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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Ratatouille (review)

Much Depends on Dinner

Ah, Remy, rat of my heart! Tiny rodent who is my soul mate! Je t’aime! Je t’aime!

Oh, but there is joy in this movie, this Ratatouille, this new marvel from Pixar and Brad Bird (The Incredibles, The Iron Giant), whose babies I want to have, he’s so brilliant. Not easy joy: hard-won joy, the best kind, which comes from struggle and pain and sacrifice and almost losing what you desire most. It fills you up, this wonderful, wonderful movie, with just the simple yet profound connection it’s possible to make with another creature, even if that creature is merely a cartoon rat. (And the question is, then, If we can understand a rat, why can’t we at least get along with other humans? There is no answer here, but the question lingers…)

Of course, I like rats. I respect them. Your mileage may vary. I think of them as smart little things just trying to make a living at the periphery of human endeavors. Probably most rats fancy rat society the center of the world — why wouldn’t they? But Remy, sweet, sensitive, smart Remy… he likes humans, isn’t generally afraid of us, and he prefers to eat our food before it’s been discarded as so many inedible scraps, even if — as the film opens — this propensity is the cause of major trouble. “The key, my friend, is not to be picky,” opines Remy’s doltish brother on the subject of happiness, particularly as it relates to food that comes out of a garbage can. But no, Remy is picky: he doesn’t know how else to be. He can’t settle. And I rejoice to see suchness this summer, when one of the biggest and most celebrated movies of the season is all about the dubious “pleasures” of settling for just-about-okay. Remy’s heart yearns for much more.

And so he finds himself at the once-world-famous five-star Paris restaurant of master chef Gusteau, which has seen a decline since the death of its owner and chef. Remy’s arrival is entirely accidental, if initially delightful to him, and his inclination is to escape, even as the ghost of Gusteau (the voice of Brad Garrett: Night at the Museum, The Pacifier), a mere figment of Remy’s imagination, prompts him to stick around and check out the action. “Anyone can cook” was Gusteau’s famous motto, but Remy knows the score, knows that rats are the least welcome beings in a human kitchen.

He is not wanted, and yet he is drawn. This crushing, touching dilemma is at the heart of Remy’s charm and loveliness. He truly is one of the most exquisite characters I’ve ever seen on film, either live-action or animated. Though the fact that he is an animated creation is part and parcel of his irresistible appeal. It’s not just that he wouldn’t exist without the miracle of modern animation, which captures his ratty expressiveness so beautifully: there’s one moment in which Remy and the movie and the audience holds its breath waiting to see whether the rat will be accepted in Gusteau’s kitchen, and this little cartoon rodent comes near to breaking your heart through the tiniest of gestures, his little rat hands gripping the human hand in which he rests with such hope and anxiety that it becomes one of the best examples ever of contemporary animators being the vital “actors” for cartoon characters, at least as much as the talent who supplies the character’s voice is. (Standup comic Patton Oswalt [Blade: Trinity, Taxi] is Remy’s voice here, and he’s perfect.) It’s that Remy is such a splendid fantasy of meeting an alien intelligence right here in the mundane, ordinary world. Like if you have the sneaking suspicion, as I do, that if we could talk to elephants or dolphins or maybe rats, they might have something perceptive and unexpected to say about life, the universe, and everything.

Remy has much to say to Linguini, the garbage boy in Gusteau’s kitchen with whom he teams up to produce some marvelous dishes. (Here’s Bird’s genius at work again: Linguini is voiced by a Pixar production designer, Lou Romano. Romano initially laid down a temporary vocal track for the animators to work from, but Bird decided he was Linguini, and so he was, and the fact that he was not a name actor be damned. Perhaps the fact that Bird has other names — including those of Ian Holm, John Ratzenberger, Brian Dennehy, and Janeane Garofalo — to work with here allowed him to get away with that.) Remy’s culinary brilliance directs Linguini’s body in the chopping, stirring, and seasoning of many a meal that you wish you could launch yourself into the movie to sample, including the title dish, the “peasant meal” that captures the imagination of the villainous restaurant critic Anton Ego (the voice of Peter O’Toole: Venus, Casanova).

And it’s in that moment, when Ego tastes Remy’s ratatouille for the first time, that it all sails into a wondrousness so superb and soaring that it ranks among the most satisfying of cinematic experiences. Ego is not quite what we’ve estimated him to be… and Ratatouille the movie satisfies by refusing to surrender to easy, expected ends, and by acknowledging that “winning” is what you make of it.

I mean, he’s a rat… and he cooks… and he dreams of being a five-star chef. How much more wonderful audacity do you need before you fall in love?

Oscars Best Animated Feature 2007

previous Best Animated Feature:
2006: Happy Feet
next Best Animated Feature:
2008: Wall-E

go> the complete list of Oscar-winning Best Animated Features

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Ratatouille (2007) | directed by Brad Bird, Jan Pinkava
US/Can release: Jun 29 2007
UK/Ire release: Oct 12 2007

MPAA: rated G
BBFC: rated PG (contains comic violence and one use of mild language)

viewed at a semipublic screening with an audience of critics and ordinary moviegoers

official site | IMDb | trailer
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • Drave

    Listen to the MaryAnn, people! The MaryAnn is wise! I saw this movie a couple weeks ago at an advance screening, and I loved it so much that it has been torturous to wait so long to see it again. Easily my favorite of the year so far. You know a movie (and a reviewer) is good when just reading a review describing some of your favorite scenes is enough to recreate the tears that fell during the actual viewing of the movie. It has taken its place alongside Iron Giant and The Incredibles as one of my top three American animated films of all time. Not a coincidence that they are all from the same director. One was a surprise. Two could have been a streak. But three in a row? Brad Bird is a certified genius whose work speaks to my heart in a way few other directors can ever match. Thanks again, MaryAnn, for writing such evocative reviews, and now I am off to see it again before I leave for Vegas this weekend!

  • Doa766

    great review, I’m very glad to see that you wrote about what the movie is really about (art and the Pursue Excellence)and that it’s not just about a rat that can cook

    of all the reviews over at rottentomatoes now, you and a.o.scott of the ny times are the only critics to point that out

    although I’m a little worried that you liked transformers, don’t forget it’s directed by the devil, the enemy of everything that’s smart, deep, subtle and special in films

  • Just came from the film with a bunch of co-workers (fellow animators), and we were blown away. A lot of us walked away feeling this was perhaps the best Pixar film ever done; no mean feat from a company with Pixar’s commitment to quality. The physical comedy, the acting, and the technical effects (Rat fur served 7 ways, sounds like an Iron Chef dish…) and the art direction were beautifully tight.

    Just… wow. :D

  • Scott P

    MaryAn– If this little rat captured your heart, then I beg you to find an artsy theatre showing “Once”. From the very first song by the Guy, he opens his soul to the moviegoer. “Once” is such a simple, honest story about love & heartbreak & it has some amazing musical performances.

    In my opinion, you need to see it because it will jump into your top 10 for 2007.

    I enjoyed Ratatouille but, in my opinion, it didn’t reach the lofty heights of Toy Story or Monsters Inc. For me, the only moment in the movie that really grabbed me was when a simple meal changed Ego forever in “grinch-like” fashion.

  • Drave

    I don’t think that simple meal changed Ego at all, and I don’t think he was in any way grinch-like before. He is obviously a man who is very passionate about food, and has become jaded by being constantly disappointed. The simple meal did not change him. It just reminded him of why he became passionate about food in the first place. That’s what I love best about the movie; not only does it preach the importance of art, and having a passion for it, but it also pays respect to the value of criticism. Ratatouille the movie made me feel the same way that ratatouille the dish made Ego feel, and I suspect I am not the only one.

  • MaryAnn

    I beg you to find an artsy theatre showing “Once”.

    Finding a theater has not been a problem. Finding the time has. I hope to get to the film next week.

  • MaryAnn

    I’m a little worried that you liked transformers, don’t forget it’s directed by the devil, the enemy of everything that’s smart, deep, subtle and special in films

    There is nothing smart, deep, or subtle in *Transformers,* but it is a superb example of the action movie in its purest form. So there is something special in it.

  • Drave

    I actually saw Once a few weeks ago. I thought it was pretty damned good, but I wouldn’t put it anywhere near the level of Ratatouille. Definitely go see it, though. It is one of those movies where the main appeal of it is how true all the characters and situations ring. And the music is very heartfelt. Also, despite how it is being billed, it is neither a musical nor a romance.

  • Pixar’s technology just keeps getting better, which is predictable. They are absolutely alone at the pinnacle of computer animation, they truly have no peers. This is not news to anybody and should be expected. This is reason enough to go see anything they do.

    What doesn’t seem to make sense is how much heart they manage to put into every new story they tell. All streaks end and I’m starting to really dread the inevitible day when Pixar releases a real stinker, but this is another home run. Maybe their best ever.

  • MaryAnn
  • Oh, I didn’t realize Brad Bird was behind this. Now I want to see it, though my bank account’s been wiped out by a recent vacation, so it may be a while.

    And I don’t think Cars was a “stinker.” I’d say it was a simple, fun movie, but too conventional to really set the world on fire. I felt Finding Nemo was about the same. The Incredibles was terrific, and I, amazingly, have yet to see Toy Story.

  • Newbia

    I love, love, loved this movie, and this is an excellent review. However, I’m glad I didn’t read it before the movie, because you gave a big spoiler. The moment when Ego eats the ratatouille is my favorite of the film, and I don’t think you should have explicitly talked about it. It would have been better to just allude to the moment, because it deserves to be discovered by the viewer.

  • tinman

    The Best Movie of the Year

    -deserves a best picture nod…

  • Josh Gilchrist

    I loved it too. Too bad it’s not fairing well at the box office. Analysts say it could make about 150million total. That’s small pennies for a Pixar film

  • JT

    Josh, I think those analysts are underestimating the legs of Pixar films. They always make 4, 5 or even 6 times their opening weekend gross. That should put it at about $200 million, which isn’t bad.

    I saw this movie yesterday, and don’t think it is aimed at very small kids, like Finding Nemo was. The scene towards the end that MaryAnn talks about – which I agree is one of the best scenes of the year – probably didn’t mean anything to little kids. It was greeted with laughter and applause from the adults at the screening I was at. What do children know about being transported to your childhood for a brief instant when you taste, smell or see something familiar?

    I think this movie is for kids who are a bit more mature, even though the material is suitable for all. I absolutely adored it, but I could see my 12 year old sister fidgeting in her seat, particularly when Colette was teaching Linguini the art of cooking.

    On a side note.. The movie was preceded by trailers for Bratz: The Movie, Daddy Day Camp and Underdog :O I feel bad for critics who have to sit through those. Good luck, MaryAnn.

  • MaryAnn

    The moment when Ego eats the ratatouille is my favorite of the film, and I don’t think you should have explicitly talked about it.

    I didn’t explicitly talk about it. I didn’t say what happens, just that it’s a wonderful moment. You may be reading your own knowledge of the moment into what I wrote. But I tried very hard to NOT reveal what, in particular, is so wonderful about that moment.

  • Josh Gilchrist

    JT, they are in no way underestimating the legs of Pixar. RATATOUILLE had a very poor opening for a Pixar film, 47 million opening weekend. That is the second lowest opening of the Pixar films, behind Bugs Life. If given a similar multiplier as Incredibles the film might pull in about 150-170. If good WOM carries it past 200, it would still be considered small since Pixar usually does so much better. I read an article saying that because the film takes place in France, American audiences are turned off.

  • Hi there, nice review you have there. I’ve also watched Ratatouille the day it came out. Check out my blog to read my short review on the movie. http://www.kaklong.net/?p=213

  • Thanks for the review. The trailers didn’t really inspire me to want to see this movie, but the glowing reviews are enough to give it a second look.

    And, after months of dread (as a Transformers fan), I’m glad TF got a good review…

  • Miguel

    Does anyone know the full story of this movie? I’ve read that it had a very different story and then Pixar took the project away from the original creator and assigned it to Brad Bird. He did a great job, but I’d just like to know how the project evolved.

    The MaryAnn is -almost- always right, Cars was indeed Pixar’s stinker. Had it been released by Dreamworks, it would’ve received worse reviews than Shark tale!

  • Miguel

    sorry, I meant, the full HISTORY of this movie…

  • amanohyo

    I don’t know the full history of the movie, but I have heard that Jan Pinkava (Geri’s Game) did a lot of the ground work, but the story wasn’t coming together so Bird took over at the end. I think the movie turned out great, but after thinking it over, there are two things that bug me:

    1) The romance between Linguini and Colette feels very forced. It’s sweet, but I feel that she was presented as a very independent character and then her design got sacrificed on the altar of the plot. If a certain plot twist hadn’t happened, I feel as though Colette could have done a loooooot better than Linguini.

    2) I’ll try not to spoil it, but the big moment near the end seems to imply that ultimately, the greatest works of art are the ones that we experience as children. I’m familiar with the “everything awesome was made when you were 13” bias, but I feel like a great creation can be discovered at any point in your life and need not necessarily be great merely because it reminds you of something else.

    I’m not complaining too strongly; it’s a brilliant scene, and I certainly can’t think of a better way to bring about the “victory,” but something about it just bugs me… I’m probably oversimplifying things, does anyone else have any other interpretations?

    I guess both of these nitpicks make the movie feel a little contrived. But again, I liked it, and the only reason this stuff bugs me at all is because there’s a lot more potential here than in the usual simpler stuff Pixar makes.

  • MaryAnn

    but the big moment near the end seems to imply that ultimately, the greatest works of art are the ones that we experience as children.

    Or it could be interpreted to mean that Remy found a way to reach Ego that other chefs had never tried or been able to do, and that that was something special about Remy: that he didn’t want his food to be snooty and elitist in a realm where snoot and elistism is what it’s all about, and that’s how he stands out in a crowded field. And not just cuz he’s a rat.

  • Pedro

    saw it yesterday, loved its cleverness and the fact that icky morality moments are conspicuously absent. the screening i attended was all-adults, too! guess cartoons ain’t just for kiddies anymore ;)

  • Pedro

    oh yeah, and the alien-abduction short they show before the movie is something else, too! genius!

  • Personally, I thought it was kinda cool that they gave the female chef a name like Colette. And even cooler that they resisted the urge to gild the lily by naming another character Gigi, Cheri or Gaston.

    As for that childhood memory thing…

    Hey, if it was good enough for that Marcel Proust fellow…

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