Starring: Patton Oswalt, Ian Holm, Lou Romano, Brian Dennehy, Peter Sohn, Peter O’Toole, Brad Garrett, Janeane Garofalo, Will Arnett
Directed By: Brad Bird
All is forgiven.
When I saw Pixar’s Cars last year, I wasn’t all that impressed. After a string of movies ranging from cute and fun (A Bug’s Life, Monsters, Inc.) to excellent (every other movie they’ve made), Cars was a disappointment. At the time, I figured it was just a mulligan, and I’m pleased to say I was right.
With Ratatouille, Pixar once again proves that they are the industry leader when it comes to animated movies. I adored this movie and am pleased that they’re back to doing what they do best: telling original stories with original characters. Honestly, I’m not even that into animated movies, so its not the reason I’ll watch every movie this studio puts out (unless they somehow start to suck). I don’t watch them for the phenomenal animation (which is really fantastic in this movie, making me nostalgic for Paris and incredibly hungry while watching), or even because they’re animated at all. I watch them because they’re excellently crafted movies that capture my imagination.
Ratatouille tells the tale of Remy (Patton Oswalt), a rat born with an overly-sensitive palate that gives him a higher appreciation for food, making him a bit of an outcast as a result. When a twist of events put him in the culinary capital of the world, Paris, Remy uses his talents and knowledge, as well as an unlikely ally in Linguini (Lou Romano), to create mouthwatering masterpieces that has the city a buzz.
Alright, that sounds a little silly, but not much more so than the story of a toy who thinks he’s not a toy and the jealousy he inspires in another toy, or monsters who need screams to power their society. One of Pixar’s many strengths is that they can take these strangely imaginative concepts, and quickly make their universes feel complete and interesting and the strangeness quickly melts away. And this movie surrounds itself in strangeness. Enough that a cooking rat isn’t even the strangest thing in the movie. The result is a movie that is full of wonder, slapstick, and wacky characters that is as fun as it is stunning.
What I like about Brad Bird‘s movies is there’s usually a slightly subversive element under the family-friendly surface. The Iron Giant was about as pinko-communist as an American family movie gets, while The Incredibles railed against the constant celebration of mediocrity in our society. On the surface, Ratatouille seems to have a more simple, friendly message, that “anyone can cook”, i.e., anyone can do whatever they put their minds to. But the message is actually deeper than that. Not everyone can do everything, it takes ability and talent to truly excel, but ability and talent can come from the most surprising sources.
For instance, some people might think animated movies aimed at families have to be uncomplicated genre fare. With its most recent success, Pixar proves that quality is quality, no matter who the intended audience appears to be.