reviewed by Andrew James
Ratatouille starts in the country side where a group of rats live off the garbage of an eldery lady. After a tiff with the woman, they are forced to flee. One rat is seperated from the group and must fend for himself. Remy, as he is known, has a heightened sense of smell and taste and therefore believes his destiny is to one day become a great chef; much to the chagrin of his father, who believes rats should stick with their own and not change. Now on his own, Remy finds his way to the great Fench restaurant, Gusteau's, who also happens to be Remy's culinary hero. Here (without going into the how's and why's) Remy meets up with Linguini, a young kid who can't cook his way into McDonald's, who Remy secretly hides under his chef's hat and helps him to become a great chef, thus avoiding being fired.
There are so many other strands to the story that it would take another two paragraphs to explain them all; so I'm not going to. Which is one of the problems I had with Ratatouille. The film was reportedly having some production problems and director Brad Bird (The Incredibles) was brought in to fix things about halfway through production. I would say it's likely that he brought the picture back from total disaster, but he didn't create the kind of masterpiece that Pixar is known for. I think the story had so many strands that it was difficult to piece them together and keep a coherent storyline. This is what had to be focussed on, sacrificing so many other things that usually make these films memorable. And it's a real shame.
What works for me visually in a Pixar film are the details that aren't necessarily in the way things physically look, but the way in which the real world is portrayed and operates. You know, those small, "funny cause they're true" moments. I think specifically to the scene in the stadium in Cars where the camera quickly passes a restroom and men are going in and out while the line to the women's restroom extends around the corner. Cars is chock full of these little bits of humor, while I'm not sure I noticed any of these in Ratatouille; hence I was underwhelmed.
When it really comes down to it, Ratatouille is barely a kids film. It has so many adult related story strands; like a living will and inheritance procedures, a talk about DNA evidence, a human boy-girl relationship (complete with kissing - YUCK!) and has many characters with strong French accents and large vocabularies that it might be difficult for a 7 year old to discern what is being said. Not to mention the fact that kids won't even be able to spell the title of the film until they get out of college.
My favorite part of the film had to be the "evil" villain. A devilishly delightful food critic named Ego, portrayed wonderfully by the great Peter O'Toole. The film closes with Ego's review of Remy's restaurant and is read to us in soliloquy fashion by Ego himself and maybe struck home a bit as a critic myself. Although the film might be having fun with a slight jab at critics, I think the closing review reading really encapsulates a crtics thoughts; at least it does mine. Hmm, now that I think about it, the only part of Lady in the Water that I enjoyed also revolved around an arrogant pop-culture critic.
This brings me to the voices. Why are the lead roles played by fairly second tier actors? Part of the fun of Pixar movies is getting the big name stars to voice the main characters (Crystal, Hanks, Brooks, Sam Jackson). In Ratatouille, the leads are almost unrecognizable. Patton Oswald? Lou Romano? Peter Sohn? If you saw their faces, you might say, "Oh yeah, that guy." But otherwise most don't know who these people are. Yes, you have Dennehy, Garafalo and O'Toole, but these are side characters, not lead roles. This isn't to say that any of the above actors did a poor job in their voice work because they didn't; it was fine. I just would've loved to hear a big name star for the voice of Remy. Maybe this shouldn't matter to me, but it does.
Another part of the fun of a Pixar film is the secret world and life of non-humans we get to explore: fish, cars, toys, monsters; all non-talking or totally ficticious creatures or objects in real life. Part of the problem I had with this film (and indeed The Incredibles) was the human world we explore. This is something we see in every other movie ever made, it shouldn't be in a Pixar movie. Granted Ratatouille has a rat as its main character, but most of the movie revolves around the human element; something I knew going into the theater and something I knew I was going to walk away from the theater with a bad taste in my mouth about.
All in all, Ratatouille is a mildly enjoyable time at the theater. It has its moments and is worth the price of admission just to look at the exquisite visuals. But if you're looking for laughs and a simple story (ala Cars or Monsters Inc.), you won't find it here. There are very few chuckles in this movie and is really a message film about breaking free from tradition and moving forward to follow your dreams. It was cute and amusing, but I doubt I will visit this movie again. One final warning: DO NOT go into this film with an empty stomach. Because the story mostly takes place in a five-star, French kitchen and the food prepared looks so good you can almost smell it, you'll walk out of the theater with a grumbling tummy.
IMDb profile - full cast and crew
FLIXSTER PROFILE Ratatouille