When is a rat a lark? When he's created by Brad Bird. Brad Bird, the animation maestro from Pixar, invents a spunky, gourmet rodent in the lively, spicy romp Ratatouille.
Bird, who wrote and directed The Incredibles, is in savory command in the latest movie from Disney. He has leapt to the forefront of animation with the range, depth, and style of Ratatouille.
There is a lot of irony in the tagline "Anyone Can Cook," which is the mantra of chef Auguste Gusteau..Bird knows that's a canard, but in Ratatouille he proves a rat can surely cook. Some of our best artists are rats.
Ratatouille is the story of Remy, the rat who desires to be a creator of food in its exceptional combinations. He has a gift -- a highly sensitive awareness of taste and smell. Food is his art.
Remy comes to Paris via a sewer and winds up at his Utopia -- Gusteau's fine restaurant. Gusteau's was once first class, but its owner Auguste
Gusteau died, and it has fallen into the hands of a sneaky interloper, the odious Skinner who promotes frozen fast foods out of the once elegant restaurant.
Remy has learned to meld intoxicating flavors into dreamy combinations. He is visited by the spirit of the late Gusteau, who renders him advice and support.
Into Gusteau's restaurant enters the bumbling young Liguini, looking for a job. He wants to cook, but is hired as a garbage boy. Linguini decides to try to make soup, but it is awful. In secret Remy saves the day by remixing the soup with new ingredients. It becomes a delicious, popular specialty.
Linguini finally clandestinely partners with Remy, whom he calls "little chef." Remy hides under Linguini's chef hat, and pulls different parts of Linguini's hair to let him know where to go and what ingredients to use.
When they first try to act together, Linguini is a cavalcade of slapstick. The young would-be chef reels, totters and lurches from Remy's hair-pulling. But they get their act together, and ultimately prevail in the kitchen. Their odd couple partnership-- and a legion of rats -- leads to an exhilarating climax.
The script by Bird generally is clever, but he has to take a faltering swipe at critics. He has snobby critic Anton Ego (get it?) say that bad reviews of bad products are less memorable than the products. That simply isn't true. Actually some of the most memorable reviews are when the critic -- John Simon, Pauline Kael -- has his or her critical blade out for mediocrity.
The voices serve the characters beautifully. Patton Oswalt (The King of Queens) is the voice of Remy, the culinary critter, who can't converse with humans. Brad Garrett (Everybody Loves Raymond) is the sage Auguste Gusteau. Lou Romano (Cars, The Incredibles) is Linguini and Janeane Garofolo is Chef Colette. Ian Holm voices the conniving Skinner. Peter O'Toole provides the most compelling verbalization. He wonderfully creates the acrid sauce voice of critic Anton Ego.
Bird and his fellow animators create expressive characters. Since Remy doesn't converse with people, although he can understand them, he has to communicate with looks and movements. So as though in a silent movie, Remy makes a shrug as eloquent as a Charlie Chaplin gesture. Remy can look as sad as a puppy.
Maybe the best thing about Ratatouille is that it opens up your senses. I'm sure many people left the theater and went home to their kitchens with their "little chefs" activated.
An acquaintance of mine, who usually cooks for his cat and uses paper plates, had the gourmet awakened in him by the movie and got out his hallowed recipe for chicken. He cooked sauces. I myself made my special deviled eggs for the first time in years. Remy would be proud.
For a change of pace, you might want to listen to interviews that I conducted in the 70s and 80s, some of which were published in my book Voices from the Set: The Film Heritage Interviews (2000).
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