Master animation director Brad Bird knows the ingredients of a good film, and he delivers again with a culinary concoction of comedy and cooking.
A young rat named Remy (Patton Oswalt), gifted with an incredible sense of taste and smell, is inspired by the great (deceased) chef Gusteau (Brad Garrett) to pursue a career in cooking. Separated from his family in the sewers of Paris, he stumbles into Gusteau’s restaurant and can’t resist having a go at cooking. He is caught in the act, however, by the kind but dim-witted garbage boy Linguini (Lou Romano) who winds up credited for Remy’s spectacular soup. In order that Remy can cook and Linguini can stay employed, Remy uses Linguini as a puppet to produce his recipes under the eyes of the suspicious Chef Skinner (Ian Holm) and Linguini’s attractive mentor Colette (Janeane Garofalo).
While Brad Bird is not the most prolific director ever, his animations are of such a high standard it’s understandable they take such a long time to make (his Pixar films taking up to four years). He has a great sense of wit and visual humour, and each setting is so detailed and each character is so wonderfully animated, we know we are watching a true master at work.
One of the quantum differences that separate Pixar and Disney from the other animation companies is that they are great at picking voices that aren’t necessarily well known but fit the characters perfectly. This is compared to a studio like Dreamworks that tries selling its films with its multi-million-dollar casts. A good actor isn’t necessarily a good voice actor. It’s hard to put a finger on what separates the two, but I believe a good voice actor has a fully fleshed out character embedded in their voice, which is why comedians are always welcome in animation roles.
Patton Oswalt (a comedian) is superb as Remy. Even without the stunning visual characterisation by Pixar’s seasoned animators, Oswalt’s performance is passionate and emotive (the Annie Award for Best Voice Acting went unfairly to Ian Holm, who got it for putting on a funny accent) and his emotional breakdown to his imaginary Gusteau is genuinely one of the most touching moments in the film. Remy’s character is fully fleshed out. He’s an artiste, passionate about his work but has very little patience for anyone else, which some people may find annoying, but usually those people resemble Remy in real life.
Peter O’Toole plays a fabulously creepy Anton Ego, the critic who’s scathing reviews brought about Gusteau’s early death. The romantic interest, Colette, and the imaginary idol Gusteau are both superbly voiced by comedians Janeane Garofalo and Brad Garrett, respectively. But apart from choosing seasoned actors and comedians, Pixar have been known for making excellent use of their crews. Lou Romano, a production designer by trade (who brilliantly designed the look of The Incredibles) is hilarious as the low-watt Linguini and Brad Bird (famous for playing Edna, also from The Incredibles) has a nice cameo as Ego’s timid butler.
But the real stars of the film are the animators themselves. Animators are probably the most forgotten rung on the ladder of film production, with writers just below them. Brad Bird once said “If animation is done well, no one will notice”. It’s completely true. One only really recognises animation when it’s exceptionally bad, and unlike Oscar winning performances, great animation does not draw attention to itself. The animation in Ratatouille is deliciously subtle, and we can feel the humanity behind the drawing as well as the humanity in it.
Ratatouille was probably the least promising film ever made by Pixar (second place going to A Bug’s Life), but it definitely belongs in Pixar’s top five films and I can confidently say it ties with The Iron Giant as Bird’s piece-de-resistance. I cannot say a single word against it. Ratatouille is a tightly scripted, brilliantly voiced and beautifully animated Michelin-star dish that will definitely become an animation classic in years to come.
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