Oh, I'm detecting nuttiness alright.

Ratatouille is the latest computer-animated release from Pixar, the company that has produced the best animated films over the last decade. The odd title is the name of vegetable stew and doubles as a pun on the main character, a rat named Remy. (Audio review here.)

Remy is no ordinary rat though. He resides in France amidst a colony that lives as rats do, thriving on the garbage and remnants of others, Remy is the exception because he has a finely-honed sense of smell and loves cooking. Through a series of fortunate events, Remy finds himself in Paris at a fine restaurant, where he learns how to interact with a kitchen boy named Linguini to create magnificent meals. Things of course get complicated, as Remy attempts to balance his passion with his family, and Linguini must handle being a celebrity through no talent of his own, while dealing with a sinister restaurant critic.

Like all of Pixar’s work, Ratatouille looks phenomenal. The rats in particular look good, with fine detail paid to fur in various states. The humans are not the most hyper-realistic creations seen on screen, but neither are they intended to be. This is a cartoon, and the artists seem to know that, because most of the characters border on caricature. The slimy French chef is ridiculously short and sports a pencil-line mustache. The critic has long and angular features that scream evil. Even though the movie is made with the most modern of technology, it is a throwback to the classic days of Disney and Looney Tunes, when merely a glance at a character would explain everything about a character. The bad guys look bad; the good guys are goofy but likable, and the gray characters share attributes of both, leaving the viewer guessing for a while.

One thing that separates Ratatouille from most of its Pixar brethren is the pervasive kinetic energy. Plenty of other movies, like Cars and The Incredibles, were drenched with action and movement, but it feels different here because the scope of the movie is centered on a rat. When you watch Remy race through a kitchen or up a building from close-up, it feels much wilder and more dangerous than watching a human make the same thirty-foot trek, which is appropriate since it is more hazardous for a rat to make that trip.

The question about all Pixar movies is twofold: how well does it play with kids, and how well does it play with adults? I suspect that Ratatouille may not be as accessible to kids as most of the rest of the Pixar library, because many of the characters are rats. Rodents are not as marketable or over-the-top memorable as a giant furry blue monster or an innocent little clown fish. Nor is the story quite as simple as some others. But the pace is brisk enough, and the story is understandable enough, thanks in large part to the brilliant animation, that kids should still enjoy the movie. Adults should enjoy it too, with the fine images, clever humor, and various twists and turns of the story. On the whole, Ratatouille is not as memorable as Finding Nemo or either Toy Story, but it is good enough to be tucked right behind them with Monster's Inc.

Bottom Line: 7 of 10 for the best family film of the summer. What the heck, call it 8 of 10.

1 comment:

B. D. Mooneyham said...

I really want to see this, just haven't gotten around to it/been willing to pay theater prices for it, even though deep down I thought it would be worth it.

On a side note, Monsters Inc. really might be my favorite Pixar movie. I have watched it many times since it came out on DVD. It has the best THX sound that I've heard on a DVD, as an additional plus.