Sunday, August 19, 2007

RATATOUILLE: Yummy Treat From Brad Bird

RATATOUILLE (Animated comedy)

Voices of Brad Garrett, Patton Oswalt and John Ratzenberger
Director: Brad Bird
Time: 108 mins
Rating: * * * (out of 4)

WHAT'S THE BIG DEAL? A rat who dreams of becoming a chef at a snobbish French restaurant? What a strange subject for a big-budget cartoon. Rats are not what people would want to find in the kitchen and they will make anyone squirm. How can anyone pull off a stunt like that? Well, if you were Brad Bird, who had thrilled us with "The Incredibles" and "The Iron Giant", that should be no problem. He just needed the right ingredients.

WHAT'S IT ABOUT? Remy (voice of Patton Oswalt) is a culinary wizard of a rat who also loves good food. His senses are so refined that he refuses to eat garbage and is used by others as a "poison detector" since he can tell if something is toxic by sniffing it. His desire, however, is to become a chef (like his TV hero Gusteau), and he gets a chance to achieve his dreams when he meets Linguini (Lou Romano), a kitchen cleaner at a Paris restaurant, also called Gusteau's. Hiding under Linguini's chef's hat, Remy teaches the boy to create dishes of culinary delight. Soon, Gusteau's is the talk of Paris again and Linguini wins the heart of fellow chef Colette (Janeane Garofalo). However, not everybody is elated. The head chef (Ian Holm), who is jealous of Linguini's newfound fame, wants revenge. Also, the food critic Anton Ego (Peter O'Toole) has decided to have a meal an Gusteau's - and on that very evening, Remy is missing.

BON APPETIT? With even more realistic graphics and action seen from the point-of-view of the rats, "Ratatouille" gets our interest right from the start. Bird has taken computer animation one notch higher and a chase scene through the streets of Paris and onto boats floating on the River Seine is so splashingly real that we forget that it is CGI. Sometimes, we even forget that Remy is a rat! Bird fashions the movie as a parable about racism and tolerance. The conflict is between rats and humans, and members of each species get to learn a little about the characteristics of the other. There is also the Cyrano de Bergerac angle that has Remy teaching the boy to cook (instead of wooing the lady of his dreams).
However, the action in "Ratatouille" gets along like yummy French food - up to the point when we see hordes of rats invading the kitchen - and cooking meals. These sequences must be a put-off to parents in the audience and they could have been avoided or toned down. Still, with its slogan "Anyone Can Cook", the movie celebrates passion in creativity and the pursuit of excellence and it should inspire the kids in the audience.

THE LOWDOWN: To sum up, let's take a quote from Anton Ego: “Not everyone can be a great artist, but a great artist can come from anywhere.” Our compliments to master chef Brad Bird. "Ratatouille" is not as entertaining as "The Incredibles", but it is close enough.


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