it. Paris in RATATOUILLE is lit for lovers, and no matter what kind of rat-hole apartment you mind find yourself in (no pun intended), a sumptuous view of the Eiffel Tower is just out that window. While I might have rolled my eyes a time or two, I did not mind the voluptuous beauty of the City of Lights. Frankly, the current trend of making scenery as dark and gritty as possible has started to wear on my nerves.

The beauty of Paris dovetails perfectly with the splendor of the kitchen and the food. The movie really is at its heart about the joy of cooking, of cooking wonderful things from magnificent ingredients. The French believe very strongly that food is enjoyed as much with the eyes as with the tongue. I concur, and I found it enjoyable to feast my eyes (as it were) on such luscious food scenery, or foodenery.

This leads us to the next unique aspect of RATATOUILLE; reason enough to see the film: a total immersion in the world of fine cooking. We are backstage at a Food Concert. We are behind the scenes of a masterful opera. We are in Iron Chef: Paris.

Hyperion’s Rating Guide

Suspension of Disbelief: 9.6 (out of 10) – We not only have to believe a rat can cook, and that people would accept this, but that Paris is nice clean place.

Genre Grade: As I wrote earlier, I am not able to rate the Pixar movies yet, so I will say that RATATOUILLE is an American animated movie, and in that rich genre, give it a solid B+.

Sex/Drugs/Rock&Roll? – The film is made for families, and whatever my concerns, the kids in our theatre seemed to enjoy the movie just fine.

Pantheon Percentile: Pixar and Brad Bird both hit another one out of the park. A must own for a gourmet or parent. 86.

The third thing that really stuck out at me is the ghost. Ghost you say? Yes, I do. Well, to be precise, it may not be a ghost. Remy is visited by the late Chef Gusteau, a man of immense girth (wonderfully voiced by Brad Garrett), who believes that anyone can cook. Gusteau repeatedly points out to Remy that he is not an actual ghost, but a psychological manifestation of Remy’s unconscious. Say what? Don’t question it, just go with it. The scenes are magical.

Of course, that is not to say that all is beer and skittles. I found out online that Brad Bird was not originally helming the project, and brought in after the first director left. Bird had the script rewritten, losing large chunks and adding other story elements. That may have shown up a bit in the movie.

For one thing, there is a slight lack of cohesion in the story. At the beginning, Remy narrates and talks to the other rats. Once he meets Linguini, however, he ceases to talk to anyone (including us) for most of the rest of the movie. This was not unpleasant, just a little odd.

(However, this does lead to one of the best set-ups in the movie: Remy trying to communicate to Linguini how to cook when the boy does not know a bay leaf from a carrot. The sequence is too good to ruin, so I will leave it to you to discover.)

Another (slight) obstacle is that we are thrown into the world of French cooking without much of a primer. As an adult I was able to (mostly) contextualize meaning from the surroundings, but I question whether a child younger than 15 would be as successful. I realize that every animated movie that is also made for adults will have parts of it over the kids’ heads, but there seemed to be more argot thrown in here than normal.

And far be it for me to nitpick, but I have to say: the movie’s title is just a tad too cute. The word ratatouille refers to a French dish, and the play on words, but the fact they had to put the pronunciation in the previews tells you it wasn’t a total sell. A much better name would have been what Linguini calls Remy: “Little Chef.”

These are, however, minor minor quibbles. If you are going to see RATATOUILLE, you are going to see the food, the rat, and the humor. All of these are brilliant, and not to be missed.

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