At The Picture Show
Brad Bird knocks another one out of le park with 'Ratatouille'
Walt Disney Pictures and Pixar Animation Studios
Director: Brad Bird
Screenplay: Brad Bird
Starring: The voices of Patton Oswalt, Lou Romano, Ian Holm, Peter O'Toole,
Janeane Garofalo, Brian Dennehy, Peter Sohn and Brad Garrett
Rated G / 1 hour, 50 minutes
(out of four)
It goes without saying that most of what we've on the screen this summer - that is
to say, most of the studio films and TV shows we see in any given year - are
tailor-made for specific audiences, within specific genres. But Brad Bird has
repeatedly broken the mold.
The animation auteur - who got his big break on The
Simpsons, and was the first choice to direct the series' big-screen treatment - has
repeatedly rejected the notion that animation a "genre," and his actions speak even
louder than words. Like the best of animation (especially in the Pixar era), his
films - he has three great ones on his resume now - cannot be lumped just into the
"kids" or "family" categories. He's even moved beyond those archaic ideas of
genre and target audience. (Not to say anything about the marketing, of course,
which inevitably has billed Ratatouille as a children's movie and has probably lost
a portion of its potential audience in the process.)
Sure, The Incredibles may have fit the bill as an action-adventure superhero
cartoon, but it doubled as an unendingly clever comedy of manners and light
With his previous effort, The Iron Giant, he made a Vin Diesel-voiced robot more
human than just about any robot I've ever seen captured - or any other Vin Diesel
character, for that matter.
And now, with Ratatouille - a story about a rat who
wants to be a cook and a would-be cook who, well, can't - he's been able to
infuse some shopworn plot mechanics and character types with an uncommon
level of depth and emotion. The basic story idea wasn't even Bird's to begin with.
He came on board when the project was already in development. He re-wrote the
script and his stamp has become clear.
As we've come to expect from Bird, his humor is sharper, his characters warmer
and his visual style bolder than the standard animated fare.
Remy (voiced by Patton Oswalt) is a rat with unusually refined taste, yet he's been
stuck rummaging through scraps with the rest of the rats in the neighborhood his
whole life. Chance steps in one day, as he's separated from his family and happens
to find himself in a restaurant, Gusteau's, that was once among the finest in France
(and was owned by Remy's idol, the great chef Auguste Gusteau, who lived by the
motto that "anyone can cook").
After witnessing Linguini (Lou Romano) disastrously attempting to make a soup,
Remy intervenes - instinctively creating a soup of his very own making...and the
customers love it. Naturally, Linguini gets the credit (quite against his will), and
so a natural partnership between him and his new rodent friend begins. It's just the
opportunity Remy has been waiting his whole life for!
Linguini isn't well-liked by the bistro's new owner,
Skinner (Ian Holm, in an amazing voice performance, one that deserves even more
accolades than the work of Ellen DeGeneres in Finding Nemo), who [correctly]
has his suspicions about Linguini - suspicions that gradually begin to drive him
mad (setting up some of the most hysterical scenes in the movie). Fortunately,
Linguini has an ally in his irritable/friendly Colette (Janean Garofalo), his co-worker, love interest and kitchen rival; and meanwhile, Remy lives the high life
only to find himself in a battle for his loyalty - between his new friends and his
old ones (his irascible father Django and clueless brother Emile).
Then, adding the obligatory sinister element to the plot, there's the stuffy food
critic, Ego (Peter O'Toole), a fantastic satirical blend of arrogant English
archetypes and deathly imagery. Consider the very shape of his body - hunched
over and top-heavy, shaped quite deliberately like a coffin, like some sort of
upper-class Nosferatu. When we see him at his home, we discover that even his
lofty office is coffin-shaped. It's a brilliant bit of design on the part of Bird and his
great team of animators (I wish I could list all their names).
Even the construction of the plot stands on its own. Even the key moments we
expect - the moments that have to happen for the purposes of furthering the plot -
are made with conviction and freshness, as if no rodent prodigy had ever gotten
frustrated with not getting enough credit. As if no lovesick young kid in over his
head had ever said the wrong thing, at the wrong time. It doesn't matter that this is
an animated movie - the moments of emotional importance ring true.
There is a particular moment of resolution near the end
that is its own little bit of genius. It comes as such a jolt - both to the characters
and to the narrative - and comes so suddenly and at such a perfect time, it's one of
the most shockingly delightful moments I've experienced in the theatre in a long
time. This one small sequence is at once unconscionably funny and legitimately
touching. There could not possibly be a more perfect way for this story to reach its
After last year's disappointing Cars, Pixar rebounded with one of its best efforts.
If I were John Lasseter, I'd pretty much give Brad Bird as much money as he
wants, to do whatever movie he wants, whenever he wants. The man is an
immovable force. He's directed three tremendous feature-length films - all,
interestingly enough, examining characters trying to assimilate in environments in
which they are not understood. You could say all three of his films are pretty
thoughtful meditations on alienation (with, you know, superheros, robots and
talking rats, too). Best of all, his creativity shows no signs of wear and tear. He has
mastered his craft like few other filmmakers working today - and as he did in
2004 and 1999, he has made one of the best films of the year.
Read more by Chris Bellamy